The “land of opportunity” label is commonly associated with USA, but I have used it when describing Canada and my experience as a first-generation Canadian. There have been countless waves of immigrants that can attest to how Canada has given hope to the hopeless, and how it has been the best thing to happen to people. However, I am not writing this article to talk about how great Canada is, and it is, but how little people know about our immigration system and the immigrant experience.
“We Don’t Want Lazy Immigrants.” – Anti-Immigrant Trope
One of the most famous anti-immigrant tropes is the “We don’t want lazy immigrants.” It is an anti-immigrant trope that has been used worldwide. That exact language is no longer being used in 2022. A few of the words have been taken out for sensitivity purposes and the explanation is a little longer to justify the position. The message you hear today focuses on immigrants that do not want to work and would rather just “freeload”.
This idea is definitely still in play today, as not that long ago we had a situation where the Premier of Ontario made some backhanded remarks about immigration when he resorted to saying that Canada only wanted immigrants that wanted to work and not ‘freeload’.
The full quote was, “You come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off. If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, not gonna happen … Go somewhere else. You want to work, come here.” To make matters worse, Rupa Subramanya, a columnist for the National Post took the ridiculous position of uplifting Doug Ford shortly after his remarks in her opinion piece. Rupa argued that immigrants were thanking Doug Ford for his position on immigration. Her article labeled his language as colorful, and she later referred to the response it garnered as ‘woke outrage’ in her tweet promoting the article.
While many newcomers do find it difficult to work in their chosen fields in Canada, often because of various red tape and bureaucracy required for them to take on those positions here, it does not change what was said and by who it was said. When individuals in positions of consequence make careless remarks about situations, they have real-life implications. The reaction to Doug Ford’s backhanded remarks had nothing to do with fake activism or woke outrage. Pushing the idea that newcomers coming to Canada are arriving with a freeloading mentality is extremely irresponsible.
In our digital age, fringe media will take snippets and spin them, spreading misinformation and hate amongst people, or affecting people that might be imbalanced and going through difficult times. Some of them do this purposely. Others are simply more interested in pushing their agendas so don’t take the care needed.
However, people that have gone on to commit hate crimes often cite irresponsible comments that were made by public figures. While intentions matter, so do words, and as mature adults we need to think about our words and their far-reaching impacts.
I refuse to believe that a newcomer would turn down a chance at a higher quality of life by working for the sole reason that they are lazy. In fact, I know that many immigrants often work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. That is why it is also important to understand that the immigrant experience is not a one size fits all. People are complicated and their can be a multitude of reasons why someone is they way they are.
A Sign of the Times?
This past weekend as I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline, I came across a viral tweet shared by a prominent personality about how they came across a sign in their Uber in the USA. The sign read, “Dear Passenger, Please do not ask me “Where are you from?” question. The where are you from question makes me sick, frustrated, and uncomfortable. Thanks for your understanding.”
Although the tweet has since been deleted, I found it very thought provoking. And as someone who has grown up around and heard hundreds of stories of what people have had to go through to escape their countries of origin, I had a hunch that there may have been significant trauma attached to those words. I thought that the responses to that tweet would elaborate on similar ideas like the toxicity of the current political climate, being on the receiving end of racist attacks, the challenges of culture shock, or an immigrant’s journey that is filled with triggering PTSD. I was wrong.
The responses beneath both the original tweet and the quoted tweet that showed up on my timeline were positions that I might have taken in my late teen years. Back then I had no sense of what other people were going through and my view of the world was very me-first. But I never imagined I would read one adult’s response to the quoted tweet, a verified account, claiming that the sign suggested that the Uber driver was an unhappy person who should not be in a customer-facing job.
The person who made that response tweet was living in America. They were a white multi-generation American whose bio stated that they were a retired attorney. I mention this only to highlight the difference between realities of life for this retired attorney and the Uber Driver who we knew very little about. After this realization, it becomes clear that the retired attorney is projecting their reality onto someone else despite not knowing anything else about that person.
In social psychology we are taught that our assumptions of others can be and often are the part of a naïve realism because there are far more perspectives to how the world works than just how we see it. Perception is a type of construct which is the result of neuro-cognitive process. Your brain’s lived experiences shape the lens from which you view the world. In relation to the response made by the retired attorney, they are basing their opinion on their positional knowledge – also a form of bias.
Canada’s Immigration System
When it comes to Canada’s immigration, there are different classifications for immigrants which include economic immigrant, sponsored immigrant, landed immigrants, and refugee.
The difference between these classifications has to do with the nature of a person’s arrival to Canada. Economic immigrants tend to be individuals that have greater financial means compared to other potential immigrants and they likely have skills needed by Canada’s labour market. Sponsored immigrants are individuals who arrive to Canada because of a sponsorship program made possible by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident—sometimes referred to as family reunification. Landed immigrants are individuals that have no limitations on the duration of their stay in Canada and can work without restriction. Refugees on the other hand are individuals that who have fled from persecution in their country of origin.
While Canada’s immigration system has been referred to as being one of the most fair and secure. Prior to all the technological security improvements, there were loopholes that were being exploited. Back in the 1990s there were two main immigration waves that contributed to confusion of the immigration system and the way it operated, and they were the immigration waves from Former Yugoslavia and Somalia.
Although Canada did have more advanced forms of identification back in the 1990s, much of the world had very basic forms of documents that were easily forgeable, and during the immigration wave from the Former Yugoslavia, it was not uncommon for individuals to buy diplomas from universities or pay doctors for clean health records to meet the criteria for the points-based evaluation that Canada was using to determine who would have their application approved. Additionally, there were several cases where individuals lied about their involvement in the civil wars like participating as an armed fighter or trafficking weapons to various ethnic communities.
The challenges with the immigration wave from Somalia had more to do with the nature of the country and that it was not uncommon for people living in more rural communities to not have identification. The challenge that presented is that it made it difficult for immigration personnel to verify a person’s identity beyond their claim of who they were. This challenge complicated the approval process, and it was not uncommon for people fleeing Somalia to experience long delays before getting approved to come to Canada.
Similar to people fleeing the Former Yugoslavia, there were some individuals that recognized those various loopholes and exploited them to come to Canada, but those people were few and far between.
However, I recall reading headlines in Ottawa where individuals from the Former Yugoslavia were found to have lied about their involvement in the civil wars, and it resulted in their deportation. There were news reports about similar incidents in other provinces, but it is well known among the Albanian-, Bosnian-, Croatian- and Serbian-Canadian ethnic communities that there are individuals who are living in Canada despite having been involved in ethnic cleansing and the killing of innocent civilians, and the trafficking of weapons.
Growing up in Heron Gate, most of my friends were Somalian or from Arabic-speaking countries, and there were some from the Caribbean too. Almost everyone had an immigrant experience that they could share, but most of those stories would be something you could only image in a rated R Hollywood film.
One particular story that my friend shared with me was about his older cousin who was the only person to survive a certain death scenario out of an entire village. He had just entered his teens and on that fateful day he accompanied some male family members to visit friends and family in a neighboring village. What started out as a nice and sunny day quickly turned dark. An armed group of rebels invaded that village on motorcycles, and they rounded up all the males regardless of their age. Although tribal wars were taking place across Somalia, the village was removed from the epicenter of violence, and nobody expected that it would reach them.
All of the men and boys were forced to line up against a wall, and once everyone was against the wall a hail gunfire erupted. People were falling over. Blood was splattering everywhere. It was a miracle that the teen boy had managed to survive by falling over and playing dead. People had fallen on him and he was drenched in blood, none of which was his. The rebels fired randomly into the bodies to make sure that everyone was killed. That teen played dead until night fall. I was told about the terror he felt when he decided to get up in the middle of the night after not hearing any commotion. He ended up making his way back to his home village and told the people what had happened. He was the only survivor. There are many more details to this story, but I feel they are far too unsettling to discuss.
Although that lucky teen managed to survive a certain death scenario and come to Canada, he did not manage to overcome the toxicity of his low-income community. He had his entire future to look forward to but being a war-hardened kid growing up in a low-income neighborhood contributed to a path of crime and gun violence. That is the immigrant experience that most Canadians don’t know exists—and there are many more of these types of stories.
The Immigrant Experience
People are complicated but if you do right by people, people will do right by you. The immigrant experience is unique to every immigrant. Immigrants are not, by and large, lazy or freeloaders. What I want people to think of when you hear someone using this type of language is that whoever is saying this is ignorant about immigration. The rabbit holes it leads down are toward lunatic ideas like replacement theory.
What all the world’s strongest economies have in common is that they all have some of the largest populations. Canada has a shrinking workforce, and it is more vulnerable in certain sectors than others. There is a significant demand in the skilled trades, and these are careers where earning potentials can exceed $100K.
Workforce economics is a complicated field, and it is heavily influenced by globalization. Although it is not uncommon to hear people talk about a brain drain in Canada, there are many tech grads that struggle to find work in their field of study because there are limited opportunities. These are complex topics that even experts who go on tv to speak on them are misspeaking about. So to think that someone can sum it up by simply saying immigrants are freeloaders doesn’t make sense.