Immigrants and Canadians share responsibility to integrate, advocate says

Is it the responsibility of immigrants to integrate into Canadian society? Or is it the responsibility of Canadian society to create a welcoming atmosphere?

Lower Mainland experts and immigrants say the answer is yes to both questions.

Ninu Kang, a director with MOSAIC, a non-profit that helps new immigrants and refugees settle in Canada, is one such person.

Are we welcoming them?

“I absolutely think it’s incumbent on immigrant communities to branch out. But the question we have to ask ourselves is why do they feel more comfortable living together?” she told On The Coast‘s Vivian Luk

“Are we, the other neighbourhoods welcoming them? Or are we shoving them back into their own silos because that’s where the comfort is, that’s where they’re not going to experience racism and neighbours using racial slurs on them?”

Growing up on Vancouver Island, Kang says she was the target of discrimination, both verbally and physically.

She says things are better for immigrants and their children in B.C. now. There is more diversity and inclusivity, Employers are being trained in cultural competency and there is a lot more support for newcomers.

Still, things are far from perfect.

Things are far from perfect

Gurdev Dosanjh was born in India, brought up in Ireland, married in England and came to Canada about 40 years ago with her husband and three children.

Her husband had worked in a foundry in England, and she was in business administration. But they had no luck landing similar work when they got to Vancouver.

Dosanjh says she would apply for jobs and she’d be told to come for an interview. But when she arrived, she’d be told the posting had been filled or the company wasn’t hiring anymore.

“So, we ended up doing cleaning jobs and my husband was digging ditches. Never had done anything like that in our lives,” she said.

“It wasn’t just a blow to our physical selves, it was [to our] emotional, psychological selves. We thought we were coming for a better life, but it was quite the opposite.”

The posting has been filled

Looking back, Dosanjh says she wonders whether racism played a factor. 

“The idea is out there that immigrants, when they come, they’re more of a burden to society —that they come empty handed,” she said.

“They also have a lot to give as well. They want to share what was life like in their country. They want to share richness, want to forge it together, weave it together.”

Irshad Manji, a Vancouver-raised author and educator who specializes in issues of race and multiculturalism, says Canada’s multicultural policies are in part responsible for why some immigrants don’t integrate with the broader Canadian society.

She says these policies emphasize preserving the status quo when it comes to traditions and don’t encourage diversity of thought.

Integrating means co-creating

“If Canada focuses on maintaining the status quo within cultures, the message to Canadians is that it’s OK to self-segregate,” she wrote in an email.

At the same time, she says integration needs to be more than immigrants being pressured to adopt” Canadian” values.

“Integration would mean that migrants see opportunities for co-creating their worlds with, not separate from, fellow Canadians,” she wrote.

Listen to the full interview: