COVER

Lessons Of Vancouver

Immigration raises fundamental questions of identity and values

ANDREW PHILLIPS February 7 1994
COVER

Lessons Of Vancouver

Immigration raises fundamental questions of identity and values

ANDREW PHILLIPS February 7 1994

Lessons Of Vancouver

COVER

ANDREW PHILLIPS

If the old Canada has a refuge and a stronghold these days, it may well be in legion halls across the land. It is there that veterans, their sons and their daughters have long gathered to sip rye and ginger and simply be together—upholding proud traditions of service and remembrance. These days, though, legion branches are anything but tranquil. Many are bitterly divided over whether to admit people wearing turbans—a seemingly obscure issue that starkly underlines the pain and confusion that results when the old Canada gives way to the new. For many legionnaires uncomfortable with the changes, the issue is straightforward. Turbans, as one Halifax legion member put it last week, should not be allowed because “tradition is tradition.”

These days, though, even tradition isn’t what it used to be. The new Canada wears not only legion caps and hockey sweaters, but saris and smart Hong Kong suits and—yes—turbans. In our big cities, and in many small towns as well, the highest levels of nonwhite immigration ever are raising fears and testing our commitment to the ideals of multiculturalism. Poll after poll shows Canadians increasingly hostile to immigration at a time of high unemployment: almost half of those surveyed by Gallup in December said the country should accept fewer immigrants. And the polite agreement among the old-line parties not to debate the issue seriously has vanished. Instead, the loudest voices in the new House of Commons openly question both the wisdom of accepting almost a quarter of a million newcomers a year and Ottawa’s two-decade-old policy of officially encouraging them to stress their separate identities rather than their common Canadian citizenship. Last week alone, Reform and Bloc Québécois MPs condemned official multiculturalism in harsher language than Parliament has heard for many years.

Because they accept 60 per cent of all immigrants, the country’s three biggest

cities—Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver—are being most profoundly reshaped by the newcomers from Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. But if Canada has a laboratory in which its new ethnic chemistry is being most acutely tested, it is surely Vancouver. The city’s position as a magnet for Asian immigrants means that change there has been most far-reaching. In typically Canadian fashion, established (mainly white) Vancouverites have for the most part expressed their concerns only in guarded fashion. But the changes are so profound that even many who regard themselves as liberal are bound to ask themselves: Is it all going too quickly? Is the city I knew being transformed into something alien? Will my children be well served by schools increasingly geared to serving youngsters whose greatest need is simply to learn English?

Until recently, it was virtually impossible to raise those questions publicly without being accused of intolerance, or even racism.

But the new Commons is bound to witness confrontations between Reform MPs who want immigration levels cut drastically, and a rookie immigration minister determined to uphold the traditional Liberal openness towards newcomers. Ironically, though, the pointed debate on immigration that seems about to begin will take place in a House that includes more visible minorities than ever before—MPs of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Filipino and West Indian heritage. Not to mention a record three native Canadians, who might justly regard all the other 292 MPs as “immigrants.”

Immigration raises fundamental questions of identity and values