Immigrants have been and are crucial to Canada, a recent forum at Okanagan College emphasized.
Sponsored by the Shuswap Inclusion Project to eliminate racism and hate, discussions focused on how this community could be more welcoming, Canada’s immigration history and B.C.’s current statistics, as well as the contributions of immigrants.
Panelist Dr. Chris Clarkson, chair of the college’s history department, explained how immigration policy has always been customized to suit Canada’s needs.
First, thousands of Chinese workers were imported to help build the national railway, costing many lives. Then Chinese immigration was prohibited the year the railway was completed.
The western settlement initiative was targeted at attracting European and American settlers. Legislation was implemented to allow only immigrants who came by way of a continuous voyage, however, in order to keep out British subjects from Asia.
Legislation disallowing individuals not suited to the climate was used to bar African Americans and others.
While the current point system is more transparent and subject to being challenged, he said the emphasis on skilled workers and investors continues to promote a policy that is focused on Canada’s needs over that of potential immigrants.
Tina Marten, a graduate sociology student from UBC-Okanagan, focused on recent immigration to B.C.
Since 2006, she said, two-thirds of B.C. immigrants were selected for their skills and ability to contribute, part of a continuing trend. Family class immigrants and refugees were reduced by 14.3 per cent in 2010. Overall, 66 per cent come from Asia, 13 per cent from Europe, 10 per cent from Africa and the Middle East. Seventy per cent of new immigrants could speak English. Of those arriving, 79 per cent were of working age, 55 per cent had a university degree, and 22 per cent had other forms of training. Marten emphasized that Canada needs immigration because of its aging population and shrinking birth rate. This need is even greater in areas like the Okanagan-Shuswap, she said, where young professionals are being lured away to metropolitan areas.
Bernie Desrosiers of Shuswap Settlement Services concurred, but added that immigration also contributes to the health of the other three generators of economic wealth – land, capital and entrepreneurship.
Nearly one third of the scientists engaged in research and development in Canadian universities were born abroad. Many of these discoveries allow for innovations that make previously uneconomical business ventures profitable. Investment immigrants bring with them considerable sums of money that fund the start of new businesses and enhance consumer demand, creating an expansionist economy. Finally, he said, immigrants bring with them different ways of doing things, which, when combined with that of other cultures, creates an entrepreneurial culture that is dynamic and innovative.
Questions from the audience of approximately 30 focused on what citizens might do to create a more welcoming and inclusive community. Answers varied from the need to secure government base funding for settlement services in the Shuswap, to the need for more intense language training programs, to assisting with securing housing and employment, to celebrating multiculturalism.
“The purpose of these meetings is to get some public discussion going around… any situations that might breed hate or any kind of discrimination,” said Desrosiers.
A study of the region was suggested to identify the economic sectors of the Shuswap most likely to expand and areas of possible labour and investment shortages. Being proactive will help the Shuswap compete successfully with other communities experiencing the same needs, speakers said.
The ‘Immigrants: Who Needs Them’ forum was the first of several initiatives by the Shuswap Inclusion Project to promote discussion concerning sectors of the community who are often victims of racism and hate.