Some months ago I dedicated a column to explaining why highly multicultural Mississauga with its large and growing Muslim community suffered more instances of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism than anything remotely racist in Moncton, NB. After all Mississauga was the epicentre in a battle against Friday Muslim prayers in high schools which made headlines around the world, then there was the spectacle of a white woman seen in a viral video insisting on seeing a white doctor and I rightly theorized that wherever a once demographically dominant group in a region is rapidly outnumbered by other groups, they feel threatened by their political and social stature in the region or country. This we have seen happen in cities where suddenly locals are outnumbered by ‘outsiders’, think Mumbai and other South Asian regions wracked by communal violence and disharmony. This is a primary reason Friday Muslim prayer in high schools in a town which is 90 per cent Caucasian won’t stir the kind of emotions and resistance we seen in diverse cities.
This is also the reason why Toronto councillor Neethan Shan has been receiving hate mail for putting forward a proposal to have January 29 be recognized as a Day of Remembrance & Action on Islamophobia in Toronto and nationally. It is unlikely such a push back could happen in cities like London, Ontario which proclaimed January 29th to be a Day of Remembrance happened without controversy. Needless to say it has not stirred the kind of negative reaction from London residents, most of whom happen to be Caucasian. Muslims for now form a really small visible minority along with other ethnic groups and naturally then residents feel obliged to bend backward and make them feel welcome.
Similarly it is highly unlikely a patient in St. John’s NB would kick up a fuss if she had to be seen by a brown doctor in a mostly white town.
Last week my theory was proven right when an index devised by EKOS Research and The Canadian Press to gauge populist sentiment found that fewer than half of Canadians appear on the “open” side.
The study found 50 per cent of those surveyed in the Atlantic region hold an “open” view, in other words they were confident about their economic future and class mobility, furthermore they had a perception of the ethnic makeup of the country that most closely mirrored reality. Whites make up about 70 per cent of Canada’s population, while ethnic groups make up around 30 percent and is growing. In all probability they live in towns and small cities which are 80 percent white, this may in part explain why they aren’t susceptible to populist movements. Now ofcourse if any single ethnic immigrant group were to move into town in significant numbers and become a ‘visible’ minority, attitudes would begin to change, that upbeat and positive view of multiculturalism would be replaced by rumblings of anti-immigrant sentiment that usually begins on the fringes and keeps claiming neutral mindsets over time. The support for populism could accelerate if the new minority that could in say 20 years outnumber the locals begin demanding unreasonable or reasonable accommodation or sued the city for Charter violations, discrimination and perceived racism. A populist mindset could then very quickly take root like it has in highly ethnic regions in the country.
Yet, in the Atlantic, the population is older, less diverse and somewhat less educated that in other regions.
The research also found that diversity of Canada’s major centres was to blame for a populism rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment. In many suburbs of those centers, for example Brampton and Markham or Surrey and Burnaby in B.C, some of which feature incredibly high concentrations of single ethnic groups, people can be just as much in search of a more traditional order as those in the rural pockets of the country.
So to all those who insist Canadians aren’t like the Americans when it comes to populism, think again. Immigration is a primary cause of populism in the US and anyone who thinks President Trump and the millions of Americans who want a wall on the Mexican border are racist think again, last month 40,000 people were apprehended trying to sneak across the border and experts say that is usually just a fraction of those who successfully get through. The country is being demographically transformed at an unprecedented pace, there are over 11 million illegal immigrants with more on the way. Canada currently has a few hundred walking across claiming refugee status, in a way our multiculturalism is protected by geography, we don’t have thousands of refugees streaming in on boats or across our borders. The illegal immigrants and refugees are ironically coming through the US where it is seemingly easier to gain entry than Canada. But if and when the number of illegals claiming refugee status here surges to even 10,000 a month, Canadians who believe in diversity and multiculturalism will be pushing for border controls and may even demand a wall, who knows you may have some Canadian leaders insisting that the wall is paid for by the US of A!
Years ago I met a senior citizen, white ofcourse, who was born and raised in Markham. “Look at what they’ve done to Markham,” he lamented. “I lived there for years and then suddenly I felt as though I had moved to Hong Kong. The neighborhood changed and the whole feel of the place forced us to move as we didn’t feel we belonged.” Now would you say that senior was a racist? There was likely a time when whites were a majority in Markham that he didn’t harbor any fear or hostility toward the mostly Chinese moving into neighborhoods, but at some point when he was possibly one of the last remaining original residents, he felt out of place and moved out.
I know of a Sindhi family who moved out of their neighborhood in Mississauga when over a span of five years most of their new neighbors belonged to a single ethnic group. He had no issue with that specific ethnicity until it became a majority and he felt culturally and socially vulnerable.
More and more Canadian cities are demographically destined to look and feel like Mississauga and Markham and once new ethnicities form critical masses in the cities they settle, there will be an inevitable clash of cultures and values. And bland statements from political leaders won’t cut it. Ethnic minorities will have to think beyond suing cities and filing Human Rights complaints because winning such claims is the easy part, winning over the hearts and minds of those fearful and hateful can only be done by a great PR strategy and an integration plan. Infact each time an immigrant walks away with a multi-million dollar settlement over a lawsuit against Canada or some institution because of someone acting or saying something racist, hatred and ill-feelings against immigrants deepens.
When ethnic minorities are a genuine minority in a predominantly white city or town, they tend to be embraced by the residents who view their presence as a badge of honor- diversity is ‘diverse’ and consequently there aren’t sufficient South Asians for example to demand that the town provide a dedicated cricket field, there isn’t the need for a huge place of worship that would rattle old time residents, Main Street’s pubs and continental restaurants won’t be re-opened as Kabab Houses or Biryani Palaces and so long-time residents don’t feel their way of life or traditions are being threatened by new ethnicities. That sort of feeling changes as can be seen in big cities where ethnic minorities usually end up getting their way, often after bruising battles with opponents. White Canadians are usually told to suck it up and are called racist when they protest changes that they see as threatening to the way things used to be done before new ethnic minorities showed up.
Populism will happen and politicians should be prepared to deal with it because it won’t go away by simply reiterating their commitment to diversity and multiculturalism every single day. It will only go underground and metastasize into something horrible in the years to come. –CINEWS