‘International students’ cast a shadow on Brampton

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Pradip Rodrigues

In December 2017 a viral video of a brawl between two large groups of young Punjabi men at a Brampton plaza should have served as an early warning of things to come. Back then no one wanted to make a distinction between the Punjabi youth who’ve grown up here and international students. Since then several more such videos showing fights between young South Asians have emerged, but the one that occurred last week which almost claimed the life of one person has led to calls for action. The issue has received the attention of all the local politicians who’ve addressed the issue, community elders and self-styled leaders are now calling for action against this sort of violence which by common consensus seems to be perpetrated by young ‘international students’.

There is no question that coming to Canada as an international student has emerged as an immigration visa category of its own and has been responsible for the current crisis. This student visa category is favored by those who would never qualify under the normal immigration category. Virtually anyone coming in this way is assured of PR status.

While everyone is scapegoating foreign students there is plenty of blame to go around. For years South Asians in Canada have pressurized their MPs and MPPs to make it easy for their extended families and friends to immigrate here. Then when coming to Canada as an international student all but guaranteed PR status, many of their relatives and friends came through that route. Now I’ve actually heard many in the community complaining about the lax immigration rules that have allowed the wrong kind of students into the country. They are now urging the immigration minister to tighten the rules and close the loopholes.

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First off, to solve the problem one has to look at the number of private unaccredited colleges that have mushroomed to cash in on the boom. Many Canadian universities are now so reliant on foreign students for their survival and are tailoring courses and may even be lowering their admission standards and requirements in order to lure international students.

Then you look at the quality of some of the international students, a good number who cannot even speak English well enough to get a decent job, so they end up working for cash under the table for mostly small South Asian businesses where their wages are often well below the minimum wage. There are reports of these foreign students being used as cheap labor and exploited terribly by community businessmen.

Everyone seems to be in on the racket from universities to businesses to individual landlords who cram their basements with international students.

Over the months there have been anecdotal reports and a few media reports about scams involving international students. Like the one where smart girls from Punjab heading for further studies here have their education paid for in full by the families of boys who could only qualify to come to Canada as their ‘husbands’. The law allowing spouses to work on arrival has incentivized marriages of convenience.

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Some international students have become landlords with money sent from India, a part of that money is used to pay off a businessman willing to issue a letter of employment which helps in securing a mortgage. Many of these houses end up being more like frat houses.

In some instances it is not just the spouse fake or real who gets to come to Canada along with the international student, in time their parents also join them.

Some say it is a case of chickens coming home to roost.

Today South Asian residents in Brampton are worried about the negative impact international students are having on their image and neighborhoods. On social media some lament the possible fall in property values. Others are fearful of the loss of their own values. Others fear their own Canadian-born children may be affected by the violence or may be ensnared into relationships and marriages by the ‘wrong people’. And yet there are some who will with a straight-face insist that these international students are giving the community a bad name. I guess they probably believe that the community has always had a great reputation before the students showed up!

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Here is what happens when any community insists that airing dirty linen in the mainstream will give the community a bad name. The mainstream backs off, starting with the police who do so by default because they do not get the public cooperation and the tips to solve crimes that occur with the community. So a problem is allowed to fester until it starts to affect and claim lives, then all of a sudden there are calls for the police to do more policing and calls to politicians to do their jobs of regulating private colleges and close the loopholes.

On social media it is heartening to see the community come together and have an honest discussion about things like Canadian values. There are calls for international students to ‘understand Canadian culture’, that comes from people whose own understanding of what it truly means to be Canadian is questionable. Today it seems like the entire South Asian community has turned upon international students coming from the same background. It is almost as though these ‘outsider’s are holding up a mirror in front of their Canadian community counterparts and the reflection seems to be horrifying everyone curious enough to peer at their own reflections. -CINEWS

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