By Chelsea Craig.
Featured image via Nanaimo Bulletin.
While our neighbors south of the border argue about who to let in, Canada remains an open society, one that welcomes newcomers and encourages immigration. Together, we’ve worked to build the country we now have today, one hundred and fifty years later.
Since the very start, Canada has been a country forged by patterns of immigration: French colonists settled in New France and Acadia, while British refugees, displaced by the Revolutionary War, proved transformative in developing Ontario, then known as Upper Canada. Indeed, an intercontinental railway soon brought thousands of new settlers from all over the world – ethnically diverse by design – to the prairies in the hopes of a better life; it was one of Canada’s early interior ministers under Laurier’s leadership, Sir Clifford Sifton, who recognized that – although not “anglo-saxon” – immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Netherlands with a strong farming background (“cold weather farmers”) would serve the needs of a growing agricultural region.
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My grandfather once told me something that embodied to me what Canada is to immigrants. He told me that if you want to be Canadian, then you are Canadian. My grandfather knew all about being an immigrant in Canada, having immigrated from Germany in the early 60s. Indeed, for as long as I can remember, my grandparents always insisted they were Canadians.
Canada is a nation that encourages diversity in its support of integration. The logic follows that if we were to start forcing people to integrate, leave their cultures behind and start fresh here, we would be undermining the integration process and in turn engendering the opposite result. Like my grandparents, people want to feel accepted for who they are and Canada, at its best, is a place that makes you feel welcomed as such.
As every Canadian half-familiar with our old cliche-ridden Heritage Minutes knows, the origin of Canada’s name is a Huron-Iroquois word, “kanata,” which means “village.” Cartier, inspired by his tour of Hochelaga, would come to name Eastern Canada, a “country of villages.” It’s sadly true, however, that we don’t always live up to our name.
Central to our history are stories that we mustn’t forget, times we failed to live up to our namesake, times when we put ethnic nationalism before community: Canada’s residential school system or our refusal to accept refugees fleeing the Holocaust, for instance. But only great nations take the time to question whether they are good. Canada is a nation that is always evolving, moving forward in the hopes of promoting the togetherness of its diverse population. This is why, as America starts to close off its borders, Canada could well become home to the “American Dream.”
America’s loss is Canada’s gain
Back in 2012, the Obama administration put forth the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) to help undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children get work visas.
Many of these children came to the US from Mexico or other Caribbean countries at a very young age. Their families continue to be illegal immigrants due to the lack of integration offered by the government. By never giving them proper channels of immigration, these people stay in the US, undocumented and often unable to gain access to necessary services. Some did not even enter the country illegally: many of them come on temporary work visas and simply never leave.
The major limitation with these work visas are their duration. After being in the US for long periods of time, immigrants may start families of their own – creating a life for themselves in their new country – and when their visas finally come due, they don’t want to leave. Not at all unreasonable. This is where Canadian laws outshine its neighbors. Canada offers a pathway to citizenship for people in similar situations, giving them a chance to contribute without having to hide or live illegally.
H1-B visas issued by the US federal government allow employers to employ foreign workers temporarily in occupations that they are trained for. Once this visa expires, however, said workers are forced to find another job that will sponsor them or leave the country. Canada has a great opportunity to attract these people north of the border, something which hasn’t been overlooked by our federal government (at least, if their promotions are any indication.)
Capitalizing on an era of closed borders and xenophobia, Canada has been wise to encourage skilled workers, as it has, to make the move and come to Canada. With many different visa opportunities and the potential chance of full immigration available, Canada continues to prove itself as an open nation benefiting from these skilled workers in a way the US is simply missing, all the while offering a similar culture to the US for immigrants and the advantage of being close in proximity, neighbors even.
Integration, the Canadian way
Getting people to Canada is one thing, but choosing who enters, who stays and why is another. The point system is currently in place to scale potential newcomers. In those regard, younger families, entrepreneurs, people with relatives in Canada already all receive high ranking scores.
You can follow the reasoning: young families will most likely have children who will stay and contribute to our economy, entrepreneurs will add to our national economy, having family in Canada aids with integration. Canada also will grant permanent residence to entrepreneurs who speak either official language, provided they’ve completed a year of college and have substantial finances.
Needless to say, Canada is still picky in its selection process, even President Trump thinks the point system has value to it. So how does Canada do it? We choose them, we integrate them and we accommodate them – all the while nurturing our own values and culture? You bet!
Canada has been a model example for reasonable accommodation, a process that happens when minorities want to integrate.
Over the past few decades, we’ve begun asking ourselves new questions about laws that we never had to before. How do women wearing face coverings vote? How can we integrate the Sikh turban into the RCMP uniform? As difficult as these questions can be at times, they prove that we are making progress. If we have to review the rules about voting, it means that newcomers are expressing an interest in voting. When someone cares about the society around them, they will vote. If a Sikh person wants to become an RCMP officer, it shows they want to play an important community role.
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Not every piece of the Canadian puzzle fits together just right – not all the provinces have practiced reasonable accommodation concurrently, nor is the path to indigenous reconciliation near its completion – but our own sense of belonging is the glue that holds us together. Canadians should be proud of the diversity we live in, we have gotten as far as we have by embracing each other. While countries around the world are turning to fear, Canada can serve as the example to the world that it so desperately needs.
Woven into the very fabric of the word, “Canada,” it’s compromise, acceptance of others and encouraging inclusiveness that sets us apart from many nations of late. Over the past one hundred and fifty years of immigration, of evolving, of coming together, many of us have come to respect this country of ours. We’ve put a lot of work into it. Resisting the urge to let fear win, Canadians must remember what kind of country we are and what example we hope to set for others. Canada: it’s a set of ideals worth celebrating this weekend. Better still, it’s a paragon worth striving to achieve every day.
Chelsea Craig is an advocate for youth engagement in politics. She recently graduated from Concordia University with a Bachelor’s degre in Political Science and is particularly passionate about Canadian and Quebec relations.