The Canadian Dream That Never Was
We like to think of ourselves as the good guys... reality is somewhat different.
By Ryan Hurley
That doesn’t happen here. The pompous
refrain of urbane Canadians when hearing
horror stories of racism, slave labour, and lack
of access to quality healthcare.
It seems that the ideas of (nearly) universal healthcare and a cultural mosaic are ingrained within our national consciousness. Warm, fuzzy Canada. The land of politeness, peacekeeping, and multiculturalism.
Every smug-looking bastard with a Canada Goose jacket and an Audi can walk down his tree-lined street with a clear conscience. Canada—free of albatross bling since… well I guess the mid- twentieth century.
This national delusion has grave consequences and is not just hypocritical, rather, it’s dangerous. If these ideas are professed, but not lived, it could spell doom for us all. We think of ourselves as the good guys, the noble losers of the north, but the reality is different.
How could things like “that” happen here? Surely our vast legions of bureaucracy and charities should hold fast the bastions of the welfare state against the hordes of the great unwashed? Not so. I spoke to some of them at a recent event organized by local MP, Matthew Kellway, and his constituency office staff. The talk began with a brief introduction. The first presenter was Axelle Janczur, the executive director of Access Alliance Multicultural Health & Community Services. Access Alliance is a community service that works to improve healthcare for the most vulnerable groups of immigrants including refugees, among others. She spoke of the problems faced by many newcomers to Canada in both obtaining and receiving help from inside the healthcare system. One example in particular was refugees from violence, who are faced with wounds that often can’t be seen on the outside. The stigma attached to afflictions like PTSD in some cultures makes it even harder for people who need help to get it. And if someone does manage to get help, it often isn’t covered by the government. This leaves many without proper treatment, and we seem to find it easy to wash our hands clean of them, as we do our veterans in many similar cases.
Another group that faces specific challenges, according to Ms. Janczur, comprises LGBTQ newcomers. Many face problems due to cultural prejudice against their sexual orientation. This group can feel isolated—stuck between a culture that doesn’t appreciate who they are and, well, a Canadian culture that also doesn’t like them, albeit not always because they are gay. Sometimes it is because they aren’t white.
Not all of Axelle’s presentation was so disheartening. The people at Access Alliance truly work hard to help those in greatest need. They continue to offer services like weekly drop-in and settlement workshops to LGBTQ people who are new to Canada.
The second presentation was by Jessica Farias, the outreach and welcoming communities coordinator, and Sadia Khan, the public education and project assistant of the Mennonite New Life Centre. The New Life Center is a community-based settlement agency where newcomers and other Canadians from all walks of life gather to support each other and to fight for social justice.
Jessica spoke of the need for more funding to help people new to Canada. The federal government, under Mr. Harper, has cut back funding to settlement agencies. It has also vowed to limit refugees and so-called “false refugee claimants” with regards to healthcare. Many people have nowhere to turn when they fall ill, and are simply tossed by the wayside. Ms. Farias told stories of people waiting long periods of time to be reunified with their families, due to the politically motivated shutdown of the family reunification program. It was re-opened quickly, and said to have eliminated a backlog, when in fact, this was accomplished by simply deleting requests from the system. Only the very wealthy need apply for this program now. Fine work on behalf of our legislators.
The Mennonite presenters also spoke of a danger of ghettoization among newcomers. The poor are often people who aren’t white, and as the Condo City booms, more and more immigrant communities are being pushed to the outlying areas—literally, the margins of our society. Many people are stuck in lowwage jobs, or with no jobs at all, and facing discrimination in the workplace, must find other means of getting by.
The third presentation was about just that. It was a study of shadow economies—the undocumented ways that people manage to get by. This means more to many immigrants than just paying a babysitter or cheating taxes with a contractor you know. Nasima Akter the executive director of Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services and Diane Dyson, director of research and public policy at WoodGreen Community Services, gave a talk about their recent study. The report, compiled with the help of various community groups, turns on its head the notions of innovation and resilience commonly associated with the immigration process in Canada. That is to say, the traditional outlook, often professed by those separated from their own immigrant ancestors by several generations, who see immigration as a matter of paying your dues.
People on the right chalk it up to resilience in the hopes of a better life. People on the left use abstract notions of agency. According to this report, both of those views are completely without merit. The stark reality is that many face poverty, discrimination, and often find themselves working in low-wage survival jobs. Those are the lucky ones; many others find themselves working in the informal economy—cash jobs—often where things like the minimum wage and workers’ safety don’t matter. This is the kind of stuff you expect to hear about when you read about immigration in the 19th century, not the 21st. The report did have some success stories, but they were the exceptions rather than the rule.
Finally came Lysane Blanchette- Lamothe, the NDP critic for Citizenship and Immigration. Her stories were similar, however, one in particular stood out. A woman went to the hospital to give birth, but as she didn’t have the correct paperwork ready, and her family was unable to put up the king’s ransom in fees that would apply, so she was cut loose. Pushed out into the night by Canadian doctors in a Canadian hospital, to either throw herself at the feet of another medical institution, or give birth on her own.
This is what goes on in Canada. The Canadian dream, if there ever was one, is dying. Who is killing it? Mr. Harper with his Neo- Con economic policies? A series of bumbling governments, cutting social spending to benefit the bottom line?
All these things might be contributing to it, but the real answer is more disturbing and therefore contentious. In the words of two great philosophers, Jagger and Richards, “We shouted out who killed the Kennedys, but after all it was you and me.”
No sympathy for the devil, even the one in the mirror. Res ipsa loquitor. Now, my friends, what is to be done?