It’s Still Not Too Late to Reform Immigration
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, June 19, 2006

“Look, if Ukraine goes to war and they call me up, I’m not going,” Dmytro Cipywnyk, C.M., M.D., told the Ukrainian Weekly in 1997. “I’m a Canadian citizen.”

Multiculturalism’s most distinguished advocate and, arguably, its most distinguished citizen of Ukrainian heritage, made no bones about his first loyalty. Serving as president of a range of Ukrainian and inter-ethnic organizations, Saskatoon’s substance abuse and senior care doctor was widely honoured in Canada and Ukraine where he received its highest non-citizen award, the Order of Merit, in 2002, one year before he died.

It was a fitting conclusion to a life emblematic of the second generation Ukrainian-Canadian experience. For many, this meant life on a homestead with parents who spoke neither English nor French plus hard labour and privation. For the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who farmed Canada’s Parkland region, few escaped work in the fields, including children, even if it meant missing school where their unpronounceable names, babushkas and garlicky food were viewed suspiciously. For Cipywnyk, it meant no high school diploma until the age of 25.

But life overall was good, and for second generation Ukrainian-Canadians, steeped in the language and culture of the homeland while enjoying the opportunities and freedoms of the new land, reconciling the two was an obvious next step. Internationally, they advocated for Ukraine independence and, later, for the installation of democratic institutions. In Canada, they led the charge for recognition Canada’s multicultural reality by Lester Pearson’s Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission.

The rest, of course, is history. Multiculturalism, Cipywnyk would say, was Canada’s “gift to the world.” In a world of shifting demographics where in 1981 south London’s Brixton riots was a harbinger of recent events in Europe, the gift seemed timely. But was it all a mistake? Has official multiculturalism, a Charter entitlement since 1982, balkanized Canada and produced the 17 Muslim youth - all second generation Canadians – who today are alleged terrorists?

Certainly, multiculturalism has its weaknesses. From what historian W.L. Morton called “variations on a common experience of the land and history of Canada, and of the common allegiance in law and spirit to the traditions and the Crown of the land”, the Anglophone and Francophone founding peoples philosophy has, some fear, been diluted by multiculturalism and driven Quebec further into separatism. Issues around cultural relativism, affirmative action, and the politicization of cultural groups through community handouts and family class immigration policies also place it in a negative light.

But its overriding weakness, clearly, is a failure to see Canada in organic, culturally cohesive terms predicated on the contributions of the founding and immigrant communities, not their entitlements. Inevitably, the brittle mosaic concept must crack.

Important as these considerations are, none address the question of why one group of second generation Canadians would seek to reconcile their old land and new land identities through positive political action, while others seemingly can’t or won’t.

The answer exists in the prevailing circumstances and influences of the times in which they arrived.

Throughout Canadian history, immigrants have arrived with high hopes, a capacity for hard work, and a desire to fit in. Today, as before, they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve this. Yet, recently, it is their kids who are falling off the rails. Why? Because unlike early 20th century immigrant youth who might succumb to the temptations of tobacco and alcohol, today’s second generation youths are exposed to a toxic soup of disconnected or absentee parents, overburdened schools, drugs, ghettoized housing, and rogue internet cites.

Systemic in the general population, such problems are deadly in a community cursed by the accident of having been born in an era of catalytic Islamic extremism, knee jerk anti-Americanism and the cult of the victim. Deadly too, according to immigration expert Martin Collacott, in Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian (50 youth gang murders in 15 years), Vietnamese-Canadian (comprising 85% of marijuana grow-op arrests) and Toronto’s Jamaican-Canadian communities. To name three.

In other words, multiculturalism may not be the solution but neither is it the whole problem. Canada’s immigration policies, on the other hand, are.

At current immigration rates, the late Bernard Ostry recently informed us, non-whites will be the majority in Toronto and Vancouver within 12 years. The changing face of Canada aside and given the diminishing integrative capacities of these urban pressure cookers, first and second generation Canadians – including those from former French and British colonies - will have even fewer connections to the land much less Canada’s bicultural or multicultural history than previous immigrants.

Before his death, Ostry called for a Royal Commission on immigration and related issues. If ever public policy needed an overhaul, this is it. It isn’t too late.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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