Immigration in Canada

The documentary entitled Who Gets In? from filmmaker Barry Greenwald takes a look at Canadian immigration practices in 1989. The film focuses on Hong Kong and various parts of South Western Africa to examine who is allowed into the country. Please watch this fantastic film produced by the National Film of Board of Canada!!

The following is some of my thoughts on the film and how anti-racist education can be implemented.

The Barry Greenwald film entitled Who Gets In? (1989), made me grimace from the opening moments all the way to the conclusion of the film. At times my heart sank for the immigration applicants who were denied, and at other times I felt disgusted by the Canadian government’s handling of so-called “undesirable” cases. Throughout Greenwald’s film the question “Who gets in?” is posed. Each time this question is posed, a new set of rules is introduced to the viewer. However, each new set of rules is based on the geopolitics of a given region. As noted in the film, only three immigration officers are stationed in the immensely populated continent of Africa, whereas 13 are stationed in the small British colony of Hong Kong. The reason for the disproportionately placed personnel is simple: money.

Greenwald’s film begins and ends in Hong Kong, an area the Canadian government finds highly desirable in the search for new Canadians. However, Van Tan Yen, the first immigration applicant we are introduced to, is a resident of refugee camp that houses 1500 people in a detention center. Unfortunately, because of his socio-economic status, he is unable to meet the immigration standards set out by the Canadian government. The opposite is true for the elite of Hong Kong’s business class. As outlined by the narrator of the documentary, the most desirable applicant has a considerable amount of liquid assets, has a skill set that can be put in place immediately, and is willing to invest substantially into the Canadian economy. The only other type of applicant considered desirable in Hong Kong is the migrant, female caregiver, who will be given permission to work long hours for low wages in Canada.

As mentioned earlier, on the African continent, a limited number of immigration personnel are stationed. This is due to the limited number of desirable Canadian immigrants available in the area. Early in Greenwald’s film, we are introduced to Mike Malloy, the head immigration officer who will personally approve each and every new Canadian from Africa. Many of Malloy’s concerns are made clear throughout his meeting with various applicants. Some applicants show remarkable promise in terms of their intelligence and motivation, however, Malloy is not allowed to approve their applications due to political circumstances – if he lets in too many people that are wanted by a given government, Canada risks losing diplomacy with that nation. Therefore, Malloy refuses the applications of people whose lives are at risk. Admitting immigrants for humanitarian purposes is not a priority of the Canadian government. However, bringing in foreign investments through immigration channels is exactly why the Canadian government had a stronghold in Honk Kong.

Rather than running immigration campaigns in foreign countries, Canada might as well put up signs saying “Tax Payers Wanted”. Greenwald’s film makes it painfully clear that the Canadian government is interested only in how much money can be brought into the country by wealthy foreigners. Only successful people of the upwardly mobile class are sought out to become Canadians. Although Greenwald’s film was made in 1989, many of the immigration policies outlined within it are still in place today. The type of Canadian considered desirable may have shifted slightly, however, the government’s plans for those Canadians is more rigid than ever. For example, the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) has been in place for about a decade in Saskatchewan. To be eligible for this program, a family member of the immigrant must be able to sponsor them though a series of conditions. One of the primary conditions is money. If the sponsor does not have several thousand dollars in liquid assets, they are unable to sponsor a family member. The potential immigrant must also have employable skills and English language proficiency. Once these new Canadians have arrived in the country, many of them work in low-income positions, for example, in customer service related positions. One of the results of the program is the creation of a class of low-income earners that are primarily immigrants.

The main coping strategy Canadian society has used over the last few decades has been the discourse of the “multicultural state”. Evidence of this can be seen in Regina during the city’s annual Mosaic, a three day fair during which a number of countries are allotted pavilions in which they serve traditional food and stage traditional performances. Allowing so-called “ordinary” Canadians in to view the “spectacle” of other ethnic groups has served as a reliable way of integrating these two different groups while appeasing them both – the “ordinary” Canadians are allowed to feel as if they are tolerant, open-minded citizens, while the ethnic populations is allowed to bestow some of its cultural heritage upon the “ordinary” Canadian. This model has succeeded in appeasing both demographics, however, how does it address anti-racist pedagogies? Often times, “ordinary” Canadians leave the “multicultural” encounter with a singular understanding of the “ethnic” Canadian, and vice versa. Having adopted this singular understanding, the “ordinary” Canadian often comes away with the idea that the “ethnic” Canadian is, for example, religiously fundamental, oriented in only certain skills (math, science) and is artistically one-sided in their appreciation. And vice versa, the “ethnic” Canadian sees the “ordinary” Canadian as having no culture and no values. This dilemma is perpetuated by the “multicultural” model. Adopting pedagogical strategies that reduce a singular understanding of both “ethnic” peoples and “ordinary” peoples must be employed.

As a pre-service teacher, my primary objective in terms of anti-racist pedagogy would be to do away with this singular understanding. This can be accomplished by introducing a wide variety of texts into the classroom. Musical, filmic and written texts composed by people of different ethnicities is at the core of creating multiple understandings of varying ethnicities. Also, studying historical texts such as Who Gets In? can help generate an awareness of how things have become they way they are – context is extremely important to thoroughly understanding any social phenomenon. Also, by recognizing multiple literacies such as traditional practices can go a long way to valuing some of our students’ skills. Perhaps the most important thing to be done as an educator is giving our foreign students a voice – this can be done by including them in class discussion on any and every topic and allowing them to enlighten the class on what living elsewhere on the globe is like. However, by also allowing them to develop a voice on what life is like as an ordinary Canadian, may be the best way to make them “ordinary” Canadians.

Thanks for reading.

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1 Response to Immigration in Canada

  1. Harv,

    This is a wonderfully written article on immigration in Canada. I too find it repulsive that Canada would determine who comes to this country based on the interests of foreign investments rather than whose life may be saved. Do you know if this is the result of the conservative government in place, or is this policy the same for the Liberals and the NDP?
    I also agree quite strongly with your discussion about multiculturalism and the single identity that is taken away from events like Mosaic. Winnipeg puts on a similar event called Folklarama. It too show cases song and dance and people eat the delicious traditional food. So far, what I know of the Ukraine based on that event is that their male dancers are incredibly flexible and every baba loves to make homemade perogies and cabbage rolls. Not quite. There needs to be richer information about cultures around the world, and students need to learn that Canadians are not without a cultural identity of their own.

    Again, well done as always 🙂

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