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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
The Asian Dimension in Canada


Invariably, no matter what the topic is at Couchiching, somebody always asks the question about national unity.

Canada was founded, at least when one studies history books and when one has listened to national debate over the years, the concept of two nations, French and English; 1867 was some time ago and now we have other actors on the scene.

We have aboriginal people who have moved forward and wish to be part of the national debate, wish to be recognized in the national debate. We also have people from other cultures, which are neither English, nor French, from Asia.

My question is does the two nation concept have any relevance in today's debate on national unity and, if so, to whom?

Kobayashi: I have a great deal of trouble with the two nations concept and, with respect, the First Nations were here before the two founding cultures. So, I wonder if two nations should be Mohawk and Algonquin.

What we're talking about, of course, is military might and colonialism. The concept of two founding cultures comes out of the history of colonialism. I don't want to engage in revisionist history and challenge the fact that this is what our country is based on. Of course, it is.

But, I think we have to recognize that fact and recognize that Asian Canadians were here at the time that the two founding cultures founded and they are not recognized in the history books as founding, because they didn't have the power. They didn't have the power internationally, they certainly didn't have the power within Canada.

We don't want to go back and rewrite history and change the basis upon which it was built. But, I think we have to look at the implications of that colonial history, and Canada is certainly a post-colonial society and ask, what do we have from it now and how do we want to change it in order that we don't have the kind of excesses of power that we had in the past?

Manji: I think it's also important to remember in this regard that at the 1867 Charlottetown conference that literally created this state called Canada, almost half the delegates from that place then known as Lower Canada, now known as Quebec, voted against joining Confederation.

So, let's can the romantic notions of Canada as ever having been one big happy family that is somehow being torn apart by the mistress, called nationalism, today. I think Canada very much is an experiment; it is a construct and like all constructs it is open to being dismantled and being rearranged.

And the question for me always has been: can we acknowledge that there is more than enough diversity, both as a result of the Aboriginal presence in Canada, as well as the new and old immigrant presence in Canada, can we acknowledge that there is more than enough diversity for us to continue our tradition of accommodation with or without Quebec.

I have the honour of being Canada's ambassador to OECD, in spite of the fact I have a Greek name, I'm a Greek-Canadian, a difficult name — almost as difficult as some of the other names on the panel, and I wasn't even born in Canada. This I think is testimony to the nation we have.

I remember hosting a reception at OECD where, not only was the Canadian ambassador a Greek-Canadian born in Egypt, but the press attache of the environment minister from Canada was born in Romania, the deputy minister was born in England and the minister himself was an Italian born in Argentina.

This has impressed my OECD colleagues more than our deficit reduction strategies and all the other things.

My question is should we not go beyond assimilation and multiculturalism.

Assimilation is the melting pot idea; the idea that we should all, whether Greek, or Asia or Italian, become British- Canadians or French-Canadians.

Multiculturalism means that we should all remain in our islands. I should speak Greek to you, you should speak Korean to me and we stop it at that.

Should we not go further than that? I've suggested in one of my books that we could latch onto the idea of transculturalism. And transculturalism would mean that we would go beyond our origins in order to build a new integration, a new synthesis where at the very minimum we'd all be speaking not two, but three languages and go on from there and come up with new Canadian integration that would be much richer than the initial elements that compose it.

I'd like to ask the most radical of the panelists, whoever that person is.

Kobayashi: I couldn't agree more. I would like to continue to use the term multiculturalism, not to mean the separation of cultures, but the bringing together of cultures. I think not only transculturalism, but transnationalism are in many ways the watchwords of the '90s and these are very exciting concepts. You've said it and I agree.

Yi: That's a very exciting idea and I would vote for that. However, the present reality, the problem is we are having trouble teaching English or French to the newcomers in this country. Yes, maybe two or three generations down the road where they can no longer see the colour of their friends, or notice the accent, this may be possible.

But, Canada is still an experiment. We have trouble. Go to any ESL school with budget cuts. They can't teach newcomers how to speak to get a job or fill out an application form, so I resist looking that far ahead. I may not be around for that.

Ms. Yi, I was particularly interested in the point you made about the necessity for Canada to have some criteria for immigration, for the possibility for people coming to this country to enter into the country. What do you think those criteria should be?

Yi: I'll deal with the refugees first. I think refugees without question be given a place in this country. Now, if it's as simple as that there would be no problem. What happens is you get bogus refugees. You have over 40 million people out there in the world without a state, without a home, all looking at Canada.

The problem is we don't have a strict security system to check on these people. I've met refugee officers at immigration where there's 10 refugees from the same country giving them the same story. They just exchange the names and the dates. I've heard stories about how people here, black people from Africa with white men's passports, with white men's pictures on their passport, but they're passed through France because all they have to say, we're on our way to Canada.

Canada is the laughing stock in the international community right now, because they know [if] you're coming to Canada you can stay. So, even when they're in Europe, the customs officers will pass you through. They're going to Canada, not our problem any more.

The criteria should be, yes the refugees should be allowed in, but there should be a system to screen them. How do we know if they're telling the truth or not. I don't have the answer for that.

When it comes to immigrants, talking about it in dollars and sense, you put down $500,000 you have a visa into Canada and you can stay because you're classified as a business investor.

If you're from Central America or any other country dealing drugs, $500,000 is pocket change. When you slap that money down on the table they do not do security checks on you very often, because they figure, you're dressed in a nice suit, you seem respectable.

I'm not saying Asians can't come and blacks can't come. Those are not the criteria I'm talking about; I'm talking about tightening the security system and controlling the flow. I don't care where they come from, what colour, what country, what nationality.

Manji: To add to what Sonny is saying, because I think her case is overstated, I believe we are suffocating many of our newcomers with suspicion these days. I'm not sure that my refugee family, were we to come to Canada under the conditions that we did in 1972, [that] we would be let into this country.

While I don't want to suggest that just because we were let in everybody else should be let in, because we are the universal standard by which all refugees ought to be judged.

There is room for faith in this country. I can tell you that some of the things that have worried me over the last few years are a Prime Minister in the name of Kim Campbell quoting the politics of inclusion and yet setting up a Ministry of Public Security and moving most of the immigration department there.

What worries me is a $975 landing fee, better known as a head tax — and more honestly known as a head tax — $975, incidentally, is the equivalent of a decade's worth of work in some parts of the Third World.

Five hundred thousand dollars may be change for those who deal drugs; $975 is a decade's worth of work for many of those who don't. When that is placed on all immigrants and refugees, that's significant.

I can also tell you from first hand experience as a journalist, from having see this documented this, that there are some refugees today who are adorned with leg shackles and iron handcuffs and crowded into Canadian detention centres, despite being charged with absolutely no crime and despite sometimes being as young as 13.

These are the cases that ought to be considered, as well, along with the kind of cases that Sonny is pointing out. And again, it's not an either/or proposition. It's not one way or the other. It's far too complex for that. So, I do appreciate what you're saying, Sonny, when you say that you don't have the answers.

Yi: The counter argument to that is — $975 most refugees don't have that kind of money — so those who can afford to come here, some of them are not bona fide refugees. The real refugees are sitting in Ethiopia, Somalia, in Mexico, in China without a penny to their name.

Those people are the ones who should be brought here. The Red Cross or whatever international organization you want should go out there, search for these people and bring them over. Those who can afford thousands of dollars, I immediately get suspicious.

Kobayashi: I don't disagree with Sonny's desire for criteria. What disturbs me is that it sounds as though the norm of the refugee is a bogus norm.

When I go out to talk to people about immigration, I'm very disturbed when recently someone said, so what are you working on these days. I said, I'm working on immigration. She said, yes, what are we going to about that immigration problem. We're bringing all these criminals into Canada. How are we going to stop it? — as though the whole immigration process is about importing a bunch of criminals into Canada.

The fact is of course there are bogus claims, of course there are criminals and of course, where any system is set up that is subject in any way to abuse, it's going to be abused.

The level of abuse, the number of criminals is actually lower than the representation within the Canadian population as a whole. And it's very important to keep that in mind, because there's such a strong tendency in our society to create stereotypes.

So what happens is that anyone who comes into the country as a legitimate refugee or immigrant, which is the vast majority, immediately gets painted with that brush. That's very unfair and that's part of the whole problem by which stereotypes build up and make it very difficult for the very people you're talking about to become part of Canadian life because they've got those strikes against them to begin with.