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Diversity: Building a Better Canada

by Dave Southern

One January morning, ten years ago, three energetic, idealistic and committed individuals opened the doors to the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre. Three people with different cultural backgrounds and languages, from three different continents. The common thread that brought them together was their belief in the Canadian multicultural dream and their realization that to develop into the productive citizens they wanted to become, new Canadians needed help in coping with the realities of life in their adopted home.

A decade later, after helping to integrate thousands of clients into Canadian society, the services of VIRCS and other similar organizations, are needed more than ever. The irony is that despite VIRCS' success, achieving stable funding remains elusive. Despite Canada's claims of being a multicultural model for the world, the backlash against immigrants and refugees is stronger than it has been for a generation or more. The signs are there for all to seečthe clamping down on the numbers of refugee claimants and family-class immigrants, and the "send them back where they came from" attitudes of too many of our citizens; the cries that we're losing our national identity (i.e. our whiteness); the frightened claims that immigrants are stealing Canadians' jobs. Yet the reality is that the energy, enthusiasm, resourcefulness and finances immigrants bring to this country fuels the economy. The reality is that without immigration our population would be seriously in decline. The reality is, with the exception of the indigenous peoples, all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants.

Canada stands to benefit from the rich diversity that is the heritage of the peoples who make up this country - a diversity that enriches our social, economic and cultural life. The fact is, and perhaps this dawning realization is behind the increase in overt racism and the demands for changes to the previous immigration policies, immigration leads to the emergence of a new culture. Because of the diversity it creates within societies, immigration provides a continual reminder of "the other", who now appears both nearby and far away, and is no longer possible to ignore. Immigration requires openness - both from those that are already here and from the new arrivals. Multiculturalism necessitates a commitment to a society in which unity is contingent on acceptance of all those who find themselves within its borders. The good news is we Canadians have taken steps down the path that leads to such a society; the bad news is we still have a long way to go.

So, congratulations to the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre - the founders, the funders, the staff, the volunteers, the Board of Directors - for helping to light the path for the past 10 years! And thank you VIRCS for providing the support, coaching and training that facilitates your clients' transition into this society. Over the next decade, the challenge to VIRCS, and the other valuable agencies with similar goals, is to promote the openness and acceptance needed to provide the new Canadian culture the opportunity to evolve, to fulfil the promise that multiculturalism holds.

Dave Southern is President of the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre and a 1st generation immigrant to Canada.


MYTH

Immigrants are a burden on the economy, and a net tax loss for the government.

IN FACT

There is no established link between immigration and unemployment. Interestingly, the economy often grows during periods of high immigration. Immigration does not cause significant job displacement among Canadian born workers. Many immigrants create job opportunities by starting companies and investing capital.

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