Category Archives: Published Articles by Tung

Harmony

The differences between the different cultural groups co-existing in the Lower Mainland are very evident. People go to different places to worship. They listen to different radio stations, read different newspapers, eat at different restaurants, idolize different movie stars and cheer on different types of sports.

No one would worry much if the lines of demarcation are drawn according to age, gender or socio-economic status. But all kinds of alarm bells sound when the lines are drawn along cultural or ethnic lines — particularly post 9/11.

People are worried that new Canadians living in such cultural and ethnic enclaves will form ghettos that become hotbeds of segregation. At the very least, these cultural groups, critics maintain, will never be fully integrated into mainstream Canadian society.

The fact is, it is only human nature to gravitate towards others who share a similar cultural background in a new environment. It is also human nature that over time, people will venture to explore other cultures surrounding their communities. And in the long-run, through greater interaction, the communities will integrate with each other.

In order for that to happen, the host society needs to be willing to welcome the new culture and accept the new comers as equals. At the same time, the new comers have to be willing to learn and adapt to the new culture without feeling pressured to giving up their own.

The ideal state for multiculturalism is to achieve a state that best described by a Chinese proverb: “Harmony but distinct”

A harmonious but distinct society is like a symphonic orchestra.  The strings sections congregate together in one section while the winds sections sit together in another. No one in their right mind would suggest that the violinists in an orchestra form a ghetto. Under the baton of a good conductor, the musicians play beautiful music together. Each section contributes to the making of a glorious concerto penned by a masterful composer.

In a multicultural society, our Constitution is our song sheet and our political leadership is our conductor. The Constitution lays out shared values as a society. Within that broad framework, our political leaders are free to guide each segment of the society to achieve their maximum potential for the common good of the country.

The challenge facing our multicultural nation now is twofold. First, we are more like a jazz band having its first jam session than like a well rehearsed orchestra. Second, while we have a good piece of music, our conductor lacks the understanding of the nuances of various instruments that make up the orchestra.

In a typical orchestra, while the people who plays string instrument are likely not good at playing percussions, they generally do not look down upon the percussionists. Musicians also tend to have some basic understanding of each other’s contribution to the performance of the masterpiece.

Judging from some of the criticisms leveled by some people towards our minority cultural groups, it is evident that not everyone in our country is respectful of newcomers nor appreciates their contributions to the society in a multicultural context. It is also entirely possible that not all members of our society, including but not limiting to the different cultural groups that are new to this country, have a good grasp of the values expressed in our Constitution.

A jazz band can only make good music if each player has a good feel of the other players’ mood, ability and tempo. This can only be achieved by consistent practice and keen ears. For a multicultural society to become a harmonious and distinct civilization, we also need to practice our art of living together by learning to appreciate each other’s mood, ability and tempo.

Our political leaders and government bodies also need to be more reflective of our multicultural society in order for them to have a better understanding of the aspirations of the various minority cultural groups.

Our federal, provincial and municipal bureaucracies need to have processes and systems in place to ensure that different cultural perspectives and interests are brought into play in the design of policies.

I hope that Canadians will continue to make wonderful and glorious music in a harmonious and distinctive way.

Citizenship is a state of the mind

Citizenship is a state of the mind. It is about personal identity and loyalty. Citizenship does not exist in a plastic card or a little blue covered booklet. It is not what other people say who you are, but who you think you are.

Canada has a long history of accepting people holding dual allegiances. Indeed, this country was founded by people who had a strong desire to swear allegiance to the British monarch as a colony rather than as an independent state.  The French population in the formative years of Canada held similar allegiance to France. The aboriginal people of Canada have never given up their hope of nationhood.

When the First World War broke out, although Canada was not directly attacked, our forefathers proudly went to the aid of England, the homeland of many of the Canadians of the time. By action and by deed, we, as a country, had demonstrated that dual allegiance was not only acceptable, but honoured.

In the last three decades, we, as a nation, have grown up. We are now more confident of ourselves. We now have our own Constitution.  Our Supreme Court is now the final Court of Appeal. We no longer need to seek the approval of another country to change our Constitution.

Some think that with that we need to cut our ties with the country whence we came. Still others argue that Canadians should swear allegiance only to Canada and no other country.  

Some people also point out that Canadians should be allowed to carry only one plastic card proclaiming their Canadian citizenship. Canadians, these critics say, should not be allowed to carry another little booklet that identifies them as citizens of another country.

But is this what citizenship is all about?

During the Second World War, our soldiers did not fight to defend our territory. They fought to defend our way of life. They laid down their lives so we could enjoy our freedom. Their sacrifices allow us to live in a society that is ruled by law. Laws that are enacted by a freely elected assembly; interpreted by an independent judiciary; and applied by corruption free law enforcement bodies.

In other words, they fought to defend our values. The values that they fought for include equity, due process of the law and fairness.

In my mind, citizenship is about sharing and subscribing to these set of commonly held values.  Canadians may express these values in a variety of ways based on their cultural, economical and religious background. People may have different priorities when it comes to these values, but these values set us apart as Canadians.

So as long as people subscribe to and willing to defend such values, why should we care if they also hold citizenship of another country? And if people do not share or subscribe to such values, what good is it for us to limit them to just holding a Canadian citizenship to the exclusion of all others?

Of course, there are practical matters to consider. Things like the cost of providing consular services to Canadians of dual citizenship who chose to live abroad. Matters like the cost of providing medical services to the Canadian Diaspora population when they grow old and decide to return to Canada to live. Issues like the cost of providing education to the children of Canadians who chose to live and work abroad, but leave their children behind.

I believe there is a simple solution to these economic concerns.  Canada should implement an income tax regime similar to the United States. As long as a person is a Canadian citizen, he or she should be required to file annual Canadian income tax returns regardless of his or her place of residence.

With close to 2.7 million Canadians living abroad according Asia Pacific Foundation, our government should be able to collect sufficient tax revenues to look after current and future services to the Canadian Diaspora population.

Since we cannot have taxation without representation, we should put programs in place to encourage Canadian overseas to participate in federal and provincial elections based on their last place of residence in Canada. In so doing, we will ensure that they stay connected to Canada and we stay connected to them.

The positive effects of having 2.7 million committed, connected and concerned Canadians living abroad can only be limited by one’s imagination.

These people could promote two way trades with their current place of residence. They could encourage cultural exchanges. They could act as our good will ambassadors.  

For all these reasons, I am in favour of keeping our proud tradition of allowing people to have dual citizenship.

Looking forward to un- hyphenation

During this special week we should remember that citizenship is a relatively recent right for some and should never be taken for granted

© Vancouver Sun, Monday April 30, 2007

Editorial Page A9

Tung Chan 2007Canadians of Chinese heritage have a lot to celebrate and commemorate this year. This year is the 60th anniversary of the granting of franchise to persons of Chinese heritage through the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923.

This year is also the 90th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge and the 100th anniversary of the anti-Chinese riot in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

For most readers, the linkage of the first and the third events to Chinese Canadians is obvious. But many people may be puzzled by the inclusion of the battle of Vimy Ridge on the list. The sense of puzzlement betrays a preconception that no matter how many generations a Chinese person has settled in this country, he will care only about events that happened to his own community. The fact is, however, the battle of Vimy Ridge is an event that shaped the national identity of this country and all Canadians, including Chinese Canadians, should and have played a part in its commemoration.

The converse is also true of the other two events. The race riot and the Chinese Exclusion Act touched not just Canadians of Chinese heritage. They touched all Canadians and are a part of our collective national memory. But I wonder how many Canadians know or care, about these two events.

I hope this will change this year as several cities in the Lower Mainland proclaim the week of May 14 as the “Celebration of Citizenship” week. A dinner will be held on May 12th to celebrate the granting of the franchise. A group of Second World War Canadian Veterans of Chinese descent is the driving force behind this celebration. These veterans went to war for a country that, at the time, did not recognize them as true Canadians. Some paid the ultimate price on the battlefield.

When they returned, they formed the Chinese Canadian Unit No. 280 of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans of Canada. They lobbied successfully to gain citizenship not just for themselves, but for all Canadians of Chinese heritage.

Although Chinese- Canadians were allowed to vote in federal elections on May 12, 1947, the City of Vancouver continued to deny them their voting rights.

As reported in a newspaper article of the day, counsel for the City of Vancouver stressed that a Chinese vote would impose “terrific responsibility” on the returning officer because the “identification of a Chinese would be a tremendous problem.”

His reasoning was that “many [Chinese] have the same or similar names” and that since “so many look alike that sorting them out would be quite a task.”

I am glad today’s returning officers are not finding the task as onerous as was once perceived. Today, many Chinese Canadians are fully exercising the rights given to them.

They have since excelled in various professional fields where they were once denied membership due to their racial background. These occupations range from accountants, lawyers and doctors. On the political front, they have been elected to serve as members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures, municipal councillors and mayors. They have also served as lieutenant governors and Governor-General of Canada.

From a time when then prime minister Mackenzie King’s speech “concluded [that it was] not advantageous to the country that the Chinese should come and settle in Canada, produc[e] a Mongrel race, and interfere very much with white labour in Canada” to the present where our current Prime Minister Stephen Harper embraces Chinese Canadians as citizens, we have come a long way.

In a recent 2006 speech, Harper stated that he “believe[s] that the values held most strongly by our Chinese community are truly Canadian values — the values that have, that are, and that will make us a successful nation if they guide the decisions of government.”

But has Canadian society fully and truly embraced Canadians of Chinese heritage? I think the answer to the question is a qualified yes. While the overt racial discrimination such as the ones expressed in the 1907 riot no longer exists, there is no denying that subtle and equally destructive misguided attitudes and stereotypes still exist.

The good news is that such points of view are being held by fewer and fewer people as time goes by and such attitudes are, by and large, viewed as wrong.

The problem, however, is that sometimes such attitudes and stereotypes are held on both sides.

A sure way to change attitudes towards each other is through more integration. Some have argued that by virtue of living under the same laws, paying the same taxes and occupying the same land that people are, by definition, integrated. I disagree. I believe two communities — Caucasian and Chinese — can only integrate if they interact actively and proactively with each other. An integrated society is a society where people have the capacity and desire to learn, explore, accept, appreciate, share and sacrifice for one another.

During Citizenship Week, we should remember that citizenship is a relatively new right given to Chinese-Canadians and that it should not be taken for granted.

Citizenship should be fully celebrated and the struggles of the past which brought us to this point remembered. If the leaps and bounds in cultural understanding and equality made in the last century are any indication of what is to come, I look forward to the next 100 years.

Perhaps there will come a time where Chinese-Canadians will no longer be distinguished ethnically, but will be recognized as un-hyphenated, Canadian citizens.

Tung Chan is chief executive officer of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (United Chinese Community Enrichment Social Services) in Vancouver. The views expressed don’t necessarily represent those of S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Canada’s looming labour shortage crisis requires a new way of thinking

More bureaucracy and credentialing organizations must be facilitators and enablers, not just gatekeepers

By Tung Chan, September 2007

British Columbia is facing an unprecedented challenge now and in the future when it comes to the supply of our labour force. With strong economic growth and an unemployment rate at an historic low, many businesses and organizations are unable to find the skilled labour they require.

While the challenge may seem hard now, the challenge in the future is even more difficult.  By 2015, there will be a shortfall of 350,000 workers in the province. According to the B.C. government’s statistics branch, in 2015, there will be more than one million job openings in B.C. while only 650,000 young people will have moved through the K-12 system. This shortage will impact every sectors of the economy, sectors such as health, education, construction, forestry, hospitality and tourism.

If we do not find a solution to the challenge, it is not hard to imagine a scenario where surgeries frequently cancelled due to a shortage of nurses; people unable to find a family doctor; projects cancelled because there are not enough construction workers; or restaurants closed because there are not enough waiters and waitresses.   In fact, in some parts of Canada, such a scenario is already reality.

Although the skills shortage is now well understood by our politicians – both federal and provincial politicians have shown leadership on the issue – the sad state of affairs is that many government officials and professional credentialing organizations appear to continue to be contented to play their traditional gatekeeper role and do not yet fully understand that we are competing with other countries for talent. Japan, for example, is reportedly planning to import up to 650,000 foreign workers annually and Australia is already running very effective media campaigns to attract workers from Hong Kong and China.

Unless a change of mindset occurs soon, skilled foreign workers will simply go elsewhere.

I recently met a doctor who was trained in one of the best medical schools in China.  Because he is unable to practice, he is now working as a Sushi chef in a restaurant in Delta after immigrating here. As he has to provide for his family, he lacks the financial resources to take the qualification courses that he is required to go through.  He is also discouraged by the three to four years that it will take for him to finish those courses as well as the uncertainty at the end of the process due to an inadequate availability of training positions. 

We have also seen English proficiency requirements supersede equivalency programs for foreign trained nurses in B.C.  Prior to January 1st of this year, English language preparation was integrated into the Certificate in Graduate Nurse with English as an Additional Language Program offered by Kwantlen University College.  However, because of a policy change by the College of Registered Nurses of BC, applicants for this program must now demonstrate English language fluency at the time of submitting their application for registration.  This policy change essentially imposes a barrier that unnecessarily delay the otherwise well qualified care givers from providing their services to alleviate a labour shortage that is galloping towards a critical level with the aging of our population.  As an example, the Fraser Health Region alone is predicting a shortage of well over a thousand nurses by the year 2012.

In an attempt to offer a practical solution to the skilled labour shortage problem, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and Spectra Energy, with financial support from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, collaborated to launch the Immigrant Engineering Orientation Program (IEOP) in March of this year.  IEOP, a program developed with the help of an Advisory committee that was made up of representatives from government, industry as well as the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC, is a first of its kind in BC.  The program supports professional immigrant engineers in overcoming foreign credential recognition barriers and provides them with the opportunity to directly continue with their professional careers here in Canada.

The program includes 10 weeks of workplace culture and language preparation training developed and delivered by S.U.C.C.E.S.S. This is followed by 6 weeks of Canadian engineering work experience at Spectra Energy facilities in Northeastern B.C. Employment opportunities in the energy sector will follow the field practicum.  While only 12 positions were available, close to 170 people applied.

Many groups, such as the Business Council of British Columbia, have suggested that an increased reliance on temporary foreign workers is an important means to help mitigate future labour shortages. According to the Business Council, Canada’s immigration rules should be overhauled to make it easier for temporary foreign workers with Canadian job experience and skills to become landed immigrants once they have spent time in the country.

But even getting temporary foreign workers into this country is not an easy task. The problem can be best illustrated by a recent situation where well qualified construction workers were denied temporary working visas by the federal bureaucracy in Shanghai.  A B.C. company went there to recruit after failing to find suitable local workers.  After interviewing 200 applicants, the company made job offers to 50 workers who were considered to have extraordinary qualifications.  To the company’s great dismay and consternation, every one of the worker’s application for temporary work visa was declined by our bureaucrats based on groundless and outdated concerns that the individuals would want to stay in Canada permanently.

To meet the current and future growing skills shortage challenges, more of our federal and provincial bureaucracies as well as credentialing bodies in Canada need to change their mindsets when it comes to the way they apply immigration, labour and credential recognition policies.  More of them need to think of themselves not just as gatekeepers.  They need to think of themselves also as facilitators and enablers that have a duty to lend a hand to new comers and temporary foreign workers to make it possible for these new and potentially new Canadians to contribute to our communities to the best of their qualifications and abilities.

Are you familiar with the name C.Y. Leung Chun Ying

Tung Chan, June 7, 2012

Vancouver Sun community blog,  © Vancouver Sun

How you answer this question about C. Y. Leung Chun Ying depends on whether you are reading the Chinese or English version of this article. If you are reading this in Chinese, you will most likely know that Mr. Leung is the Chief Executive Elect of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. But if you are reading the English version of this article and you do not read Chinese, you will most likely not know who Mr. Leung is or be aware of the recent election in Hong Kong.

How can it be that people who live in Vancouver and care about the news have no knowledge of this import Hong Kong event? This happens because we use different languages to obtain news? I believe the reason is because there has been very little coverage of this event in the local English media even though the election has dominated the headlines of the local Chinese language media for weeks in April. CBC, a news organization mandated to inform Canadians of international events that are relevant to us, treats this event as it never happened.

In Metro Vancouver, almost one out of 6 or 7 residents are of Chinese heritage and possibly half of them are from the Hong Kong region. One would think the local English media would have the good sense, in order to attract more customers, to report more of what is happening in the Asia-Pacific region from where these people or their parents came.

Even if we put that aside, I remember a few years ago a former Consul General of China in Vancouver said the relationship between China, of which Hong Kong is a part, and Canada can be summed up in 1, 2 and 3. 1: China is the number one source country of immigrants to Canada. 2: Chinese is the number two most common language spoken by Canadians outside of Quebec. 3: China ranks number three in bilateral trade with Canada. You can see how important Hong Kong and China is to Canada. As providers of news to the people living in this aspiring “Gateway to Asia” city of Vancouver, local English media outlets clearly have a duty to inform their customers of crucial happenings in the Asia-Pacific region.

But to me there is another important reason why the local English language media needs to report more news about Asia. The Vancouver Foundation last year interviewed over one hundred community leaders and surveyed close to three hundred social service organizations to find out what issues concern them the most. They found an unexpected result: the respondents were most concerned about the lack of connection between people and communities. They said people did not seem to care much about each other; communities live in silos and there is a lack of community spirit or a sense of neighborhood. They also relayed that people worry that if this goes on unchecked, it would lead to a breakdown of the community and people will stop trusting or cooperating with each other. They fear this trend in the long run will turn this heavenly place on earth into a place that is less than ideal to call home.

In order to develop friendships, people not only need to share a common language but also need to have a common interest or common knowledge of something. This is why two individuals who are not familiar with each other often start their conversation talking about the weather. They do so because they both know about the weather. They both know they would have something to say about the topic. So if local people want to make friends with recent immigrants from China, they will do well to learn more about the hot topics in Hong Kong and China. Local English language media is naturally a good source of information if they would include more Asia-Pacific news in their regular news pages. Doing so will allow locals to have more conversation topics to discuss with their new friends from Asia.

The local Chinese language media do an excellent job reporting on what is happening locally and nationally. Newcomers are well aware of what is happening in this country. Accommodation and adaptation are two-way streets. Newcomers have to adapt to local customs and culture. Locals, however, also need to be aware and appreciative of newcomers concerns about what is happening in the places they came from. It is only in so doing that people can live together harmoniously in an equal and mutually respectful environment.

I sincerely hope our local English media operating in this “Gateway to Asia” will, on both economic and on humanistic grounds, increase their news coverage of what is happening in Asia. Readers, viewers or listeners will then at least be familiar with important issues happening in Asia and now know who the key players are like C.Y. Leung Chun Ying.

A Stronger Voice is needed

Tung Chan, Sept 7, 2009

There are more than 10 elected officials who are of Chinese heritage in various levels of Governments in B.C. Many of them owed much of their electoral success to strong financial and organizational support from the Chinese-Canadian community. Yet the community has placed very little political demand on them to advance the community’s interests. And none of them have openly stated that they are there to represent the Chinese-Canadian community.

Douglas Jung, the first MP of Chinese descent once told me the Chinese-Canadian community was his best ally as well as his harshest critic during his tenure from 1957 to 1962. Raymond Chan, the present day MP from Richmond, was relentlessly criticized for his change of stance in the human rights issue in China. The strongest voice of criticism came from the Chinese-Canadian community.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: “The more you care about an individual, the more critical you are of that individual.” Many Chinese-Canadians certainly live up to that proverb fully in dealing with political leaders from their own community.

Yet there is a lot of pride when members of the community were elected to political positions. After I was elected to office in 1990, I was invited by a friend from the Taiwanese-Canadian community to a dinner to celebrate my success. When my wife and I arrived at the venue, we were surprised to find there were over 200 people there ready to meet their newest “father and mother official” as municipal officials were called in old China.

The community is known to rally behind aspiring politicians during the nomination and election process. People who are intimately involved in the 1993 federal election will remember the nomination fight in the Tory camp between Dr. K. K. Wan and Geoff Chutter and in the Liberal camp between Raymond Chan and Herb Dhaliwal. Literally thousands of people from the Chinese-Canadian community turned out to support Dr. Wan and Mr. Chan. They also worked hard during the election and volunteered for the multitude of jobs that were required in an election campaign. Many even worked across political lines in both campaigns.
With that kind of effort, one would expect that members of the Chinese-Canadian community would want to vote overwhelmingly for one of their own. Surprisingly, that is not the finding of a survey conducted in 1996. Only 5.1% of the 948 Chinese speaking respondents in the poll commissioned by Ming Pao and the Vancouver Sun named ethnic origin as one of the three key factors in their selection of a political candidate. The top three key factors identified were programme (31.6%), ability (24%) and achievements (16.4%).

And what does the community expect of their politicians once they are elected to office? The community certainly expects their politicians to attend a great many number of banquets and events. Every Chinese-Canadian politicians in town will tell you it is not uncommon for them to attend three to four banquets a night during the Chinese New Year season in the month of February. Cutting ribbons in official openings of businesses is another chore that Chinese-Canadian politicians have to perform a lot more than their non-Chinese counterparts. During my three years as a Councillor of Vancouver, I had cut ribbons for businesses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond.

What about on a more serious note? In May of 1995 a series of articles were written by several columnist of Sing Tao Newspaper about whether politicians of Chinese descend should fight for the welfare of the Chinese-Canadian community.

The question in itself would seem odd to the uninitiated. Politicians elected from B. C. are expected to fight for the welfare of British Columbians. In the same token, one would assume that Chinese-Canadians expect politicians elected from their community to fight for the welfare of their community. Surprisingly again, this traditional point of view did not gather much support from the established columnists. The proponents of the classical point of view were actually held in contempt for preaching reverse racial discrimination! They were ostracized for being too narrow minded and undemocratic.

Guo Ding, an editorial writer for Ming Pao seemed to capture the wishes of the Chinese-Canadian community in his editorial after the 1996 civic election. He suggested that the Chinese-Canadian incumbents should first act on their election promises. He admonished them to make policy decisions from the perspective of the whole community (not just the Chinese-Canadian community) and be careful not to use a double standard when dealing with the Chinese and the non-Chinese community.

There is a divergence of value between the recently immigrated Chinese-Canadian community and the rest of the Canadian society. The presence of a strong work ethic, the value placed on education, the yardsticks used to measure success, the affinity towards one’s own community and the strong group identity are some of the characteristics that set the new Chinese-Canadian community apart.

But this divergence of value has not led to a divergence of interest. The interests of the Chinese-Canadian community, by and large, are that of the interest of the larger community.

The voting intentions and expectation of politicians from their own community demonstrate clearly that Chinese-Canadian voters want members of their community to be part of the governing body. They want to take part in the action as full participants rather than staying on the sideline as spectators. They want to be part of the process rather than part of the equation.

The support given by the community to the aspiring politicians indicates the community’s desire to have someone to articulate its aspirations. The community is craving for someone to represent their point of view in the political process. They want someone who is sensitive to their cultural values. They need someone who is willing to address their issues. Issues such as English language training, job training, unemployment, under-employment and recognition of foreign training and work experience.
The Chinese-Canadian community is looking for “facilitators” rather than “spokesmen.” There isn’t any one single person or group whom can be the sole representative of the 300,000 plus, multifaceted and diverse Chinese-Canadian community.

The Chinese-Canadian community will welcome in future elections stronger voices that can express their diverse values. Politicians from all communities who can successfully articulate the new immigrants’ points of view will play a useful role in helping them to integrate into the Canadian society.

Beyond Multiculturalism

This article is extracted from a speech I gave at a dinner in May 2007 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the right to vote for Canadians of Chinese heritage.

Multiculturalism, contrary to popular belief, is not new to this country.  As early as 1903, Sir Wilfred Laurier had declared: “For here in Canada, I want the marble to remain the marble; the granite to remain the granite; the oak to remain the oak; and out of these elements, I would build a nation great among the nations of the world.”

Sir Wilfred’s remarks were echoed some 58 years later in 1961 by another Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker: “Canada is a garden . . . into which has been transplanted the hardiest and brightest flowers of many lands, each retaining in its new environment the best qualities for which it was loved and prized in the native lands . . .”
Then in 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau formally introduced multiculturalism as a state policy.  The spirit of multiculturalism was enshrined in our Constitution in 1982 in Section 17 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”

The state policy of Multiculturalism finally became law under the Mulroney government in 1988.

But what does it all mean to us, particularly for those Canadians who are members of the multicultural communities?

Two policies in the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 are of particular relevance:

e.    Promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and the elimination of any barrier to that participation.

f.    Encourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be respectful and inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character.

In addition to the two policies mentioned above, the Act specifically charged all government agencies, departments and Crown corporations to provide leadership in the implementation of all policies listed in the Act.

While considerable amount of time and energy were spent on promoting “multiculturalism”, the efforts has produced results that can at best be described as mediocre when measured against the policies and objectives stated above.  In terms of equitable participation, the number of elected representatives coming from the multicultural communities is small relative to their population base.  In terms of inclusion, members of visible minorities’ participation in public hearings, public debates and public consultations are rare occurrences.  A casual glance at the weekly recap of appointment to senior corporate positions in one of the nation’s business newspaper tells the story that the power corridors of this nation’s economic institutions are not yet reached by members of the cultural communities.

In the very Government agencies and departments that were charged by Law to promote inclusion, the number of senior department heads who are of Asian heritage is negligible.

The sad part is that while the government’s efforts over the years have not succeed in its stated goals, multiculturalism was criticized as divisive because it emphasis what is different, rather than the values that are Canadian.  Some says that under multiculturalism, “Canadians become strangers in their own land.”

Their point of view is best reflected in a speech by a member of parliament who spoke in the House of Commons in 1975: “(Asians) are imposing a great social burden in this country. Chinese people … who cannot be absorbed properly into the country and who cannot find jobs suitable to them are being admitted under the Immigration Act…. These people are coming in so rapidly that they are not fitting in properly to the fabric of society. They are locating in ghettos, dozens to a house… They come in planeloads, 350 at a time, and there is just no way to assimilate them.”

While I fundamentally disagree with such sentiments, the slow pace of new Canadians integrating into our society socially, culturally and politically does pose a challenge to our country.  Many recent arrivals may also mistakenly believe that under Canada’s multicultural policy, not only they can retain their own cultural identify; they are under no obligation to learn and adjust to a Canadian identity.

The challenge for us as Canadians is to articulate clearly what constitute a Canadian identity.  We need to let our new compatriots know in a systemic fashion what we stand for.  With that in mind, I believe we need to:

•    Strengthen our education system to teach Canadian values such as equity, due process of the law and fairness.

•    Include the teaching of Canadian values in the citizenship process.  Prospective citizens do not have to agree to those values but they need to at least know that those values are what set us apart as Canadians.

•    Cross promotion of the various cultures that make up our communities.  While most Canadians, Christians or not, celebrate Christmas, not many, other than Asian Canadians, celebrate the lunar festival.  Wouldn’t it be nice if, as Canadians, that more of us also observe Yom Kippur, Vaisakhi, Diwali, Ramadan or other significant cultural days regardless whether one belongs to that particular culture?

•    Ensure political leaders, government bodies and media institutions to be more reflective of our multicultural society.  The importance is not just the counting up the number of people with a different skin color but to ensure that these people’s point of views are listened to and respected.

•    Government institutions need to put processes and systems in place to ensure that different cultural perspectives and interests are brought into play in the design of policies and programs.  In order to ensure full participation in the consultative process, governments need to go into the different communities’ natural gathering places, provide interpretation services and, to the extend possible, include people from various cultural communities on the consultative panels.

Integration is not a one way street, new Canadian communities also need to:

•    Encourage full participation of community members in the consultative processes of government policies.  Community leaders need to set a good example but ordinary folks need to invest their time and effort to voice their opinions.

•    Encourage the promotion of their own culture and value to people outside of their own cultural community:

•    There need to be more English publications covering the ethanol cultural communities. Publications such as the Chinatown News of old and Rice Paper, Asian Post and the Canadian Immigrant Magazine play an important role as windows for the larger community to understand the new comers’ communities.

•  Share programming between non-English language news outlets with English language news outlets. The cross ownership of the Toronto Star and Sing Tao Newspaper is, in my view, an under exploited opportunity.

•    Encourage participation in the political process, not just during election time but in policy conventions of political parties.

As we are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the election of Douglas Jung, the first Member of Parliament from the Chinese Canadian community, it would be a great tribute to his pioneering work by resolving to working harder to make every cultural community an integral part of the Canadian mosaic.

© The Vancouver Sun

We should welcome the New Boat People

Let the rule of law and our Canadian compassion reign when we consider the plight of the 123 new arrivals.

Canada, as described in the preamble of our Constitution, is a country “founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” We are a society that espouses the social and legal values of, among others, compassion, democracy, equity, due process and fairness.

But judging from the reaction to the recent arrival of the 123 Chinese boat people off Vancouver Island, many Canadians seem to want the rule of law suspended and compassion thrown out of the window. They want these refugee claimants kicked out of Canada forthwith.

In making such demands, I wonder if these people know that in 1997 there were 22,584 refugee claimants whose cases were heard by Immigration Canada. That works out to be on average of about 62 claimants a day. In other words, these recent arrivals accounted for only about two days’ worth of refugee claimants. Each and every one of the 22,584 refugee claimants was accorded due process under the current immigration law.

So why do people want to treat so harshly and so differently these 123 poor souls who risked their lives crossing the Pacific Ocean in a dilapidated vessel to seek a better life?

A jaded community activist may argue that the outcries were simply a reflection of Canada’s racist history towards Asians. People who subscribe to this theory can point to the following historical patterns.

About 100 years ago, while Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to come to Canada, people from certain European countries were given land in the Prairies to settle. In 1914, while European immigrants landed by the boatload in Eastern Canada, Sikhs from India were turned back from Vancouver.

During the Second World War, while Canadians of Japanese descent were interned in prison camps, the Canadian born descendants of Axis countries that like Japan were at war with Canada were never treated as enemies of the state.

Even now, while the refugee claimants from China were subjected to a barrage of negative letters to newspaper editors, not a word of concern was raised by the public about the Cubans who defected at the Pan-American Games.

Not too many people, fortunately, subscribe to the above view. Not when you consider the people who wrote negative letters to newspapers or made angry calls to call-in shows at the Canadian-Chinese Radio station included Canadians of Chinese heritage. Not when we consider that Canadians opened our doors and wallets and welcomed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the early 1980s.

Then why are so many Canadians so upset? “They jumped the queue,” new Canadians cried. “They abused our generosity,” established Canadians shouted.

“We are too soft on bogus refugees,” a former Canadian ambassador wrote. “If the present law is not reformed, we should reconcile ourselves to an increasing flow and eventually a torrent of criminally organized illegal migrants.”

But what are the facts? According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, between January 1995 and September 1998, only 478 out of a total of 97,640 accepted refugees came from China, a country from which “a torrent of criminally organized illegal migrants” is supposedly expected to come.

Our generous treatment of refugee claimants has been a fact since 1969, when Canada signed the United Nation’s convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees. In so doing, Canada is committed to not returning people deemed to be fleeing persecution.

Are those who land in Canada and claim refugee status jumping the queue? Are they abusing our generosity?

In 1997, the last year such sta­tistics are available, 44 per cent of refugees were landed in Canada. The rest were either privately sponsored (11 per cent), dependents abroad (13 per cent) or government assisted (32 per cent).

One might say those refugees who landed in Canada did jump the queue. But refugees, by def­inition, are desperate people and desperate people do desperate things.

Making the determination of whether inland refugee claimants meet the criteria is the responsibility of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

There seems to be broad general consensus that the current determination system takes too long and is not effective. And we are right to be upset with the criminals who profit from the trafficking of refugees.

The present government, to its credit, has recognized this and proposed changes to improve the system. Some of the changes were outlined in the discussion paper released last year and one source says a new immigration act is scheduled to be introduced in the next parliamentary session.

In the meantime, what we need are political leaders who have the courage to remind us of our proud history as a caring and compassionate country and of our international obligations. We need lawmakers who understand the due process of law and do not pander to a lynch mob mentality by calling for the immediate return of the refugee Claimants.

The strength of our nation lies in our ability to make difficult policy choices in a rational, well informed and well thought-out manner. Most importantly, we need political leaders who can take us to the moral high ground of this difficult issue and make us feel good as Canadians.

© (This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday, August 7, 1999)

That’s What Happened

When you hear or encounter discrimination because you are Chinese, you are facing the continuity of the past of B.C.

When I was doing the research for the Chinese-Canadian History display, a friend of mine came up to me and asked me why I was doing it. He is happy with the present situation; he enjoys the freedom and security of living in Canada.

“Why the past?” he asked, “Why particularly the bitterness and discrimination of the past?”

For a moment I was standing there speechless because in the first place I did not expect such kind of a question and in the second place the answer seemed so obvious to me that I didn’t know how to put it into words. Then the answer came gradually to my mind and I would like to share it with those of you out there who might want to ask the same question.

The present is nothing but the continuity of the past. Everything that is happening now at this moment is predetermined by the sequence of the events that happened in the past. If we do not know what has happened and why it happened in the past, we will not be able to fully understand what is happening now and we will be totally unprepared to deal with events that are going to happen in the future.

Read this,

“On the whole, it is concluded not advantageous to the country that the Chinese should come and settle in Canada, producing a Mongrel race, and interfering very much with white labor in Canada…. I do not think it would be the advantage of Canada for members of the Mongolian race to become permanent inhabitants of the country. I believe it would introduce a conflict between the working class which would result in evil.”

And read this,

“(Asians) are imposing a great social burden in this country. Chinese people … who cannot be absorbed properly into the country and who cannot find jobs suitable to them are being admitted under the Immigration Act…. These people are coming in so rapidly that they are not fitting in properly to the fabric of society. They are locating in ghettos, dozens to a house… They come in planeloads, 350 at a time, and there is just no way to assimilate them.”

Do you know who made the above two speeches? Do you know when they made them and where they made them? Give it a guess.

The first speech was made by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1887. The second speech was made by MP Ron Huntington (Capilano, BC) in 1975. Both of them were speaking on Canadian immigration policy in the House of Commons.

Do the contents of the two speeches share striking resemblance to each other? Does it surprise you that after a time lag of 88 years the same kind of absurd, unfounded fallacy still persists in people’s mind? You will not be surprised if you know the past history of the hostile sentiment of British Columbians towards the early Chinese immigrants.

Anti—Chinese legislation in B.C. can be traced as far back as 1860, approximately ten years after the first Chinese gold rusher entered B.C. In that year, 1860, ten-dollar poll tax on Chinese was proposed in B.C.’s House of Assembly but was defeated. From then on, numerous head—tax bills were being proposed but were all defeated.

In 1878, a bill levying $30 license on all Chinese was finally passed. In 1855, the Dominion passed its first Chinese head tax legislation and the amount of tax was set at $50. Meanwhile the workers in B.C. were organizing anti-Chinese movements. They formed the Knights of Labor to campaign against Chinese in Vancouver.

Politicians, eager to gain popularity among laborers, started to press for tougher anti—Chinese legislations. Many anti—Chinese bills were passed in B.C. only to be disallowed later by the Dominion. However, in face of the mounting pressure put on by the MPs from B.C., the Dominion increased the Chinese head tax to $100 in 1901 and $500 in 1904.

But all these did not satisfy the irrational hostility of the British Columbians. In 1906, violence against the Chinese broke out in Penticton. In 1907, a riot against the Chinese broke out in Vancouver. Literally every window in Chinatown was smashed in the riot. In 1923, a new Dominion Immigration Act was passed excluding Chinese from immigrating into Canada.

In those days Chinese were living as second-class citizens in Canada. There were anti—Chinese clauses in government contracts. There were certain professions which Chinese were not allowed to practice, and most outrageous of all, Chinese were not allowed to vote on public elections.

In 1947, with the end of the Second World War and the Chinese victory over Japanese invasion in China, the Canadian government began to allow Chinese wives and unmarried children to enter Canada to join their husbands and fathers. In 1949, the Chinese were given back the right to vote on public elections. In 1967, Chinese immigration was finally placed on an equal basis with other nationalities.

So you see, my dear friends, we have come a long way to be able to enjoy today’s freedom and security of living in Canada. I am not advocating the memory of the past bitter experiences. I am only advocating the awareness of the historical facts, so that next time when you hear or encounter some gross or subtle discrimination because you are Chinese, you will know darn well that you are not facing something new, nor are you, facing it alone.

You are facing, like I said, nothing but the continuity of the past.

© (This article was first published in 1976 in an UBC Chinese Students’ Association publication)

NIMBY comes in all colours

If we took the opportunity to learn about other cultures, we would realize that some activities we ascribe to ethnic differences are really due to human nature.

Chinese people don’t like drug addicts. “It is a Chinese tradition to lock the addicts up be­hind bars,” was how one Rich­mond resident explained why the predominantly Chinese res­idents at Odlin Road protested against the setting up of a group home for rehabilitated drug ad­dicts in their neighbourhood.

Whenever there is an incident involving a Chinese individual or group, there is no shortage of people trying to explain the in­cident in a “cultural” context. The recent Odlin Road group home incident in Richmond is just one example.

In fact, the incident is no dif­ferent than any one of the other NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) incidents that we have seen over the years in the Lower Main­land. People don’t like change, period. It doesn’t matter whether the groups affected are white, black, yellow or any other skin color. When change is introduced to a neighbourhood, people react. The reaction, most of the time, is negative.

Why is it that we Canadians like to put a cultural spin on incidents such as this? It is because we still do not, as a people, know each other well enough to view people of different skin colours beyond the stereotypical images.

How would you react if someone were to tell you that the reason Albert Walker murdered his British neighbour and assumed his identity was because in the Canadian culture, there is a tradition of such behaviour? Or what if someone were to say that it is the Canadian culture that created criminals like Paul Bernado or Clifford Olson? You would laugh, wouldn’t you?

Yet many Canadians have little hesitation in believing that when a distraught Canadian mother of Chinese descent killed her child, she was driven by some elements of her Chinese cultural background. Why the suspension of logic? Those who believe such explanations know little about the Chinese culture or have limited reference points in dealings with Chinese people.

The same flaws in thinking have led many people to believe that the Odlin Road residents protested because of their cultural background.

The only way we can counter such faulty thinking is to promote cross-cultural learning and to combat the tendency to simplistically categorize people and events.

An avid skier can tell the differences between wet, dry, powder and compact snow. A skier’s knowledge of snow is infinitely better than a non-skier’s, making the skier much more adept in dealing with various snow conditions.

Similarly, if we can learn more about other cultures, we will be better equipped to deal with people from other cultural backgrounds.

As a non-skier, I can afford not to learn anything about snow because I don’t have to deal with it, except on the rare occasions when it snows in Vancouver. But as members of a multicultural society, we need to learn about other cultures in order to have healthy daily interactions with people of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Learning needs time and effort. We should all make a personal commitment to spend at least a few days a year experiencing other cultures in our midst. Why not spend an afternoon to visit the Sikh temple on Ross Street, take part in the French-Canadian festival, learn to make perogies, walk with the dragon or join in the Italian Day festivities at the Italian Cultural Centre?

The opportunities in Vancouver to experience other cultures are limited only by one’s imagination. We should also institutionalize opportunities for cross-cultural learning experiences. Churches, temples and gurdwaras that provide summer camps should offer cross-cultural or interfaith exchanges and scholarships to young campers of other religions.

Parents should encourage their children to explore other cultures, and to acquire basic knowledge of another language in addition to French. For shop owners in the Punjabi market, Chinatown or the Asian malls in Richmond, why not try to hire youths from a cultural background other than your own and give them a chance to learn about your work ethic and culture and vice versa?

It is only when we can celebrate each other’s festivals without reservation, laugh at our own fallacies without embarrassment and share our pains without restraint that we are truly a community.

In the Odlin Road incident, the residents need to learn how to best influence the decision-making process. They would be a happier lot if they learned to appreciate that in a democratic society, compromise is often not only the desired outcome but also the only outcome. Their determination to fight to the bitter end will only isolate and alienate them from the community.

The people who operate the facility, on the other the hand, need to do a much better job explaining to the residents the type of facility they are putting in the neighbourhood. Listening to the residents – really listening – would be a first step.

Acknowledging their genuine fear and apprehension of the unknown would be a second step. The third step, once rapport and trust have been built, is to respond to their anxiety and frustration with empathy by providing them with factual information to reduce their fear.

Changes in attitude and tactics are needed on both sides, and it doesn’t matter whether the people affected are long-term residents or recent immigrants. NIMBY has no colour, unless we’re looking at it through coloured lenses.

© (This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun on Thursday, July 29, 1999)