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Student Question

Why does the social and economic disparity between Canadian-born people and immigrants persist? Why do you think racialized people are earning less despite their educational attainment? (Ref. Satzewich & Liodakis, 2017)

Quick answer:

This phenomenon of disparity between Canadian-born people and immigrants is not unique to Canada. In every country, there tends to have been a bias against new people, though the extent of it is probably not as bad as in the past. Unfortunately, racial and ethnic discrimination have still continued, even when there are laws and changed social conventions against them.

Expert Answers

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One might answer your question beginning with the response that this is true in Canada for the same reason it's true in the United States (and elsewhere). There is an inveterate and persistent attitude against outsiders in most countries, and it takes time—generations, in fact—before these biases are ameliorated.

In one sense, Canada is different from the US because its European-descent population was already divided between French and English before people began immigrating there from other countries in Europe and from Asia. In the nineteenth century, De Tocqueville observed that the French were lower on the economic scale than the English, because in Canada, the French were the "defeated" people. Britain had ruled Canada since 1763, and although French speakers maintained their majority in Québec, in the country as a whole, they were treated as secondary citizens to some degree, even well into the twentieth century. Given that this internal division among people of European ethnicity already existed, it is not hard to believe that others would not be given an equal status to the "ruling" group—as they tend not to be given in virtually every country in the world.

People eventually came to Canada in large numbers from Scandinavian and Slavic countries and, later, from China and other Asian nations. In any state where people arrive speaking different languages and having different customs, nativists tend to distrust them. Canada at least had the advantage over the US of providing sanctuary for African Americans while slavery was still legal in the US. It's possible that some Canadians, just like the British of the same period, were therefore affected by a kind of complacency and did not recognize that prejudice was endemic in their own country, even though the problem of slavery didn't exist there.

An anecdote involving the quintessential Canadian sport, hockey, can perhaps illustrate North American attitudes and the differences and similarities between them. During a playoff series between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1970s, at a game in Philadelphia, some of the fans had hurled slurs at one of the Toronto players who was Swedish. This was at a time when NHL players were ninety-nine percent Canadian, including, of course, those on the teams located in US cities. Unlike today, there were very few European or US major-league hockey players. When this incident occurred, some of the Toronto reporters began to decry Philadelphians as bigoted and racist (against Swedish people).

The wife of one of the Flyers who was a Canadian of Slavic descent then wrote an editorial stating that these reporters were hypocritical in the extreme, because Toronto was itself a hotbed of prejudice and bigotry. The episode, though small in itself, reveals two main things. First, no city or country has a monopoly on discrimination and bias. But second, it is far less likely that now, forty-five years later, the same kind of incident would occur. In other words, both the US and Canada have made progress, even if backward and prejudicial attitudes still exist and affect the immigrant populations.

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