New Canadian Media

Commentary by: Arvind Magesan in Calgary, AB

The Conversation

Statistics Canada has released new data from the 2016 census that shows more than any other G8 country, Canada is a nation of immigrants. One in five Canadians (21.9 per cent to be exact) were born in another country.

Immigration is a significant component of Canada’s population growth and evolving demographic composition. The census data shows more than 1.2 million new immigrants came to Canada between 2011-16. Immigrants are also typically younger and more educated than the average Canadian.

Not surprisingly then, immigration is often touted as a necessary condition for sustained economic prosperity. And yet in spite of their ostensible importance to the Canadian economy, immigrants themselves have yet to catch up to other Canadians in terms of economic outcomes.

Economists refer to this catching up as “economic assimilation” and often measure it using the “native-immigrant wage gap” — the difference between the average wages of immigrants and those whose families have been here at least three generations. The persistence of this wage gap is a feature common to economies in the Western world that rely heavily on immigration.

As an economist and a child of immigrants myself, I was curious to delve into the census data to understand how this gap has evolved over time and across major cities in Canada — and to get a hint of what may be at the root of it.

The first thing that surprised me is the gap has not changed much over the past 10 years. Census data from 2006 showed, at a national level, first-generation immigrants earned wages 12.6 per cent less than the average wage of native Canadians. In 2011, the gap dropped slightly to 10 per cent, but the new census data shows it’s climbed significantly to 16 per cent.

Importantly, the gap is a countrywide phenomenon. Looking at the three of the most popular destinations for immigrants in the past decade — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — the gap in 2016 sits at 25, 17 and 23 per cent respectively.

Interestingly, the gap doesn’t only exist for first-generation immigrants, but also for the children of immigrants (second generation, i.e. Canadians born to immigrant parents). The new data shows at the national level, second-generation immigrants earn 5.4 per cent less than natives.

Understanding the wage gap

The obvious question that follows then is: What is the source of these gaps?

Canada is an especially interesting case given the “points” system used to screen potential immigrants, where language, education and job skills are key determinants. And for the first time, the census has reported that about six out 10 new immigrants came here under the so-called economic admission category, meaning they have the skills “to enhance and promote economic development.”

Given the way immigrants are screened before entry, one would expect relatively quick integration into the Canadian economy and a convergence in wages. But this is clearly not the case.

The reasons put forward to explain the wage gap range from employer difficulty in assessing immigrant education credentials to outright discrimination. Economists refer to two types of “discrimination” in the labour market context, “statistical discrimination” and “taste-based discrimination.”

In the former, employers use observable traits (such as race) to make inferences about something like productivity. For example, an employer sees a job applicant with brown skin. The employer isn’t prejudiced towards brown people, but is worried (stereotypically) the employee is going to want to take trips “home” to Sri Lanka and would need a lot of vacation time. So the employer hires someone else equally qualified. Taste-based discrimination is more what we think of as prejudice — not wanting to hire someone purely because of skin colour.

Identifying causal factors that explain the wage gap is a difficult task - individuals who immigrate to Canada do so by choice. These choices are a function of a host of factors that could potentially jointly explain the decision to immigrate and labour market outcomes, including personal characteristics, job experience and education, to name just a few. Identifying discrimination in the labour market, and separating between taste-based and statistical discrimination, is even harder.

However, a 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Phil Oreopolous takes an important step in this direction.

In the study, thousands of computer-generated resumes were mailed out to companies that had posted ads searching for employees. The resumes were randomly assigned either a foreign or a “white” sounding last name, and were otherwise identical. The result: The resumes where the applicant had a foreign-sounding last name were less likely to receive a call back than identical looking resumes with a “white” last name.

When the author followed up with some of the recruiters, the overwhelming reason given for overlooking resumes with a foreign-sounding name was that they anticipated difficulty with language. Specifically, recruiters expected a lack of fluency in English, problems with communicating at work and difficulty for customers and co-workers in understanding a foreign accent. In other words, recruiters were statistically discriminating between job candidates based on their names.

Can language proficiency close the gap?

The census presents an opportunity to study the importance of English proficiency for the gap in labour market earnings between immigrants and native Canadians in 2016. The census provides information on wages, immigrant (and generation) status, as well as the language most commonly spoken at home.

Specifically, guided by the findings in Oreopolous’s study, I looked at how the gap in average wages changes when English is spoken at home. (For the purpose of this study, I looked at communities outside of Quebec, where French is the dominant language.) In 2016, 63 per cent of new immigrants living outside of Quebec most often spoke a language other than English or French while at home.

The latest census data says the native-first generation immigrant wage gap is 16 per cent at the national level. Once we examine whether immigrants speak English at home, things change — the wage difference is just 5.8 per cent. But for first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home, the gap jumps to 27.3 per cent.

For second-generation immigrants, there is barely any gap for those who speak English at home (0.7 per cent) but it’s still a significant gap for those who don’t speak English at home (a whopping 45.7 per cent).

This pattern also holds in the major metropolitan centres in the English-speaking parts of the country, which attract the most immigrants.

Interestingly, at almost 25 per cent, Toronto has one of the largest city level wage gaps in the country, explained at least in part by the fact that new immigrants tend to land in Toronto first and are more likely to be unemployed for a period of time. The three largest cities in English-speaking Canada, which also attract the most immigrants, also have gaps larger than the national average.

In Ottawa, immigrants of either generation who speak English at home actually earn more than natives on average. While it may be tempting to attribute the major differences across the cities to differences in culture, they are more likely due to regional differences in industrial composition and attendant labour demand.

The wage gap for immigrants who don’t speak English at home is very large. In Toronto and Calgary, first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home can expect to earn 37 per cent less than natives. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the gap across all cities for is larger for second generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home.

Though these patterns are striking, they should not be interpreted as causal – immigrants can’t necessarily start speaking English at home and expect to see their future earnings increase. There are unobserved qualities of individuals that may correlate both with the tendency to speak English at home as well as with labour market earnings potential. Without holding these fixed in some way, we can’t say whether there is a causal relationship between English skills and the gap in labour market outcomes.

But supposing that the findings here are suggestive of a causal relationship, why does speaking English at home matter so much?

One obvious answer is that individuals who speak English at home speak better English in general — and this would mean better communication at work. This would be consistent with the worries that the recruiters in Oreopolous’s study had when deciding who to call back. Or perhaps individuals of foreign descent that speak English at home tend to have other important skills on average.

But another possibility is the labour market discriminates against individuals with weaker English skills even when English is not important for productivity. Sorting between these different explanations (and others) will require more data and a deeper look.


Arvind Magesan is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Published in Commentary

 Posters ‘in no way reflect the inclusive, diverse and caring culture of this university,’ says President Cannon     EARLY Tuesday morning, about 40 anti-Muslim posters were found and removed by Campus Security on the University of Calgary’s main campus.

“The University of Calgary is committed to creating a safe and respectful campus for all […]

 

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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

Even before our interview got underway, he told me, he was about to post a tweet that criticizes the Liberal government’s plans to send peacekeepers to Africa.

“I’m blasting them and I said BS, Africa doesn’t need peacekeepers; what we need to do is to provide training for African peacekeepers,” says Deepak Obhrai, Conservative MP for Calgary, Forest Lawn.

That is the nature of the man seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Often touted as one of the most controversial MPs, Obhrai refuses the controversial tag, but says he is supposed to generate discussion and that is what he does.

“That is part of my job, to create national debates,” he says.

He believes adding his voice to national discourse is very important.

“I’m putting my views across. If I feel a government policy is wrong, I’ll say so,” he adds.

“Elitist and white”

Obhrai recently criticized his own party for increasing party membership fees to $25, saying some of these new rules made the party “elitist and white”. He had his way. The party overturned the decision to increase the amount and pegged it at $15.

“After I made that big noise, it went across the country and the party reduced it,” he says amid smiles that suggest he feels he’s won a big battle.  

“That is an achievement. When you fight, you can do it,” he adds.

That is not the only time Obhrai has fought his own party. He openly opposed Bill C-24 which gave power to the federal government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens when charged with terrorism. He made some enemies, but he didn’t care, as long as he put his message across.

“Of course, for a few days, I was marginalized,” he scoffs.

Old Canada

Often outspoken, Obhrai says people who still think Canada belongs to just a few of them are living in the past. Obhrai says these people and their ideas need to be fought.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

“I’m running to ensure my message that the Conservative Party is open to all [gets out].  I’ve been working 20 years at this, I just have to continue to work hard at it,” Obhrai adds.

 “They are criticizing me because I’m saying this is a new Canada,” Obhrai says, without alluding to anybody in particular.

Attracting immigrants

Obhrai, who is the longest serving Tory MP, says the party was perceived and labelled as a racist party, and so he joined to change that perception from the inside. 

“I worked hard over the years, and I spoke out. We were very successful.”

He says those efforts helped the party especially in 2011, when they won a majority of seats in Parliament.

“But then we started sleeping,” he laments.  

Citing the controversy over Bill C-24 and the one surrounding the niqab, Obhrai says this portrayed the Conservative party as “anti-immigrant”. He says the party lost a majority of new Canadians in last October’s federal election.

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

He says the party needs to bring on board all new Canadians and make it attractive for them, adding that he is best equipped to lead the charge. .

Born in Tanzania

Obhrai was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada at a young age. Since being elected to the House of Commons in 1997, he has served in various capacities. He is currently the dean of the Tory caucus. As parliamentary secretary for 10 years, he says he has gained a lot of international recognition and needs to bring this experience to his party.

“In the 10 years that I worked as parliamentary secretary, I gained a huge amount of respect from overseas, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific; everybody knows me,” Obhrai says.

“I am a man with tremendous experience.”

He says with this and his vast knowledge of the grassroots, his message is unique and that is what the party needs at this time.

Proud Immigrant

Obhrai takes every opportunity to make people aware he is an immigrant. Taking me through some of the large collection of souvenirs in his Parliament Hill office, he points out a framed certificate from his former high school, Arusha Secondary School in Tanzania with pride. Indeed, it was the first thing he pointed to in his office.

Obhrai also prides himself as the only immigrant MP to be profiled in a textbook for students in Canada.

“By the way, me, an immigrant from Africa, is profiled in the high school book of Grade 9 in the whole of Alberta,” he says proudly.

He fetches the book from his table and opens straight to the page. “Every high school student in Grade 9 reads about me. That is an achievement for an immigrant.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics

Commentary by Israr A. Kasana in Calgary

I was confident I was not being naïve or a ninnyhammer when I decided to relocate as a family to North America yet again, this time to Canada. That was a year ago.

I had a Master’s degree, lots of national and international journalistic experience – both print and electronic – including 10 years in the U.S. This whole package gave me confidence and optimism about finding success from my Canadian expedition. [See picture with current Democratic Presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in New York, below]

It wasn’t that I was desperate to leave Pakistan. I was very well-placed there, working a dream job as an anchor and executive editor on the largest TV network of Pakistan called PTV. I had more than 5,000 television airtime hours to my credit and was the anchor on a branded, peak-time show called “Dialogue with Israr Kasana” thrice a week.

And, by the way, I was making good money too, even by the Canadian standards.

It wasn’t that I was desperate to leave Pakistan. I was very well-placed there, working a dream job as an anchor and executive editor on the largest TV network of Pakistan called PTV.

Why Canada?

I didn’t migrate here because I thought Canada was ‘cool’  for its poutine, insulin, wonky gravity in some areas of Canada, especially in Hudson Bay where you actually weigh less than your normal weight, or that the tap water was drinkable. Or, even because Santa Claus was Canadian, or that the Canadian government has direct toll-free lines for the public to seek answers to questions they have, or their consumption of Kraft Dinner (KD), or the trick-or-treating at Halloween.

They are all admittedly as Canadian as the maple leaf, but these were not what prompted my decision.

My family and I were attracted by the values and characteristics for which Canada is known for all over the world – the multiculturalism, open and friendly society, relatively free of class distinctions, better work-life balance, less income disparity, higher social mobility, security and safety, and, finally, more paid holidays than the U.S.

I also made this decision because Canada was more immigrant-friendly than many countries. I knew Canada receives more immigrants per capita than the U.S. The economy, I gathered, was not bad either and assumed I’d be able to make a good living.

Going topsy-turvy

And look what happened when we arrived in Calgary? Everything went topsy-turvy. Alberta had just been hit by yet another oil shock, with lay-offs galore. Lots of unrelated jobs were lost, too, and the whole economic cycle was almost at a standstill.

A well-wisher told me to contact different agencies who help immigrants settle into Canada. I got myself registered with a couple of them, participated in their programs, but I was really disappointed by the services they offered. They were slow and least productive. One agency took six months to teach me how to write a resume and another six months for a cover letter.

When would I get a job? Their answer, obviously: “It’s not our job to get you a job”.

Flummoxed, yet composed, I started sending out resumes for different jobs and kept a close eye on my e-mail account, waiting for a job interview, which so far has remained a dream. Instead, I have received lots of carefully and artfully worded ‘Thank You’ letters, which more or less go like this: “After careful review and consideration, in the context of our current needs and requirements, we have decided to continue employment discussions with other candidates. We encourage you, however, to continue taking an active role in your job search.”

When would I get a job? Their answer, obviously: “It’s not our job to get you a job”.

That put me in a decidedly awkward situation. I came to realize I had put myself and my family in a perilous situation. A friend came over and was worried to see me struggle like this. He said, ‘You will not get a job unless you have “Canadian experience”.’ “What is that,” I asked.

Chasing ‘Canadian experience’

“You have to have job experience with some Canadian company,” he replied. “But I have 10 years of American experience, isn’t that enough?” I retorted.

He said, “No, my friend, you got to have some Canadian experience.” That sounded weird to me. And, this in a city that has a mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who speaks up for immigrants and has repeatedly said, “We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure.”

Ok, I thought, now I would try to get the Canadian experience I lacked. By the way what else was I trying to achieve earlier; wasn’t it aimed at getting Canadian experience too?

I decided to adopt another strategy. I tried to contact my fellow journalists from print and electronic media. But every one of them shied away, saying they couldn’t help me because of my lack of “Canadian Experience” and economic conditions in the media industry.

Calgary experience

The print media in Calgary, I found out, is facing a moribund situation. It has become a threatened species and faces possible extinction. This brought to mind the website “Newspaper Death Watch” which tracks the demise of newspapers.

So, the million dollar question in my mind is, How was I going to get this “Canadian experience” if I never landed a job? Obviously, I can’t buy it from somewhere. Someone has to give me a job – small or big.

One [settlement] agency took six months to teach me how to write a resume and another six months for a cover letter.

I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know that there are umpteen new immigrants who roam around, looking for jobs and finding nothing. And trust me they are all very educated, skilled and well-trained people, many of them held enviable positions in the countries they came from.

This situation demands a fresh and thorough re-evaluation of immigration policies before we admit more than 300,000 permanent residents in Canada during 2016. We should plan ahead and provide skilled workers with better opportunities, without waiting for years to attain “Canadian Experience.”

This is important to save them and their families from depression and anxiety, which are not a good omen for society either.


Israr A. Kasana is an award-winning writer, TV host and a communications professional based in Calgary. His work has been published in English newspapers The Frontier Post and The News in Pakistan. He started his own newspaper The Vision International in New York and also launched a community TV channel.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

UPDATE: PRABH Gill, the PC (Progressive Conservative) candidate, was the winner in Tuesday’s byelection for Calgary-Greenway riding. He defeated seven other candidates bagging 27.73% of the cast ballots. Devinder Toor of Wildrose came second with 23.68% of the total vote. Liberal candidate Khalil Karbani was third with 22.63% while the NDP’s Roop Rai came last among the four major […]

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by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

In 1993, when Dr. Hude Quan came to Calgary from China, he knew nothing about the city. With the support of a scholarship, he joined the University of Calgary’s PhD program in epidemiology. 

Dr. Quan recalled the struggles he overcame in his path to adaptation – from learning a new language, culture and way of thinking. “I typed every page of my thesis. One, two, three, four times, again, again, and again,” said Quan. 

Quan shared his experience while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Immigrant Services Calgary’s 20th annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards gala, at the Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary on Mar. 11. 

He said the award doesn’t just recognize his work, but that of all the individuals who helped him in his adaptation in Calgary. “They made me who I am,” said Quan. “Thank you for believing in us immigrants.” 

“Thank you for believing in us immigrants.”

Today, Quan is one of the most globally cited researchers, according to Thompson Reuters. He is an associate professor at the University of Calgary and the director of the Calgary World Health Organization Collaboration Centre. 

Everyone’s duty to help newcomers 

Quan isn’t the only example of how newcomers’ success relies on support from the community, social agencies and governments.   

At the awards ceremony, Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) celebrated other distinguished immigrants who excel in business, community involvement, arts and culture, and academia, as well as organizations that support diversity. 

Under the message of “fostering a legacy of excellence,” Josephine Pon, chair of ISC’s board of directors, said the awards celebrate Calgary’s most committed and community-minded individuals in the city. 

“You’re the true superstars and you’re an inspiration to all of us,” Pon said.   

"Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure.”

Senator Victor Oh said at the event that Canada is a country blessed by immigration. However, this intake of immigrants “represents a great challenge,” added the senator who emigrated to Canada from Singapore in 1978. 

“It is everyone’s duty to help newcomers feel at home,” Oh told the audience of over 500 people, which included provincial ministers, members of Parliament and diplomatic representatives. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s words resonated with Oh’s. He said that the secret of successful newcomers and communities is mutual support and understanding. 

“We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure,” said Nenshi. 

The mayor said those nominated for the award “ask (themselves) the most Canadian and Calgarian of questions: ‘how can I help?’” 

“We celebrate 20 years of people who not only ask that question, but answer it every day,” said Nenshi. 

Multiculturalism goes two ways 

The Immigrants of Distinction Awards are the first commemoration of its kind in Canada according to Peter Wong, former chair of the board of directors at ISC. 

Wong envisioned the award in 1997 to highlight the contributions of immigrants in the community. He said that celebrating diversity in the workplace and government recognition of immigrants wasn’t popular at that time. “It wasn’t seen as a critical aspect of society.” 

However, Wong says this has changed. “What I see today is multiculturalism has become part of mainstream.” 

Honorary chair of this year’s awards, Wayne Chiu, said immigrants have to play their part in the Canadian mosaic. Newcomers have to choose how to adapt in Canada. 

They might decide to surround themselves with only people from their own ethnic culture, explained Chiu, who is the founder and CEO of Trico Home and who was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for his philanthropic and business leadership. 

“We are hindering ourselves from merging into the mainstream culture of Canada.”

“This might bring us great – but temporary – comfort and security,” said Chiu. However, he added, “We are hindering ourselves from merging into the mainstream culture of Canada.” 

Chiu added that when any immigrants feel they aren’t being accepted, not being listened to, not being understood, or not given the opportunity to excel like others, they have to ask if they have opened themselves up to the larger community. 

“One of the hardest things is to move outside from our comfort zone,” said Chiu, who moved from Hong Kong in 1976 to study engineering in Winnipeg. 

He said that connecting with people outside of the Chinese community helped him to excel. The experience taught him that effective communication, mutual respect and understanding of other people’s ideas are an “essential part of adopting into a new country.” 


A quick look at the award recipients 

Achievement Under 35 Award // Dr. Irehobhude O. Iyioha is an independent policy consultant in the field of health law and policy. She has advocated at several conferences and presentations worldwide about women health’s issues. 

Arts and Culture Award // Jose Duque through his passion for classical music empowers children. His goal is to give youth, of low income families, the opportunity to learn music through a multicultural orchestra. 

Community Service Award // Bojan Tosic has been involved in community development for years creating innovative and well-evaluated programs, enhancing cross-sector relationships and increasing access to support and services. 

Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award // With little financial backing Bob Dhillon formed one of the largest publicly held real state companies in Canada, Mainstreet Equity Corporation, of which he is CEO and president. 

Hadassah Ksienski Lifetime Achievement Award // Dr. Hude Quan is internationally known for his accomplishment and contributions in the field of health services and for his efforts to improve the health of ethno-cultural communities. // Dr. Serdar Yilmaz is the head of the transplant section of the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine, and the leader in transplant surgery in Alberta.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Award // Janaka Ruwanpura is the Vice-Provost (International) at University of Calgary and the Canada Research Chair in Project Management Systems. His work improved the culture of the Canadian construction industry.

Organizational Diversity Award // Calgary United Soccer Association (CUSA) gives adults an opportunity to learn and enjoy soccer in a social and recreational environment. CUSA is a founding partner of Calgary Street Soccer and KidSport Calgary.

Youth Scholarships

As a Grade 12 student Andrew Min co-founded the EquaLearn Foundation. He is also a member of the mayor’s youth council and is politically involved with the Community Outreach Committee.

Dan Yang (Lucy Ni) is a third-year biological sciences student at University of Calgary. She is a director and founding member of Outrun the Stigma and the president of the Hearth and Stroke Foundation Student’s Association.

Moiz Hafeez is in his final year of his bachelor in biological sciences at the University of Calgary. He has held executive positions at the Genetic Jungle run, Muslim Student’s Association, and the Red Cross Club.

Grade 12 student, Sophie Zhao, is founder of both the French and poetry clubs and leader of the Verbattle debate club at her school. Zhao is founder and public relations director of Wishful Thinking.

Varun Kundra is in Grade 10 where he excels in the sciences and volunteering. He scored in the 94th percentile in The College Board’s Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) of the juniors while still in Grade 9. The University of Calgary approved his lab-assistant appointment to Dr. Minh Dang Nguyen and his team, who specialize in the discipline of transactional neuroscience.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary 

Calgary is celebrating the best of its immigrant communities at the 20th annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards this month. 

Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) will host the awards show on Mar. 11. Krystyna Biel, the chief executive officer of ISC, says the award has become a way to close the settlement cycle of immigrants. 

“We help them in their path to success, and we want to celebrate with them their achievements,” said Biel, who explains immigrants overcome many challenges in their integration process.  

Biel has been involved with ISC for over 26 years. Two decades ago, she was a career counsellor with the agency. Today, she remembers the uncertainty of that first awards show. 

“We didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Biel. The night of the event, the Calgary Metropolitan Centre was crowded with 350 people. The response of the community was overwhelming. Biel says since then the event and the agency has exceeded expectations year after year. 

A growing immigrant population

In 1997, the agency had 40 full-time staff and 400 volunteers – speaking over 60 languages. Calgary, at the time, had 127,555 people from visible-minority communities, accounting for 15 per cent of the population. 

Today, the agency has 120 full-time staff and more than 700 volunteers – speaking over 140 languages. By 2020, the City of Calgary projects almost half a million immigrants will reside there and 40 per cent of its population will be visible minorities. 

By 2020, the City of Calgary projects almost half a million immigrants will reside there and 40 per cent of its population will be visible minorities.

In 1997, Peter Wong, then chair of the Calgary Immigrant Aid Society (CIAS was renamed Immigrant Services Calgary nine years ago), started the Immigrants of Distinction Awards – the first awards ceremony of its kind in Calgary’s history. 

“It is a celebration of how we as Canadians view ourselves in the best possible light,” Wong told The Calgary Herald two decades ago. His goal was to dismiss the “negative spin” some Albertans had of immigrants. 

The award was envisioned to promote diversity among businesses and organizations. The recipients exemplify the benefits of diversity, Wong told the Herald 

Back then, Hadassah Ksienski, chief executive officer of CIAS, told the Herald immigrants were facing an uphill battle. 

“If immigrants are very successful, ‘they take away jobs from Canadians.’ If they are not successful, ‘they are a burden on society,’” Ksienski explained. 

The power of immigrants 

Josephine Pon, the chairperson of ISC, says the awards help to celebrate the diversity of the city. 

“The awards show people that newcomers work hard and have big hearts,” says Pon. The recognitions help immigrants feel appreciated, and to create role models in the community. 

“Without newcomers from all parts of the world, Calgary wouldn’t be the buoyant city it is.”

Aritha van Herk, author of the award-winning non-fiction book Mavericks: an Incorrigible History of Alberta, says the Immigrants of Distinction Awards is an important reminder of the contributions of immigrants to Calgary. 

“Without newcomers from all parts of the world, Calgary wouldn’t be the buoyant city it is,” says van Herk, who adds that immigrants inject energy, creativity and skill sets to the city. 

Van Herk says most of the city’s population is made up of second-generation immigrants. 

One of the most recognizable examples is the popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who was raised and educated in Calgary. “We grew him up in our city,” adds van Herk. 

Another example is the honorary chair of this year’s awards, Wayne Chiu. He is the founder and CEO of Trico Home and was recently appointed to the Order of Canada as a “corporate leader and as a champion of innovation and social entrepreneurship.” 

In 2008, Chiu and his wife founded Trico Charitable Foundation, which has supported many local community organizations. In 2014, Chiu who sat on the board of Bow Valley College in Calgary for eight years, donated $3 million to the school – the largest single donation in the institution's history. 

Canada: A land of opportunity 

Ziad Paracha, won one the youth awards last year. In 2003, at eight years old, he came to Calgary with his family from Pakistan. They didn’t know about the country, and arrived in March without a winter jacket. 

“I didn’t even know what Canada was back then,” says Paracha, who thought he didn’t fit in his new country. “I thought maybe we should go back.” 

“Sometimes you feel like you aren’t as recognized as a member from a minority group.”

As an immigrant, he felt compelled to do more. Over the last five years, Paracha has been a volunteer at the newcomers orientation week program with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for the Youth. 

He is also the co-founder and current president of Ascovime Canada, and he volunteers at Foothills Hospital Long Term Patient Care in the neurological rehabilitation unit.  

“It is always great to get recognized,” says Paracha. “Sometimes you feel like you aren’t as recognized as a member from a minority group.” 

He says negative stereotypes persist across Canada. “There is still space for improvement.”

However, he adds, Canada remains a land of opportunity. 

“Any immigrant that is perseverant and passionate about anything, it is guaranteed they will succeed.” 

For a list of this year’s finalists, visit the Immigrants of Distinction Awards website.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

Jose Duque, an immigrant from Venezuela, is using music to keep children in band practice and out of trouble on the streets.

In his native country, Duque participated in the El Sistema program, for over 16 years as an orchestra player, music teacher, and later, as a regional co-ordinator.

The program, which is run in countries around the world, gives children from diverse backgrounds a safe and fun place that fosters discipline, increased self-esteem and a sense of community.

When Duque immigrated to Calgary 10 years ago, he thought there were no children living in poverty in the city.

“I thought Canada was paradise,” says Duque, adding he imagined no one in Calgary would need a program like El Sistema.

Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland.

The opportunity to dream

However, Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland – Canada wasn’t the perfect paradise he imagined.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, he met many low-income families who had difficulties keeping their children away from drugs, gangs and isolation.

“I wanted to offer disadvantaged children the opportunity to dream,” says Duque.

That is why five years ago, he decided to start a free after school music program at the church.

Now, with the support of International Avenue Arts and Culture Centre (IAACC), Duque’s small initiative has grown into the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra (CMO) – a full-time program with three professors and 60 students based on the El Sistema program model.

The program operates in Calgary's Forest Lawn area, which has double the percentage of low-income households than the rest of the city, according to Statistics Canada. IAACC funding provides children with free musical instruments and music lessons every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema youth orchestra system in Venezuela, shares the story behind the program.

Diverting children and youth from the streets

Duque says CMO will create positive outcomes similar to other El Sistema projects around the world – a decrease in juvenile crime and school drop-out rates. However, to achieve his dream he requires more participation from the community.

“Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.”

“If we could get 1,000 children from Forest Lawn and other communities in the northeast we could create a real change,” says Duque. 

According to a study by the Inter American Development Bank for every dollar invested in the El Sistema program in Venezuela, it reaped about $1.68 in social dividends – with benefits such as a decline in juvenile delinquency and improvement in school attendance.

The biggest rate of juvenile delinquency occurs between 4 and 7 p.m., explains Duque, which is the timeframe when children spend more time alone after school and before their parents return from work in the evening.

“We are giving a space to these kids to do something special,” he says. “We are taking them away from the streets, the drugs and the gangs.”

Putting a focus on inclusivity and tolerance

Amédée Waters, program administrator for the CMO, says the program aims to bring together children from all incomes, races and religions. 

“The idea is to create a sense of inclusivity, tolerance and community,” says Waters. “Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.” 

"[T]he program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different.”

Mark Lobnowcs, whose 11-year-old child participates in the CMO, agrees that the program creates more tolerance. 

“I think it is marvellous that the program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different,” says Lobnowcs.

He also says the program is a great opportunity to learn music from top professional musicians. “It is amazing that someone with Jose’s qualifications is doing something like this for free.”

Hikmat Kafi, whose seven-year-old daughter has been with the CMO for over two years, says that the program has helped her daughter to open up to other children.

Kafi arrived to Canada from North Sudan 10 years ago. She says that her daughter’s participation in the CMO has had a positive influence on her two brothers. “If you see your child happy, then all the family is happy too,” she shares.

The program costs IAACC over $2,300 per child per year, and funding can be an issue, according to Waters.

Right now the program has a waiting list of over 30 children, but it doesn’t have the funds to pay for teachers and instruments.

“It is always a struggle to find the funds,” says Waters. As a result, the program is always looking for volunteers and used musical instruments.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

For some, Alberta’s history is just about cowboys, oil, and Conservatives, but a new television series is shedding light on the many contributions that minority groups have made in the province.

An Omni TV magazine-style series, “Alberta Roots”, goes under the surface to tell the stories of immigrant communities and their contributions to the wild rose province, since the time of their early settlement to the present. 

For example, members of Calgary’s Jewish community gave the city its iconic white hat, the +15 Skywalk bridge system and the Jack Singer Hall Centre.

Gingi Baki, the executive producer of the show, says immigrants with their kind spirit have defined Alberta since its beginning – defying the intolerant redneck stereotype many hold of the province. 

“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants,” said Baki, who adds that throughout Alberta’s history when immigrants did well, they also helped others in their communities.

“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants.”

The province’s first pioneers were from Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.

Among the first immigrants to come to Alberta from the U.S. were black farmers who were denied equal rights in Oklahoma. Many Chinese workers made Calgary home as well after the national railway was built.

“There have been small pockets of immigrants through all our history,” says Baki.

Many immigrants have also come to Alberta because of the good economic times – from the gold rush to the first oil booms. However, many of them stayed after because of the beauty of the province, Baki suggests.

“The openness, the skies and the sunsets stay in your soul.”

Facing racism in the pioneer years

Kirk Niergarth, a professor of Canadian history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says it was hard for minority groups to settle in Alberta right up to the early 20th century.  

In 1911, a white teenager, Hazel Huff, lost her mother’s diamond ring and blamed it on a “big, black, burly nigger”* who broke into her home and assaulted her.

Media hysteria broke in Edmonton, and her assault was blamed on black people immigrating to the province, according to historical archives.

When Huff later told the truth, it was too late. “The damage was already done,” says Niergarth.

“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”

In 1892, a Chinese man fell ill with smallpox in Calgary. To contain the disease, city officials burned the laundry where he lived, and put all of its occupants under armed quarantine.

A mob of 300 people tried to run the quarantined individuals out of Calgary when they were released – and the RCMP had to control the situation. 

Niergarth explains that Alberta – like the rest of Canada – felt troubled by the changes newcomers were bringing to society.

“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”

Alberta’s changing fabric

It is not a secret that Alberta is growing rapidly. Part of this growth is that more minorities are moving into the province.

According to Statistics Canada census data, the growth of Alberta visible minorities has skyrocketed. In 1991, visible minorities made 9.4 per cent of Alberta’s population. As of 2011, they represented 18.4 per cent.

Of those visible minorities, a 2008 report shows 91 per cent settled in the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton. But that also appears to be changing.

Presently, the city of Lethbridge attracts many visible minorities thanks to its low cost of living and good job market. The city is home to the biggest Bhutanese community in Canada.

Surya Acharya, an agricultural research scientist and immigrant from India, moved to Lethbridge from Edmonton in 1989. His friends told him that he was moving into “redneck country.” They said he wouldn’t survive too long in the small southern Alberta city.

It has been almost 30 years, and Acharya says he has been comfortable in Lethbridge since he arrived.

“They were wrong,” he adds.

Today, he is the president of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, where 32 different ethnic groups from four different continents are represented.

"People only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion.”

Acharya says things have changed extensively since he moved into Lethbridge. “It is more common these days to see visible minorities in Southern Alberta.”

Acharya says the reason why there aren’t more visible minorities in rural Alberta isn’t because of intolerance, but lack of resources and entertainment opportunities.

“Jobs only keep them busy for 40 hours,” he says.

Alberta’s immigrant spirit

Acharya says that the redneck stereotype is untrue in modern Alberta. For him the pioneer immigrant spirit is what represents the province.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from, people only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion,” he shares.

Niergarth says the stereotype of Alberta being a redneck province comes from the interpretation of its culture and politics in other parts of Canada.

Things like the Calgary Stampede and the platform of the Reform party were associated with the redneck image, he explains.

However, these views of Alberta aren’t always accurate. “It is not based in research, so proceed with caution,” Niergarth says.

If Alberta was really intolerant there would be no immigrants in the province, he adds.

“Maybe the proof is in the dough.” 

“Alberta Roots” is being aired on Omni TV in Alberta and British Columbia. In the future it will be aired in Ontario, and it will be available on the Omni website. 


*Editor's Note: "The racial slur, albeit disquieting, was quoted precisely from a historical context to establish the type of mentality that existed among some people." 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca


Published in Arts & Culture

Downtown Calgary landmarks will be lit in navy blue – Bhullar’s favourite colour   MORE than 2,000 people packed Calgary’s Jubilee Auditorium and a nearby gymnasium on Sunday morning to pay tribute to Calgary MLA Manmeet Bhullar, 35, who was killed last Monday trying to help a stranded driver on the snowy highway between Calgary […]

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