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It’s Not Them, It’s Us:

Unpacking Canada’s Historical Fear of Immigrants 

by Charlotte Crober

It’s a zoo.

It’s full of loitering, unemployed drifters, garbage and graffiti. The people smell bad, and their kids are out of control. They’re flocking into our country at unprecedented rates, and they won’t even make their own money!

Am I talking about The Radisson Hotel? No, it’s those rooming houses! I’m just sick of those crazy Italians coming to our country and abusing the benevolence of our charities.

[The Globe & Mail, 1907]

And why would they work? They’re getting tons of our money! Who else would refuse work at a handsome $1.25 a day?

[The Globe & Mail, 1904]

In fact, with all this uncontrollable influx of immigration, our Canadian culture will certainly be wiped out! Just look at the differences between the way we live and the way they do! No, I’m not talking about Syrians.

[Vancouver Sun, 1907]

And now they want to participate in our elections? How can foreigners expect to show up one day and be handed the right to have a say in the way we run our country? It’s going to cause absolute chaos, there’s so many of them that their votes will outnumber ours!

[Vancouver Sun, 1935]

They’re violent, uncontrollable, and they refuse to assimilate. They abuse their spouses, don’t reflect our civilized Canadian values, and by the time they arrive here, they’re already too far gone for us to save. It’s sad, but such is the nature of these war-torn countries. Nope, I’m still not talking about Syria.

[The Globe & Mail, 1925]

And they won’t even learn to read and write in English! No, I’m not talking about Syrians, but don’t even get me started on those Poles, Russians, and Austrians.

[The Globe & Mail, 1929]

 

Does this look familiar? It’s almost as though every wave of immigrants experiences the same accusations, fear-mongering, and generalisations.

Every time you eat in Little Italy or Chinatown, sip a chai latte or have a pierogi, you’re enjoying the contribution of immigration to our society. The proof is in the (rice) pudding: society wasn’t destroyed, the city didn’t fall to shambles, and they didn’t steal all our jobs.

And yes, they learned to speak English.

More importantly though, it is a deeply human thing for us to empathise with each other on an individual and collective level.

You may be afraid of Syrians refugees (or whoever the next wave of migrants to seek home or refuge in Canada may be) about all-the-above, but all of it is demonstrably untrue. If history teaches us anything, it’s that we don’t have to be afraid.

As Canadians and as global citizens, it is our responsibility to look past the generalisations and stereotypes and see an individual human face behind the story. This is your neighbour, the store clerk, your daughter’s friend from school, and quite likely, a grandparent or great-grandparent.

And they probably have a lot more in common with us than you might expect.