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IMMIGRATION

Vancouver Sun column's 'alarming' race rhetoric is ‘dangerous’: experts

Controversy grows over ex-ambassador and Fraser Institute senior fellow’s warnings of ‘population replacement’ by ‘non-whites’ published by Postmedia this month.

Diyasi Kannangara, left, and Diyath Kannangara, from Sri Lanka, take part in a Canadian citizenship ceremony at the in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Diyasi Kannangara, left, and Diyath Kannangara, from Sri Lanka, take part in a Canadian citizenship ceremony at the in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2016.

“An opinion that reminds me of the anti-Asian rhetoric in 1942,” tweeted Lorene Oikawa to mark the 75th anniversary of Japanese internment in British Columbia.

For Oikawa, whose family had their possessions and home seized by the government and were forced into what were essentially concentration camps, that reminder came this week in the form of a former Canadian Ambassador’s opinion article in the Vancouver Sun on June 4.

The story has sparked intense criticism online, particularly this past week.

The title of the column — “Canada replacing its population a case of wilful ignorance, greed, excess political correctness” — was accompanied by a photograph of a large crowd of cheering, mostly Asian young adults.

Its author, Martin Collacott, is a senior fellow at the right-of-centre Fraser Institute and former spokesman for the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform; he was once Canada’s Ambassador to Syria, Lebanon and Cambodia.

Citing statistics that within two generations, nearly seven in 10 in B.C. will be visible minorities, and in a century eight-in-ten people in Canada will be “non-white” — Collacott argued that B.C.’s white population risks being overwhelmed by non-white immigrants.

“If Canada continues along its present path,” he argued, “… we will become one of the first and perhaps the only country in the world to voluntarily allow its population to be largely replaced by people from elsewhere.”

Although he said “some” diversity is healthy, the harms of current immigration levels include locals “being crowded out” of housing bought by “the ceaseless flow of new arrivals,” increased traffic, and a drain on health and education.

According to Sanjay Jeram, a senior political science lecturer at Simon Fraser University who studies immigration, while "he taps into a real economic debate" in the opinion piece, and references actual statistics about the proportion of non-European immigrants, "he’s presenting it to spark a kind of sentiment without being balanced enough," Jeram argued.

"I’ve seen these statistics raised, but not in this alarming way … He’s expressing anecdotal feelings of people he may know in certain circles.”

What is up for legitimate debate, Jeram said, is what various levels of immigration do to the economy, a debate that’s indeed ongoing amongst economists and other academics.

“The article itself is irresponsible,” Jeram countered. “It’s alarming … He’s really stretching the argument and creating a wrong impression.

"Traffic, rising unemployment and housing costs hasn’t anything to do with non-whites, as he suggests. If the immigrants came from Britain, would that be different?”

And Jeram added that Collacott presents an "implicit argument" that long-time Canadians of Western European descent, faced with the current population trends, might "prefer a return to a race-based selection policy to prevent 'being replaced' by people from elsewhere," he said.

That, he countered, "is a real stretch … he has no legs to stand on.

"Such xenophobic sentiments are expressed by only a small minority in Canada," he said.

Collacott's also argued that many immigrants "will bring with them values and traditions that may differ in key respects from those of most Canadians, such as gender equality and concern for protection of the environment … While a moderate degree of diversity can make society more vibrant — and my own family is an example of this — it is quite a different matter when it develops to a level where it overwhelms and largely replaces the existing population."

Such arguments, Jeram suggested, tap into the notion that "essentially new immigrants are not integrating with native Canadians, and are not building communal bonds the same they were were in history."

On this point, Jeram countered that Collacott is "treading really lightly on the ethnic ghetto argument," but that on this point in particular "he's hinting at things he has no legs to stand on."

"There's no evidence of this," he said. "(Canadians) aren’t even concerned about this in surveys.  

"People who think that new immigrants are not integrating as prior generations of immigrants, if people are seeing some aren't learning English as fast or are living in their own communities, that has a lot to do with fact they’re not being economically integrated … He’s assuming people are coming and choosing not to socially integrate — that’s actually wrong. There’s no reason to believe that."

The risk of such arguments, Jeram said, is alarming because "it can incite racial hatred, scapegoating certain immigrants but not others."

Collacott could not be reached by publication time either through the Fraser Institute or his Facebook account.

But his column’s sentiments may be widespread if not openly voiced in some sectors of the population. Since it was published has generated outrage on social media.

Ishmael Daro, who co-hosts Metro’s Safe Space podcast with Vicky Mochama, said “The Vancouver Sun basically ran a ‘white genocide’ column from a former Canadian ambassador.”

"The Sun brings the alt-right to a Vancouver,” tweeted writer Michael Stewart. “…Apparently immigrants are driving housing prices up AND sucking our social services dry.”

No One Is Illegal co-founder Harsha Walia said on Facebook she was “not surprised” by Collacott’s piece, because she’s debated him on immigration several times on television and radio programs and in opinion pages.

“The fact that he served as an Ambassador and continues to have a platform in newspapers masquerading as free speech, debate etc. is infuriating,” she wrote.

The concerns came from further right on the political spectrum too, with the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation’s federal director Aaron Wudrick chiming in as well:

“I'm always struck by how often people conflate race and culture in arguments,” he tweeted. “They're simply not the same thing … He seems to think importing minorities somehow means cultural change. But if those minorities integrate, his argument collapses.”

Wudrick went on to ask, “If all immigrants coming were suddenly white, would they have the same concerns?”

Newly elected New Democrat MLA Bowinn Ma lambasted the article as “fear mongering” in a Facebook post as well.

“Collacott's piece is dangerous,” she argued. “… While immigration policies are undoubtedly an important discussion and dialogue to have, the opening paragraphs of the opinion article make it painfully obvious that Collacott's issue isn't really immigration — it's people who are not white.”

Update (June 20): Several comments from Sanjay Jeram have been expanded to provide clearer context from an earlier version of this story.

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