Canada's new immigrants have now made Chinese languages #3 in Canada: CBC Radio's “The Current” asks me about the possibility of a 3rd official language for Canada

I had a very interesting phone call from Toronto on Monday… a producer from CBC Radio's “The Current” phoned me to ask my views on the latest Canadian census results on language and immigration released December 4th.

The questions considered the issues of should Canada adopt a 3rd official language. 

The CBC Radio producer also asked me if I was aware that Singapore now had four official languages.

I told her that New Brunswick is the only province in Canada with two official languages, and that Singapore is a city-state.

Hmmm…..  food for thought….

Chinese languages are now the third-most common mother-tongue group, behind English and French. The largest group of immigrants to Canada now come from the Republic of China.  Richmond BC, is the leading city for Chinese language speakers.

But where does this leave me?  I am a 5th generational Chinese-Canadian who speaks better French than Chinese?

Am I the product of a colonial Canada whose racist history purposely and methodically legislated and conspired to prohibit and block Chinese and other Asian immigrants from coming to Canada?  As well as creating a cultural genocide to its First Nations aboriginal people by taking children from their families and placing them in Residential Schools and prohibiting them from speaking their mother-tongues, as well as outlawing their cultural practices, traditions and social structure with the “Potlatch Law?”

Of course.

When I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, my parents decided not to send me to Chinese school because they wanted to emphasize assimilation with Canadian culture.  They wanted me to get ahead in Canadian society by furthering my participation in English language activities.  So instead of going to Chinese School after “English School” I took accordion lessons, judo lessons, swimming lessons etc. 

My parents grew up during the time of the “Chinese Exclusion Act” – when no Chinese were permitted to immigrate to Canada, so what good would learning Chinese be for me?  I had to learn French in high school, and even took the Summer Language Bursary program to study French at a Canadian University.  When I went to China in 1993, I ended up speaking more French as I bumped into people from Quebec, France and Holland.  I even had Thanksgiving dinner with the Canadian Ambassador to China, who was from Montreal.

It's great that Canada can be more tolerant to new immigrants, than it was when my great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan arrived in 1896.  It's great that Canadians can be happy with a multiculturalism that embraces every culture from along the ancient Silk Road, as well as almost every country on earth.

But… we must also pay attention to our history.  Canada was founded as a nation including English and French cultures and languages.  The Chinese pioneers who built the railway and paid the head tax spoke Cantonese from Southern China.  Mandarin is only a more recent language as immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China began arriving in significant numbers during the 1980's. 

If we are going to recognize the impact of Chinese immigrants in Canada, then we must also recognize the impact of Chinese-Canadian history – not just the easily identifiable Chinese-language voting block because the current political party in power wants to remain in power.

Before we can consider the luxury of a third official language, we must first consider that Canada has unfinished business.  First Nations issues must be recognized.  Treaties and land claim issues should take precedence.  Should First Nations language be considered an official language?  Which one?  I remember listening to Peter Gzowski on CBC Radio as he asked 3 different First Nations people to say the word that they used to refer to themselves instead of the words “First Nations”, “Aboriginal”or “Indian.”  They answered with three different words. 

Before we consider Chinese as even an unofficial language, we must fully consider the unresolved issues of the Chinese Head Tax redress.  The Harper government used Mandarin Chinese – not the Cantonese language of the head tax payers, when they gave the apology for the Chinese Head Tax last year on June 22nd 2006.  Less than one percent of head tax certificates have been honoured with ex-gratia payments because the government refuses to include families where the surviving head tax payers and spouses have died prior to Harper's election in 2006, even though the head tax redress was first requested in Parliament by Margaret Mitchell in 1984, even though Chinese-Canadians asked for the end to the “Exclusion Act” in 1947.

It's great that new immigrants are adding to Canada's cultural diversity, and giving Canadians a sense of global identity and culture.  But Canada's ethnic history should also be recognized, not just the latest 20 years.

The CBC radio producer liked what I had to say.  She recognized that I was neither a Chinese mother-tongue speaker nor a multi-generational White Canadian – but a little of both.  So… I might be on the panel discussion for The Current on Friday morning for Dec 14th.  Cross your fingers.  I might shake things up and challenge both the status quo and the new immigration patterns.

Check out CBC Radio's The Current's story on “Ethnoburbs” – how ethnic populations are increasingly settling in the suburbs or Canada's major city centres of Vancouver and Toronto.

The Current: Part 3


Census – Ethnoburbs

Statistics Canada has released the data on immigration from the 2006 Census,
and there are some interesting findings. More than a million people
came to Canada between 2001 and 2006. And while they're still
gravitating to major urban centres like Toronto, Vancouver and
Montreal, they're heading increasingly to big, suburban centres like Markham, Ontario and Richmond, British Columbia. In fact, both of those cities are now home to more people born outside Canada than in Canada.

Rosemary Bender joined us for a look at the hard numbers. She is the
Director General for Social and Demographic Statistics with Statistics
Canada and she was in Vancouver.

Ethnoburbs – Voices

Well, as you heard, immigrants to Canada make up the fastest
growing demographic in the country. And along with that growth, suburbs
on the outskirts of Canada's biggest cities are growing along with them.

The city of Markham sits roughly 30 kilometres northeast of downtown
Toronto. Of the 260 000 or so people who live there, 56% are
immigrants. The community is peppered with huge asian malls and
restaurants catering to its primarily Chinese community. The Current
producer Dominic Girard stopped in earlier this week to see how the
cultures are mingling — or clashing. He took in some line dancing and
snooker at the Markham Seniors Activity Centre, met with a city
councillor, and chatted up a young man working a cell phone shop in one
of the asian malls.

Ethnoburbs – Panel

Today's numbers raise questions about whether ethnic enclaves are a
place to start out in and move out of, or are they becoming a place to
stay permanently — and what is the impact of that on Canadian society.

Sudha Krishna
is a former CBC journalist and now a partner in a Vancouver new media
company called The Nimble Company, and he was in our Vancouver studio. Dr. Myer Siemiatycki
is the director of the graduate program in Immigration and Settlement
Studies at Ryerson University. And Howard Chen is the president of the Chinese Professional Association of Canada and a resident of Markham, Ontario. Both were in our Toronto studio.

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