Immigrants may not Find Haven They Seek in Canada

After the international Jeux de la Francophonie wrapped up last week in Ottawa-Hull, more than 100 foreign athletes remained behind. Citing fears of persecution in their homelands, based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, 106 athletes from seventeen countries are seeking political asylum in Canada.

Their first hurdle is over. They've been granted six-month visas and, if they remain in Canada, they can apply for refugee status any time up until January, 2002.

Their second struggle is about to begin: seeking out supportive communities, getting legal advice on their petition, finding work, searching for a place to live. In these endeavours, they're going to need an awful lot of luck.

Last week, the Toronto Star sent a reporter out to a high-rise building at 701 Don Mills Road. Posing as a recent immigrant looking for an apartment, the reporter was told that he would have pay twelve months' rent in advance. "If you are a newcomer, then we have to use different rules," the building manager explained. Putting down that kind of money in advance is good for recent immigrants, she said, because it protects them from doing foolish things like gambling away their rent money.

According to the manager, this is the policy of the owner, Coram Deo Inc. (A spokesperson for the company says otherwise.) Other immigrant tenants who were queried said that they received the same treatment. One woman paid for five months plus first and last month's rent and had to have a relative sign the lease as a guarantor. She says the policy of the Don Mills building is not unique. She was treated similarly at several other buildings when she was searching for a place to live.

This practice is illegal. The only money a landlord is entitled to collect is first and last month's rent. The specific targeting of immigrants for higher standards of security is also a human rights violation.

New immigrants are most vulnerable to this kind of treatment: They don't know the culture, are unfamiliar with housing laws. They may not speak English well, or know where to look to get advice. And in Toronto's terrible housing market, they might be justifiably worried about losing housing altogether.

None of this is news to people working at settlement agencies and organizations serving immigrants. If immigrants are people of colour, they can add poverty and unemployment to their list of struggles. But, according to a recent study, even people of colour born in Canada continue to face discrimination in housing and employment at shocking rates.

In May, the Centre for Social Justice released a study documenting the economic impact of racism in Canada. Authored by Grace-Edward Galabuzi, a political science doctoral student at York University, "Canada's Creeping Economic Apartheid" notes that compared to white Canadians, people of colour earn less, despite equivalent levels of education, and are disproportionately segregated in low-income urban housing.

Other findings of the study include:

  • In 1998, racialized (Galabuzi's term for visible minority) Canadians made $14,507 compared to $20,517 for non-racialized Canadians (based on individual pre-tax median earnings).
  • White immigrants do better than racialized immigrants. Since 1986, when racialized group immigration has been most intense, immigrants from racialized communities earned 28 to 31.5 per cent less than white immigrants.
  • Individuals from racialized groups have poverty rates of 35.6 per cent, compared to a rate of 17.6 per cent for the general population. The family poverty rate for racialized groups is 19 per cent, compared to 10.4 per cent for white families. In 1995, 45 per cent of children under six years old in racialized communities were living in low-income families - almost twice the overall figure of 26 per cent for all children living in Canada.
  • The 1996 census data show that men in racialized groups had a 13.2 per cent unemployment rate compared to 9.9 per cent for men in the general population. Women in racialized groups had an unemployment rate of 15.3 per cent compared to 9.4 per cent for other women.
  • Of the skilled workers in racialized groups selected for immigration in 1998, 72 per cent held university degrees, a rate four times greater than the percentage in the Canadian-born population.
  • The income disparity between whites and people of colour for both lowly and highly educated individuals is similar, approximately 23 per cent.
  • Twenty-two per cent of racialized men and 16.9 per cent of racialized women had university degrees in 1996 compared to 13.4 percent of other men and 11.7 per cent of other women.

To outsiders, Canada - with its racial diversity, human rights bodies, democratic government and (slowly eroding) socialized medicine - can look like a paradise. The United Nations has even designated it as one of the best countries in the world in which to live. For immigrants and people of colour, these illegal housing policies and economic statistics tells a far different story.

One hundred and six athletes are fleeing persecution in their home countries for a new and better life here. How horrible for them to discover that Canada might not be the all-embracing refuge for which they had hoped.

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