Let’s talk diversity

November 2nd 2009

The uproar over attempts to change the Old Age Security Act triggered more than just a fierce opposition to tampering with the Canadian pension system. Beneath the furious debate about pension entitlement in Canada, there was an unavoidable undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment voiced in some corners.

There will always be the small-minded and bigoted in the crowd eager to add their two cents to any discussion involving the immigrant community and fuel the still simmering fires of intolerance. But there are also many ordinary, average residents who genuinely feel like the walls of immigration are closing in around them.

Last June, Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Old Age Security Act so immigrant seniors can qualify to receive monthly benefit payments after three years Canadian residency instead of 10 years.

While there has been support from various communities and organizations, there has also been a hue and cry from many Canadians. Emotional opposition and criticism from Canadians, who believe recent immigrants have not earned the right to access a government-funded pension program, appear to have drowned out vocal supporters of the proposed bill. Even the nation’s largest seniors support organization, Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), joined the chorus of boos. The organization also warned the fruitless legislative attempt in the House of Commons has only managed to stir up ill-will for Canada’s immigrants.

“CARP requests that you withdraw Bill C-428 in order to prevent the further corrosion of the public discourse on immigration and stem the tide of anti-immigrant sentiments that Bill C-428 has provoked,” said Susan Eng, the organization’s vice-president of advocacy, in an open letter.

Letters and calls to The Guardian revealed there are Brampton residents who feel this city is no longer their home. The changing face of the community makes them feel like strangers.

Longtime residents are migrating north and west of city limits. There are those who feel they are fleeing a tsunami of sorts— moving further inland to escape an immigration tidal wave.

Projections show no hint the tide will turn anytime soon. According to data gathered during the 2006 census, immigrants now represent about half of Brampton’s population.

The recurring stories of longtime residents leaving are told in hush conversation in the corner of social gatherings and public meetings. No one dare discuss such things in mixed company for fear of being labelled racist or bigoted. In the end, each of us have to take some responsibility for our inability to adapt or feel comfortable with the changing world. But trying to achieve a harmonious community has to be a two way street for old and new arrivals. Perhaps the time has come to speak these issues aloud if the diversity Brampton, Peel and Canada so often boast about is truly our goal.

© The Brampton Guardian

Keywords: seniors, diversity