Immigration defines Canada, not just its politics

At the height of the recent provincial election, the nation’s economic struggles were at the forefront of debate. When an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality began to rear its head, one student couldn’t help but notice its impact on Canada’s longstanding multicultural identity.

“I firmly believe that immigration and multiculturalism are not simply political policies and ideologies, but a way of life,” says Christopher Stuart Taylor, a third-year PhD student at Western. “They are as Canadian as hockey and maple syrup, but continue to be hotly contested issues throughout Canadian society.”

During the election campaign, the term “foreign worker” became a hot-button issue. The Liberals promised to provide a job subsidy program for new Canadians; the Progressive Conservatives retorted that Canadians would lose jobs to foreign workers under the plan.

“Cries of racism, discrimination and anti-immigration came down upon the PC party. Some argue that was one of the reasons they lost the election,” Taylor says.

As a current PhD student in the Department of History and the collaborative graduate program in migration and ethnic relations, Taylor sees topics related to immigration and multiculturalism as more than political issues that come up every election, but a passion and something he thinks about and works on every day.

“Immigration has, and will always be, a defining Canadian characteristic,” he says. “Some people will be in favour of immigration and immigrants, and others vehemently against them for a variety of reasons. Just like taxes, while you like them or not, immigration is what this country needs.”

Furthermore, what got lost in all of the election and ‘foreign worker’ debate, according to Taylor, was we just celebrated 40 years of official Canadian Multiculturalism in Canada. “It has become so Canadian that we take it for granted, while at the same time trying to dismiss it as outdated.”

Taylor’s research focuses on Barbadian immigration to Canada between 1940-1967. When individuals think of immigration, they tend to focus on why people come to Canada versus why people left their respective home countries.

“Christopher is attempting to shed light on the Barbadian Diaspora from a variety of vantage points: social, political and economic,” says Stephanie Bangarth, history professor and Taylor’s supervisor. “He aims to analyze how state and non-state actors were involved in the immigration movement and, in the process, will uncover an oft-neglected player in the Barbadian immigration scheme – the role of the Barbadian government itself.”

Having recently returned from a research trip to Barbados and the Barbadian National Archives at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Taylor focused on the individual voices of the many Barbadian immigrants that came during this period. In doing so, he hopes to go beyond the examination of social, political and economic factors to add to the foundation of multiculturalism and immigration scholarship in Canada.

“As a feature of Canadian Black history, Christopher’s project will add to an alarmingly underdeveloped but important field of Canadian history,” Bangarth adds.

Up until 1966, Barbados was a British colony. Along with their common British heritage, Barbadian-Canadian relations date back to trade during the Empire’s period of slavery.

“Barbadians have, and will continue to be, affected by Ontario and Canadian immigration policies,” Taylor says. “The previous provincial election was merely a footnote to the historical immigration debate in Canada.”

Prior to the end of ‘official’ racism in Canadian immigration in 1962, and the implementation of the Points System in 1967, most black Barbadians were excluded from entering Canada.

“Historically, Canada’s immigration policy discriminated against all non-white immigrants,” he says. “But the times have changed, and through more open Canadian immigration and the benevolence of multiculturalism, the face of Canada has changed. Literally.”

But Taylor feels that for Canadians to truly understand why the ‘foreign worker’ issue was such a highly debated topic during the election, they must recognize the historical roots of immigration in this province and country. “We must understand that while the political rhetoric has changed, there are still historical elements of discrimination and racism embedded in how our politicians, and we, see immigrants.”

As a researcher, issues such as these help drive Taylor to advancing our understanding of Canadian immigration and multiculturalism, not to mention the personal connection to his work.

“I am a second-generation Canadian, but growing up in a Barbadian-Canadian household, I understand the individual hardships immigrants face,” he says. “I am privileged to say that my research lets me learn and share my parents’ story. Not many people have this opportunity and I am extremely grateful for it.”