Comforting Words: Economic Apartheid in Canada?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Economic Apartheid in Canada?

Following is a Letter to the Editor that I wrote this week. As they may never publish it, let me do so myself.

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If the reality of underemployment and living in borderline poverty was not so factual, I would laugh each time there is a news report about the labour shortage in Alberta.

A few years ago, on the lure of multiculturalism and a land of opportunities for all, my small family and I migrated to Canada. There were several options open to us but we chose Canada for its promise of inclusiveness, order and need for professionals along with skilled workers.

The web site of Citizenship and Immigration Canada was the main source of information for us as we sought to make a final decision about migrating here. It was there we saw that “skilled workers are people who may become permanent residents because they have the ability to become economically established in Canada.”

As we followed the instructions to check whether our occupations – mine was international relations and communications specialist, with graduate level degree and over ten years experience and my spouse’s broadcast (radio and television) journalist with a bachelor’s degree in English – we passed the self-assessment with flying colours.

Although we had the necessary education, professional qualifications and money to support ourselves for at least the first six months, because we had friends with postgraduate education (finance and medicine) who had returned to Jamaica after unsuccessfully trying to settle here, my spouse and I were prepared to take lower level jobs to get started in our new country.

Imagine my shock after responding to numerous advertisements for jobs as receptionist, administrative assistant or customer service representative and not being invited to an interview. I can still recall the bile that almost choked me as a temporary employment placement agent said that I would need to downgrade my resume to get a job.

Refusing to do that, it took me months before I ‘landed’ a job in a call centre, paying $10.00 per hour. The real shock, however, was my gratitude for this job as we were able to pay our rent and put food on the table. So for over a year, I would put to use the skills and expertise gained making presentations at international conferences and working with heads of government. My spouse was in a similar position, using the voice and English language skills of a Caribbean broadcaster, to do telephone market research at $9.00 per hour.

Almost four years of the mythical ‘Canadian experience’, a Northern Alberta Institute of Technology diploma in Culinary Arts and another Master degree later, we are still straddling the poverty line in the richest province of Canada.

How does one explain that? Never one to draw the race card, I cannot help peeking at it as my thirtieth application in two months goes unacknowledged. Certainly, the majority of the thousands of vacant positions in Alberta are in the oilfields, construction and fast food industries.

However, even in these areas, there are vacancies for people with management, administration, communications, customer service, conflict resolution, and crisis intervention and support/counseling skills. I also see the daily advertisements on the government, universities, not-for-profit and even commercial organizations’ web sites.

With tears in my eyes, today I pulled out all the copies of the postings for which I have applied and laid them next to my resume. Checking off each requirement against my experience and skill-set, the only thing that seemed out of place is the colour of my skin.

Mahatma Gandhi made a very insightful observation about hypocrisy, one that I would slightly amend to read “hypocrisy and distortion are passing currents under the name of [multiculturalism.]”

If they are not part of this system of hypocrisy and distortion, the honest, respectful and justice-loving people of Canada have two choices.

They can demand that politicians and bureaucrats of the Federal and Provincial governments, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Employers Association across this country both follow proper employment practices and honour the human rights of non-white immigrants to gainful and equal employment.

Otherwise, they could ask that the tax dollars stop being wasted on the false promotion, advertising and festivals of the myth that Canada is a multicultural society and a land of real and equal opportunities for all.

Until a choice is made, my advice to non-white professional immigrants would sadly be “Ignore the ads, stay out of Canada and Alberta if you want economic justice and keep your human dignity.”

Claudette Esterine

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