Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Canadian cities boast minorities as majority

In cities such as Markham and Brampton, the combined number of people in cultural minorities exceeds those with French or English roots

By Sadiya Ansari  /  The Guardian, MARKHAM, Ontario

As cities get bigger, it is only natural to be attracted to those who are similar to you, says Mohammad Qadeer, a professor of urban planning at Queen’s University, Ontario.

“You usually hang out and interact with people you share interests with,” he says. “Ethnicity and religion are strong ties that bring people together.”

However, majority-minority cities also serve as a reminder that diverse populations do not necessarily generate utopian post-racial societies.

White flight and hate crimes still occur, as do coded fights over issues that disproportionately affect immigrants — for instance, blowback against multi-generational housing, where several generations live under one roof.

Just because a city has a high proportion of foreign-born residents, that does not mean its population is always open to other newcomers. Punches were thrown at a recent protest in Markham, when groups of mostly Chinese-Canadians clashed over a proposal to temporarily house asylum seekers in the city, to ease the pressure on Toronto’s shelter system. Eighty-one percent of asylum seekers in the city’s shelter system are from Nigeria.

Markham has nevertheless come a long way since 1995, when then-deputy Markham mayor Carole Bell expressed hostility toward Chinese malls, claiming they were driving people out of the city and that residents did not want “signage in a language we can’t read.”

Not only does that signage remain, the city’s official Web site now translates its content into more than 80 languages, using a Google widget. In the last municipal election, some candidates participated in debates in Cantonese and Mandarin.

However, there remains ongoing debate over how much cultural change can be adopted into mainstream society and how quickly.

For instance, statutory holidays, which are mostly aligned with Christian holidays, are days off for workers in Canada, but in 2011, some Chinese grocers in Markham, including the Foody Mart, stayed open in defiance of the law.

Markham City Councilor Joe Li (李國賢) heard both sides of the debate: that grocers were being discriminated against for not being able to stay open and that Chinese businesses were trying to impose their culture on the city.

Ultimately, Li decided in favor of the grocers, arguing that consumers should have the option to shop on holidays. The move proved so popular that York Region, in which Markham sits, voted that from this year, any business could stay open 364 days a year.

Li asked for something in return: to hire more diversely.

“Now you’re starting to see it,” he says. “You walk in and see south Asian people in the store, you see halal meat in the store.”

The expression of the incredible diversity of the community does not really manifest itself on the ground. Easy access to halal meat, south Asian groceries and a mosque are all things Rameeka Khan appreciates about living in Markham. The 33-year-old pharmacist of Pakistani descent was born in Canada and has lived in the city nearly her whole life, choosing to settle there with her husband.

She is glad they bought a house in 2010 — her family would be priced out today.

“It would be difficult for a younger couple to afford Markham,” Khan says. “People I know are moving [further east]. If they do decide to live in Markham, it’s more likely they are living with family, like their parents.”

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