Vancouver residents sense rise in anti-Chinese sentiment in Canada

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Chinese people around the world will welcome the Lunar New Year on Sunday (February 10), but some Vancouver residents are sensing a rising tide of Sinophobia in Canada.

It’s a feeling that has stirred up memories of historical wrongs, like the head tax of 1885 and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which replaced it in 1923 and shut the door on Chinese immigrants until 1947.

It’s a foreboding that has come out of such things as a Nanos Research survey for CBC in October showing that Canadians see China as the greatest threat to Canada’s national security, ahead of Iran. There’s widespread opposition to the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement inked by Ottawa and Beijing. There’s also a lot of hostility to a Chinese state-owned corporation’s $15.1-billion purchase of the Calgary-based oil-and-gas company Nexen Inc.

Here in B.C., China figures prominently in debates about the construction of new pipelines to carry oil and fracked gas destined for Asian markets. It doesn’t help that for years, Vancouverites have accused Chinese people, both local and abroad, of snapping up Vancouver properties and making homes in the city unaffordable.

David Wong wonders why there’s so much “rhetoric” around the now-delayed plan to hire around 200 workers from China to work in a coal mine in northern B.C. The Vancouver architect pointed out that there is silence regarding the federal government’s plan to increase the annual quota for young workers from Ireland by 1,000, to 6,350, in 2013. Starting in 2014, the number of spaces for temporary Irish workers will rise to 10,000.

“The Chinese are just an easy group to single out,” Wong, author of the 2012 book Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

As chair of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society, Bill Chu successfully campaigned for an apology from the City of New Westminster for its past anti-Chinese policies. Chu also wants the B.C. government to acknowledge the province’s role in discrimination against early Chinese settlers.

According to the Hong Kong native, the dislike of Chinese people has only lain dormant and is apparently being roused by recent events. “Anti-Chinese sentiment has never really gone away from B.C.,” Chu told the Straight in a phone interview. “Historically, it was there.”

Labour unions played a key role in the formation of the Asiatic Exclusion League that rampaged during Vancouver’s anti-Asian riot of 1907.

But Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, doesn’t see anti-Chinese sentiment as being on the rise.

“I don’t believe that,” Sinclair told the Straight by phone. “I don’t think this is about Chinese. It’s about foreign ownership of our country.”

Sinclair emphasized that the labour movement opposed the Chinese acquisition of Nexen in the same way that it fought the attempted takeover by Australian mining giant BHP Billiton of the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan. He added that the B.C. Fed has called for a moratorium on the recruitment of all temporary foreign workers.

Joey Hartman is the president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council. She’s not seeing any evidence of an increase in anti-Chinese views either. What she perceives is the “attention” being paid to China as an economic force. It is “catching people by surprise”, Hartman told the Straight by phone.

Focusing on the flap over the Chinese coal miners, historian Jim Wong-Chu noted that “in some ways, it’s a throwback, like it or not”.

“Every once in a while, this kind of thing rears its head and people that have these underlying feelings sometimes will become more vocal,” Wong-Chu told the Straight in a phone interview.

University of Manitoba academic David Camfield stressed that recent events should be understood within the context of Canada’s record in dealing with early Chinese immigration.

“All this racist history has left its mark on Canadian society, and it affects how people interpret these issues today,” Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies, told the Straight in a phone interview. He noted that the perceived re-emergence of Sinophobia is “probably true”.

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Mackenna

Feb 7, 2013 at 4:40am

It is ridiculous to call the reaction to HD Mining's rejection of 300 Canadian coal miners, racism. This accusation is a strategic ploy to undermine the effort of ordinary Canadians to protect their jobs and their livelihoods. It has nothing whatsoever to do with race. If anything, the rage is directed at increasingly corrupt and sold out neoliberal and neoconservative governments and the greed of corporations.

humble canadian

Feb 7, 2013 at 5:30am

Overpopulated China, Vancouver is the most awesome city on the planet, bar any.

You see, the world came to North America and populated North America. In our lifetime, we can experience how the first nations felt as the foreigner occupied the lands, rivers, foods, everything. We all live on this planet. We make the planet what it is. We are running out of a few things, but wars and bombs are still big stuff!

In the 1950s China was commumism - a no no. Today evertything is made from China and the rest of the world doesn't make much. Lots of our food comes from China. See how the world is so funny.

Adrien

Feb 7, 2013 at 6:23am

Respectfully, I think there is misunderstanding here:

1. Individually, Chinese are ok, even great from the ones that I have met.

2. Communist authoritarian countries(like China) gaining more power and control in democracies, such as Canada, is a cause of concern. (and you should know why). It has not matured nearly enough socially to allow this. If China liberated jailed critics, had a fair court system, etc.. then this becomes more acceptable.

3. I agree that there is a lot of unfair comments of Chinese raising property values here, but I for one, do not blame them at all. Its simply scarcity of land causing the problem.

4. Foreign workers are ok in Canada, in my opinion, as long as they are treated the same as other workers here, with the SAME PAY. Irish, Chinese, its the same. If an Irish worker comes here and we pay them only $6 an hour for a $35 dollars an hour job, yes, I would have a problem with that too! I think Chinese,Canadians, Irish, and Mexican, and anyone should be treated the same in this country. (I think they deserve similar compensation back home too, but that is a different topic). If they can't give a decent wage when doing business here, they should not be doing business here. period.

4. Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement: Again, I am not against China!, just these types of agreements. 31 years is a long time. I understand countries want to protect their investments, but this being a democracy means that there is risk in investing here. One of them being that we elect (possibly) new leaders every 4 years.

We basically have the right to change our minds! We don't close mines or rip out pipelines after the fact unless we have VERY good reasons, and only after we've tried every other angle. Is this stance worth risking the loss of these investments? YES!

Steve

Feb 7, 2013 at 6:51am

In the words of our immigration minister, "the Irish are culturally compatible".

Natty

Feb 7, 2013 at 7:13am

I think dots are being connected where there aren't necessarily dots to begin with. The backdoor deals on foreign ownership of resource based Canadian properties upsets people no matter which country is angling for a piece of the pie. China just gets a lot of flack because it's the most prominent. People weren't exactly pleased about that Potash deal in Saskatchewan a few years ago with Aussie buyers.
The second piece about the foreign workers...I think it's insulting to both Canadians and the Chinese. Rather than train a native workforce because they would cost more, you want to import people for work? Not so much a racism thing, just a greedy corporation thing.

CCP

Feb 7, 2013 at 7:54am

I think the sentiment is that there is a strong refusal of new immigrants in general to not adapt and embrace Canadian culture, language. The importation of negative traits from abroad that don't fit into Canadian ethics and values. I could care less about the ethnicity of a individual but if they refuse to integrate into society that they so badly wanted to get into then it's going to rub Canadians the wrong way - If a Canadian immigrates to China, are they expected to integrate?

Shawn

Feb 7, 2013 at 7:57am

Ireland is part of the Commenwealth with Canada andd one of our historical allies. Red China is one of our most dangerous and decietful enemies. I question the integrity and loyalty of any politician who allows an enemy state to control our national resources.

Brent

Feb 7, 2013 at 7:58am

You are absolutely correct in assuming there’s racial tension. No one wants to talk about it, but there are many people that feel our country, BC especially has been invaded and colonized. Our mosaic system encourages all ethnicities and cultures, but has without a doubt created a ethnic enclave around parts of Metro Vancouver and most notably Richmond. The language barrier mixed with the undeniable fact that foreign money has raised housing prices is creating a large rift within the communities. The media has done a masterful job at spinning stories suggesting that our housing market has become this way based on demand, lack of available space, etc. Bull.

Housing prices between 2005-2011 in some places (Neighbourhoods in Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby) have doubled. A price doubling within a 5-6 year span is no accident. Bidding wars and agencies courting foreign buyers have created “dead” neighbourhoods. Houses remain empty, suites within new condo developments, sometimes multiple suites are vacant because of foreign investment. Does this create a community? We have an entire generation that will find it now ALMOST impossible to live the dream of home ownership. Wonderful.

I think the largest problem at play though is the fact that we have individuals living In Canada forcing and imposing their culture on others, and then complaining they feel their own culture isn't being respected. How does this nonsense make any sense? If we as Canadians can't come together and learn to respect each other, over a COMMON language; English perhaps, than we are due for some uncomfortable times indeed.

If you want a real good read, look up Operation Sidewinder in Google. It’s a riveting read from our spy agency CICIS. Our then Chrétien government swept this little doozy under the rug. This is not fear mongering, this is fact. It's time our government did something about it.
Oh Canada..

birdman

Feb 7, 2013 at 8:12am

Chinese seem to confuse their race with their nationality. Their loyalties are therefore questionable

Dave Ball

Feb 7, 2013 at 9:12am

I don't think it's Chinese individuals in particular that people dislike, it is the Chinese authoritarian and non democratic government that causes so much concern. Doing business with them seems akin to doing business with gangsters. And selling their government Canadian private companies should cause alarm, and no one should have concerns over race baiters, those thowing down the race card, or wailing about racism. I dispute that is what the general sentiment is about.
But as Canadians, it is well known that we are hypersensitive about any mention of race and some perceived horror at being called racist.
Some who wish to further the Chinese government's agenda will do that - bring up long past racism.
Well, China's a country, not a race. And their government is dangerous. I may be paranoid - but that doesn't mean there isn't a conspiracy.
We sing it regularly - "stand on guard for thee" - so don't let anyone tell you to back down when you do so.

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