Author Kenan Malik slams Canada's "illiberal" immigration policies
A British author and broadcaster has claimed that Canada’s Conservative government has embarked on a "disastrous policy" by bringing in more temporary foreign workers to deal with labour-market demands. In a phone interview from his home in London, England, Kenan Malik told the Georgia Straight that this approach has created deep social, cultural, and political divisions and greater religious extremism in Germany, France, and other countries.
"You have a whole group of workers who have few rights, no access to services, and no access to citizenship," Malik said. "That can only create the kind of problems that we’ve had in Europe with the guest-worker system over here."
Malik will be in Vancouver on Sunday (June 3) to deliver the annual free Milton K. Wong lecture called "What’s Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perspective". Wong was a Vancouver philanthropist, businessman, and former SFU chancellor who died last New Year's Eve.
He told the Straight that when Turkish migrants began coming to Germany as guest workers in the 1950s and ’60s, they were "broadly secular".
"Those who were religious wore their Islam fairly lightly," he noted.
But over time, as the German government refused to create a pathway to citizenship, these workers found themselves living more insular lives within their own community, where they were more influenced by conservative religious leaders.
Malik claimed that as a result, these workers became far more religious and conservative than Turks living in Turkey.
"So the whole impact of that policy has been to create a much more radical Islamic strand within German Turks—a strand that hadn’t been there prior to the introduction of these policies," he said.
Figures from Statistics Canada indicate that the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has increased sharply since Stephen Harper became prime minister.
As of December 1, 2011, there were 41,099 temporary foreign workers in the metropolitan Vancouver region. That’s nearly 70-percent higher than the number on December 1, 2007. There were 300,111 temporary foreign workers in Canada last December—a 50.1-percent increase over the same period.
In April, the Conservative government announced "common-sense improvements to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program…to better meet labour market demands, reduce red tape for employers, strengthen protections for temporary foreign workers and support the economic recovery".
The changes include allowing employers to pay these migrants 15 percent less than the median wage in the region where they’re working in a high-skill occupation. Low-skill jobs will pay five percent below the median wage. These wage differentials don’t apply to seasonal agricultural workers and live-in caregivers, who are mostly temporary foreign workers.
Malik, author of four books including From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy (Atlantic, 2009), criticized Canada for discriminating against the types of immigrants who are required in the labour market.
"It seems to me you have a very deeply illiberal immigration [system], which is largely about cherry-picking middle-class professionals and making it almost impossible for unskilled workers to enter the country," he said. "And so the kind of immigrants that you actually need for the economy are deemed unsuitable to be citizens. Hence, the growing portion of temporary workers."
Malik also pointed out that it’s important to distinguish between the two meanings of multiculturalism. The first, he declared, is the lived experience of diversity. The second is the political response, which is about creating policies to manage diversity.
"The experience of living in a society that is less insular, more vibrant, and more cosmopolitan because of mass immigration is something to celebrate," he said.
On the other hand, he noted, official multiculturalism is often designed to separate people into "ethnic and cultural boxes", which he opposes because governments then have a tendency to deal primarily with conservative community leaders. Ultimately, he argued that this leads to greater balkanization, which undermines democratic engagement.
"I’m a critic of multiculturalism precisely because I’m a defender of diversity," Malik added. "Because the irony of multiculturalism as a political process is it undermines much what what’s valuable about diversity’s lived experience."
Kenan Malik will deliver the free Milton K. Wong Lecture at 7 p.m. on Sunday (June 3) at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.