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The CBC's Michael Enright's favours "Good old Canadian apathy"

But the true measure of our 'tolerance' is not pretty

by Judy Haiven

The CBC's Michael Enright's favours "Good old Canadian apathy"

Judy Haiven teaches industrial relations at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. She is chair of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS.

Once again, I cringed when I heard host Michael Enright’s introduction to the Sunday Edition (CBC-Radio One).  A year ago at this time I cringed because Enright endorsed the idea of giving our castoff tins of beans or tuna or a jar of peanut butter to a food bank as a way to help Canada’s poor.  A year ago, he also supported the idea of us middle class Canadians buying a few pairs of socks to give to the homeless because socks are essential cushions and feetwarmers for poor people who must trudge, often in frayed shoes, from the shelter breakfast to the drop-in centre to the church basement, in search of three meals each day.  True socks are important. But, as I wrote at the time, how often do people in the media such as journalists, public intellectuals, politicians or university professors promote increasing welfare rates, providing homes for the homeless and fighting for a guaranteed annual income?  These are the only ways to ensure poor people have dignity and get to participate fully and equally in our society.

Enright’s recent editorial (Sunday Edition, 27 Dec) was similarly embarrassing. He spoke in favour of “good old Canadian apathy.” He also said that most Canadians “are happy to let apathy take its course,” based on the everydayness of the following homily: “if you the stranger don’t bother me and mine, we won’t bother you.”  He said that apathy is not bad in small doses.  Of course he draws the line at children having to drink contaminated water on reserves, or accepting bad conditions inside our prisons, or male on female violence – these are serious, and apathy is not appropriate.  Enright implied that, on the whole, we Canadians tend to treat immigrants and people who look different decently, and without malice.

Really? I think I have to take issue with that. Enright thinks we are a tolerant people, but the evidence points to our being intolerant of racialized people. Good old racism seems alive and well – indeed thriving in Canada when you look at online comments in the media and the figures for unemployment.

For instance it has been a month since Enright’s employer, the CBC, decided to shelve the online comments sections of the CBC news stories until at least mid-January. In December, in the lead up to the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, more and more online comments were “hateful and vitriolic, … simply ignorant. And some appear to be hate disguised as ignorance,” wrote Brodie Fenlon, acting director of digital news for the CBC, in his blog “Uncivilized Dialogue”.  While it’s true no child should have to drink contaminated water on reserve – the online comments sections of news outlets from the CBC to the Toronto Sun, to the Toronto Star to the National Post became cyber-playpens for racist and  sexist comments –directed against Aboriginal Canadians --posted by anonymous ‘trolls’.

Looking back at 2006 Statistics Canada figures, at the national level, 14% of university-educated immigrants who arrived in the Canada in the last five years or less were without jobs.[1]  The most new landed immigrants who found jobs were in Saskatchewan (65.6%); the lowest was in Nova Scotia, (47.9%).[2]  Another startling figure was that even second generation black Canadians faced wage gaps of 10-15% compared with non-visible minorities, a figure that controlled for education and location of residence in Canada.[3]

Looking at 2011 Statistics Canada figures, the Vanier Institute for the Family found there was a 28% employment rate gap between working-age immigrant women (who have been in Canada 5 years or less) and Canadian-born women. And $22,000, $12,000, and $11,000 were the average recorded incomes of immigrants who reported proficiency in English, French and neither English nor French, respectively.[4]

A recent study[5] about household income taken from the 2011 Canadian census shows that Ontario has 52% of Canada’s racialized population, compared with the province having only 39% of the country’s total population.  Looking at the statistics for working age people  in Ontario, we see that the unemployment rate of immigrants living in Ontario for five years or less was 14.8% compared with 5.4% for the Canadian born. For racialized people the unemployment rate was 10.5% compared with 7.5% for non-racialized residents of Ontario.  In terms of occupations, only 12.1% of racialized men and women work in the area of management, versus 40% of non-racialized people. 13.3% of  racialized  men and women work in health care compared with 36.6% of non-racialized people and in sales jobs 13.3% are racialized versus 36.7% being non-racialized. 

In terms of incomes, in Ontario, racialized men earn 18.2% less than non-racialized men and racialized women earn 11.4% less than their non-racialized counterparts.

What does this tell us? On the one hand we love to congratulate ourselves when it comes to doing good – especially lately for refugees. On the Sunday Edition, Michael Enright said he went to one social gathering in a Toronto neighbourhood which raised more than $100,000 for Syrian refugees.  While he may be right to say we Canadians have a live and let live attitude toward minorities riding a bus with us, on the other hand it is completely different when it comes to giving racialized Canadians jobs. Here we see the true measure of Canadians’ “tolerance” and it isn’t pretty.



[1] Unemployment’s up for Canada’s most educated immigrants. AM Paperny. Global News, 30 July 2014. http://globalnews.ca/news/1480102/unemployments-up-for-canadas-most-educ...

[2] Canada: Immigrant Employment Report -March 2015. Canadian Magazine of Immigration.


[3] Seeking Success in Canada and the United States: The Determinants of Labour Market Outcomes Among the Children of Immigrants.  Statistics Canada, Ottawa. 2011. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11f0019m/2011331/part-partie1-eng.htm#h2_4

[4] By the Numbers: Immigrant Families at Work in Canada.  Vanier Institute for the Family, Ottawa.  (Nov. 2013).  http://blog.vanierinstitute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/BTN_2013-11-13...

[5] Figures reported in this and the next paragraph are from The Colour Coded Labour Market By The Numbers: A National Household Survey Analysis by Sheila Block, Grace-Edward Galabuzi & Alexandra Weiss. The Wellesley Institute, Toronto, 2014. http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/The-Colour-Coded-Labour-Market-By-The-Numbers.pdf





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