Almost half of Albertans feel that there is too much immigration, a major increase over the national average. But advocates say the Alberta government has not done enough to curve that discrimination.

 According to the Canadian Public Opinion on Immigration survey conducted in 2019 by the Environics Institute, 42 per cent of Albertans feel there is too much immigration. This is nine per cent more than the national average, with British Columbia at 30 per cent and Saskatchewan at 34 per cent.

The survey was based on telephone interviews conducted via landline and cell phones with 2,008 Canadians between Oct. 7 and Oct. 20, 2019. The results are accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples.

These results don’t come as a surprise, as Alberta has made headlines for its anti-newcomer sentiments.

In 2016, an article from the National Post reported that a Calgary school was vandalized with anti-Syrian and anti-Trudeau graffiti. These messages included “real Canadians hate Syrians” and “burn all mosques.” 

A similar story happened later in 2016 when a Calgary man spray-painted anti-Syrian graffiti to a Calgary LRT station because he was “mad at ISIS.” According to the CBC, the man later apologized in court and stated he had “changed his views.”

Two years later, a video of a woman shouting at a group of men in a Lethbridge Denny’s was uploaded to Facebook. The video shows the women yelling things such as, “Go back to your own f–ing country. We don’t need you here,” and “You’re not Canadian.” 

The group of men she was yelling at were of Afghan background.

That anti-immigrant sentiment continues to this day. Dina Farman – an immigrant who moved to Alberta in 2006 – says she still faces discrimination.

“I worked in retail. I know how some people don’t like immigrants,” she says. “And even with me actually, I have black hair and [an accent], and some people give you that look like you’re not welcomed or something.”

One group that has been accused of making newcomers feel unwelcome is the Yellow Vests, a movement that has members in Calgary. The group was inspired by the “gilet jaunes” protests that began in France in 2018 as a result of high gas prices and the rising cost of living there. The movement there has been linked with outbursts of racism and anti-semitism.

Calgary Yellow Vest’s group protesting and capturing the attention of oncoming cars. Drivers honk as members flash their signs towards the intersection of Blackfoot Trail and 17th Ave on Feb. 8, 2020. Photo by Gabrielle Pyska 

But, in Canada, the Yellow Vests Facebook page says the group was created to “protest the CARBON TAX, Build That Pipeline and Stand Against the Treason of our country’s politicians who have the audacity to sell out OUR country’s sovereignty over to the Globalist UN and their Tyrannical policies.”

This movement is also known for opposing the presence of some newcomers in Canada and have been associated with racist and xenophobic behaviour and comments. In Calgary, members advocate for an end to what they describe as illegal migration while supporting immigration of “people who share our democratic values.”

One member of Yellow Vests Calgary — who wished not to be identified to prevent media scrutiny — says that for her, migration and immigration are different. Migrants and refugees have created some negative experiences for her, while the immigrants who “are willing to integrate are a joy.” 

“I would consider immigration to be something that’s embedded, that we are choosing people that are going to help us economically, that are going to contribute and integrate and that they’re going to become Canadian. That’s a good thing for this country.”

“But then you have a large faction of people that come, that aren’t integrating and they’re clinging to a nation for which they’ve kind of turned away from but haven’t really [given up],” she says. 

“If there’s an idea that they’re bringing with them [from] wherever they’ve come from, and it doesn’t fit with the morals and values of the country that you’ve chosen to come to, then that’s the challenges you face as an immigrant.”

Abdie Kazemipur, a professor at the University of Calgary who studied the socio-economic experiences of immigrants in Canada, says this is a very common argument. However, he says every time there is a pressure by mainstream institutions or populations to force immigrants to adopt their mainstream values, it actually backlashes.

“Even if immigrants [integrating] into the mainstream values and cultures is the desired outcome, the way to achieve that is by opening the society to them and giving them their space and allowing them to have interactions,” he says

Meanwhile, some governments in Canada are trying to reduce discrimination against refugees and immigrants.

In Manitoba, that led to the creation of their Advisory Council on Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in 2015.

Their council is similar to Saskatchewan’s multicultural council, which was founded in 1975 to raise awareness of the benefits of cultural diversity and the dangers of racism.

More recently, the United Nations Refugee Agency created the campaign #WithRefugees in order to invite cities and local authorities all over the world who are working to promote inclusion, support refugees and bring communities together to sign a statement of solidarity.

While 16 cities across Canada have signed onto this campaign to show support, no cities in Alberta signed on.

But, at a provincial level, Alberta has taken some action. In 2018, the government released a long-delayed report on anti-racism activities. At the time, Global News published an article in which Greg Clark, the now-former MLA for Calgary-Elbow, said “it just fell off the radar and we’ve heard nothing about it. So obviously there is action needed.” 

After that release, the Anti-Racism Advisory Council was created as the first government organization to fight the increase of racism in Alberta. A $2 million anti-racism community grant was also introduced to do the same thing.

However, since the UCP government has come into power, there has been no update found on the Anti-Racism Advisory Council’s webpage.

The UCP government has also eliminated the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s human rights education and multiculturalism fund as of November 2019 under the recent budget cuts. This $1-million grant has helped fund anti-racism and anti-discrimination in Alberta since 1988.

Additionally, the $2-million anti-racism community grant was replaced with the multiculturalism, indigenous and inclusion grant program with a budget of $1.5 million under the UCP government. In other words, less money is now being used to address a lot more problems – just one of which would be anti-immigrant sentiment.

Sam Nammoura, the co-founder of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, says the government of Alberta can be doing more to bring awareness towards the discrimination of immigrants.

“Instead of making a one-week event to create awareness, it should be addressed constantly,” he says.

Signs displayed at the Calgary Yellow Vest’s protest on Blackfoot Trail and 17th Ave. on February 8. 2020. Photo by Marin Peake-MacAlister

Kazemipur, who wrote his PhD thesis on the economic experiences of immigrants and ethnic minorities in Canada, also says the Government of Alberta is taking too minimal of an approach. 

“They can actually try to encourage the population to develop better views and better experiences of immigrants and minorities,” he says. 

“After this happens and after this population blends into one larger population, then this distinction between immigrant and non-immigrant becomes basically meaningless. So all these negative feelings towards immigrants will disappear as a result.”

Kazemipur thinks that the best way to encourage this solution would be through educational programs that bring people together. 

“Educational programs are definitely a starting point to emphasize the cultural competence and to expose people to different lives despite different cultural orientations and the values that are embedded in any of these alternative lifestyles,” he says. 

“I think there could be more education in order to move people from their own comfort zones so that they can engage with people from other cultural backgrounds.”

Nada Bodagh, who moved to Canada from Iraq in 2009, agrees.

“People just don’t understand yet because they need answers to their questions,” she says. [Immigrants need to] feel they are involved so they are not isolated because the worst feeling when they are new here is feeling lonely and isolated.”

Kazemipur says that the government needs to make improvements to strengthen the bond between the population.

 “The provincial government could be more proactive and could make this a priority knowing that without [social interaction] in the population, the economic plans and political plans wouldn’t succeed,”

“I think there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” says Nammoura.

To better understand the work that is being done by the Alberta government, the Calgary Journal attempted to contact Leela Aheer, the minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women for an interview involving the lack of programs in place that create inclusiveness for immigrants and refugees.

Instead, we received a statement from the press secretary, Danielle Murray.

 “Our government is working to build a province where all people feel safe, welcome and valued. We are working with the Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council to determine how they can support our work to address racial and multicultural barriers in Alberta,” the statement read.

We did not receive any further response after a second request for an interview with Aheer. 

Editor: Sadie Johnson | sjohnson@cjournal.ca