Toronto – April 30, 2013 – The month of May signals a distinct vibrancy in Canada as we celebrate Asian Heritage Month. Across the country, Asian history, arts, heritage, and culture are being celebrated to highlight the significant contributions that Asian Canadians have made in building Canada.
History discloses that when Canada was in direct need of labourers to complete the transcontinental railway and to work in the lumber mills, coal mines, and fisheries, they exploited Asian immigrants. For many Asian immigrants, their initial experiences in Canada proved to be immensely difficult as they had to endure severe forms of racism and enormous social and political barriers.
In 1902, the Royal Commission on Immigration declared all Asians as, "unfit for full citizenship… obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state." As such, restrictive and draconian immigration legislation policies were put into effect and severe limitations were placed on Asians permanently immigrating to Canada. As well, the number of temporary foreign workers in low-paying and dangerous industries increased substantially.
In 2013, there is no doubt that Asian-Canadians enjoy some distinct triumphs as compared to their predecessors. However, in other ways, conditions are reminiscent of the past when it comes to sacrifices and struggles in securing a safe space in Canada. For instance, the federal Conservative immigration regime has exponentially increased the number of temporary migrant workers coming to Canada as compared to permanent residents in recent years.
Disenfranchisement still thrives for many Asian “would-be” immigrants as full citizenship continues to serve as both a carrot and a stick to migrant workers, many of whom come from Asia. None of this is acceptable in an allegedly free and democratic society such as Canada. We must all constantly strive to protect the rights of migrant workers and aid in their empowerment.
Across the country, UFCW Canada Local Unions and members are joining in the celebrations of Asian Heritage month. For instance, on June 1st, the UFCW Canada National Office will join the Ontario Common Front – a coalition of over 90 community groups and labour unions – as it holds the 2013 South Asian Community Activism Awards to recognize community activists.
As you will recall from the 2012 UFCW Canada Supplemental Membership Audit (SMA), racialized workers make up 31 percent – almost 80,000 members – of our membership across Canada. That is more than all of our members in British Columbia and Alberta combined. Forty-three percent of these members have origins in Asia, namely South Asia, China, and the Philippines.
The percentage of members from Asia is likely more than half of all racialized UFCW Canada members. In light of our battles ahead, we must ask whether or not we as a union resonate with these members.
This month and every month, the stories of our Asian sisters and brothers should be told as they are truly a vital part of Canada's history and its future.
To recognize the importance of Asian cultures and the essential contributions of Asian Canadians to Canada, UFCW Canada is proud to offer a new poster designed specifically for Asian Heritage Month 2013. The poster is available in both English and French, and can be freely accessed by visiting www.ufcw.ca/posters.