Durham Region is encouraging diversity; the rest of Canada should follow our lead

Cartoon by Amy Bridges
Cartoon by Amy Bridges

Durham Region is becoming a more recognizable location for immigrants.

Just east of the GTA, Durham Region’s population is expected to skyrocket to one million people in the next 15 years. The current population is around 645,000.

Oshawa, Whitby and Ajax and Pickering are just a few cities within the region that are seeing an increase in diversity in their population. According to National Household Survey recorded in 2011, 20 per cent of Durham’s population is made up of immigrants. That’s one in five residents.

Durham Region is adapting to Canada’s ways of multiculturalism, the result of an act introduced more than forty years ago “to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada.”

Years ago, Whitby had a Caucasian-heavy population, and had a nickname of “White-by,” but recently, the community has become more vibrant. The town formed an Ethno-cultural and Diversity Advisory Committee, which is made up of community members and a town councilor, to eliminate any barriers people of different backgrounds face in the community.

Although Canada opening up to other ethnicities may seem like old news, when regions the size of Durham, instead of just big cities such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, are noticing more people of different backgrounds, it’s important to note these changes, so other parts of Canada, where there is less diversity, can follow these trends.

Durham’s diversity is now evident in school systems, our workforce and even in our supermarkets where aisles are dedicated to international foods.

But with the praise Canada receives for having a diverse population, it’s important to remember we are not always perfect.

Even though Canada became the first country in the Western world to adapt a multiculturalism policy, sometimes people still make comments about diversity that make us feel like we are moving two steps back when welcoming newcomers into Canada.

For example, John Williamson, MP for New Brunswick Southwest, made headlines recently about a comment he made referring to Canada’s temporary foreign workers program. Williamson said at a conference on March 7, that it makes no sense to pay “whities” to stay home while we bring in “brown people” as temporary foreign workers.

With Canada’s population becoming more diverse then ever, Williamson’s comments certainly did not go unnoticed and Prime Minister Stephen Harper was urged by Liberal MP John McCallum to remove Williamson from the Conservative caucus.

Last Monday, another Conservative MP, Larry Miller, was forced to apologize after making comments about women who wear niqabs, should, “stay the hell where you came from,” when referring to wearing them in citizenship ceremonies.

Unfortunately, these comments do not just stop at MPs.

Harper was recently under fire by Twitter users about his comment about niqabs coming from an “anti-women culture” and how people of this background should reveal their faces in Canadian citizenship ceremonies. It didn’t take long for people on Twitter to start mocking the prime minister’s comments by using #dresscodePM. Twitter users sent in photos of themselves wearing niqabs, asking the PM’s twitter account if what they were wearing met his approval.
So although, Durham Region only makes up 2,500 kilometers of southern Ontario, other parts of Canada where immigrants do not traditionally end up should follow Durham’s lead in providing newcomers to Canada with openness and excitement to ensure we are still preserving multiculturalism.