Je viens de retourner de Montréal, où j’avais l’opportunité de practiquer mon français. A brief two and a half days of bilingual workshops and roundtables on immigration issues, mostly in the Canadian context, was enlightening and quite enjoyable. The best part: it was a relatively small conference, with 1200 participants and only four concurrent sessions. This meant it was well organized, there were very few changes to the programme itself, and it was very easy to find your way around the two floors dedicated to our conference: qualities usually missing at the American Association of Geographers annual congress, where I’ve presented a couple of times.
The small size of the conference meant that I was asked to be in a roundtable with some of the top researchers in the field: Bob Murdie who is retired from York University, Carlos Teixeira at UBC Okanagan, Sutama Ghosh at Ryerson, and Damaris Rose of INRS. I have cited all of these authors in my own work, and they proved to be just as thorough, but unassuming, as their writing would suggest. Also included were some housing agency representatives like my old friend Jim Zamprelli from Canada Mortgage and Housing Coporation, and two of us PhD students. The roundtable audience was a good size and included David Ley from UBC Geography and Sandeep Agrawal from Ryerson: David of course is legendary in geography (last year he was named a Distinguished Scholar by the American Association of Geographers); Sandeep is the Director of Ryerson’s Master of Planning program.
David Firang, who is currently doing his PhD in Social Work at U of T, presented his research on the housing choices of Ghanaian immigrants in the next session, where I also presented my preliminary findings. Carlos presented his latest research on immigrants in the Central Okanagan Valley, cementing the idea that immigrants have very few choices due to housing policy that does not support market rental or affordable housing construction. Tom Carter from the University of Winnipeg discussed some of the issues immigrants have in the smaller Manitoba centers, where there is still fairly significant housing market discrimination. Tom also noted, after my presentation, that immigrants to the smaller centers often complain about the lack of public transit, even if they live in towns of 500 residents. Damaris, who was the discussant in our session, gave us all some important insights and comments, and very kindly welcomed David and I into the research arena.
Now, usually I find the plenary sessions less than exciting. But in this case the speakers included Krishna Pendakur, the hilarious and brilliant economics professor from Simon Fraser University, Valerie Preston from York University, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, and UBC’s own Dan Hiebert. Krishna had the audience laughing right from his introduction, even though his research was depressing: Canadian-born visible minorities are just not doing as well as Canadian-born whites, at least in terms of income. His comments about entrenched racism in the workplace (“The good thing is that these people that make the decisions, they’re old, they’re racist, and they’re going to die eventually.”) and the differences in outcomes across cities (“Do you see these lines? Do you get what I’m sayin’? I’m sayin’ I’m glad I live in Vancouver!”) really brought home the importance of how the information is delivered. The participants at our table looked at Krishna with the rapt eyes of devotees: one said, “I love this guy!” and another, “He actually makes stats interesting!” Valerie, who spoke right after Krishna, started by saying, “How do I follow that?” Jason Kenney’s speech wasn’t interesting in the least, but the fact that his presence was delayed by two separate protesters, who disagree with “Canada’s white supremacist immigration policies” definitely livened up the audience. I suppose it is a testament to political will that he still appeared and did his prepared speech, which showed the mark of the current adminstration’s insensitivity towards Canada’s temporary foreign workers, and seemed to reinforce the idea that while the country needs immigrants, it does very little to help newcomers find work, find housing, and settle into their lives in Canada.
Outside of the sessions, there were so many interesting people to talk to: I met Masters and PhD students, housing providers, non-profit agency professionals, and government officials at the federal, regional, and municipal levels. One night I was pleased to sit with Alan Simmons, a professor of sociology at York University, and his wife Jean, who teaches in family counselling at Guelph University; the rest of our table included people in social work, social justice and anthropology. This was a real interdisciplinary mix, and many of the people I spoke to said this was their first time at Metropolis.
Je suis heureuse de vous dire que le prochaine congrès sera à Vancouver! (Je vais améliorer mon français avant que ça, je vous le promets.) À la prochaine tout le monde!