I migrated to Canada 40 years ago at the end of the sixties when I was fed up with everything but mostly bored and the grass was greener on the other side; thus missing the Beatles revolution, Carnaby Street and Vivien Westwood [pre-Britney] turning up at the Queen’s tea party sans knickers. However, I believe that since then I’ve made my own small contribution to this country. I met my husband here; my kids were born here and have grown up here and although I still have a strong allegiance to England, this is my home.

In those early days of immigration the Canadian government provided interest free loans as incentives to would-be settlers and many employers were so desperate for British workers that they would pay the lot on your behalf and even put you up in a hotel to boot with an advance on your wages. Not now mate. Nowadays the Canadian Government views your motives with deep suspicion and puts you through the proverbial wringer – and if you don’t make the grade, even though you have lived and worked here for years they may suddenly export you back where you came from without warning and without a hearing. The same appears to be true of England : http://paihnews.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/outrage-as-albanian-student-seized-by-immigration-officers/

If you want to embark for Toronto you had better have lots of money in the bank with which to support yourself while you look for that non-existent job because heaven forbid that you should land yourself on our welfare system despite the fact that we have plenty of lazy indigenous yobs hanging about on street corners that already have. No matter that you were an engineer or a doctor in your home country and are fleeing from some repressive regime run by some tin-pot dictator and are seeking asylum in a country that will welcome your pioneering spirit, your expertise, your value to the economy. Not on your life Charlie. We make fully qualified doctors from Russia or Poland or Uzbekistan sweep floors and work as waiters even though we have a critical shortage of medical personnel and most people of my acquaintance – including myself- have not had a personal family physician for many years. We make do with teaching clinics and ‘walk-in’ urgent care centres unless we’ve been run over by a truck in which case we can take our number at the local emergency room and if we’re lucky be seen by a junior intern next Friday.

My hairdresser – well she’s not mine she does other people too but I see her once a year or so when I’m feeling flush – was once a chemical engineer in her home country. Her husband ran his own company with a fleet of transports. Now he drives a cab downtown and dreams of the day he can buy another one. Fat chance – it costs more to run a cab than it does to make a profit what with high insurance, maintenance, licensing and plate fees, not to mention gas prices through the roof. But I digress. It’s surprising if you think about it that people such as these two have put themselves through all that aggro and given up professional careers to come to a country that does not value their professional qualifications at all. Things must have been pretty bloody rough for them before don’t you think?

I hear that doctors for example – if they want to practice here – must repeat practically *all* of their medical program and write all of the exams again – even if they were highly regarded consultants or surgeons or specialists before. Except that they can’t get into the medical schools because most universities cut enrollment numbers down to zip. God knows why – maybe it adds to the exclusivity of the club? Maybe since the government pays them when they get out they are keeping down the numbers to save money – which seems to be short-term thinking in the extreme because most of them probably bugger off to the States once they figure out they have to work 100 hours per week and move to Nanuctuk. Who knows.

It makes no sense at all to me that we are wasting such a pool of talent for no better reason than we arrogantly assume that they must somehow be of a lower caste. It reminds me frankly of all the shouting that I read about in the Brit papers re ‘Asylum Seekers’. My cousin, who still lives in Portsmouth and is actually older than me which is quite some feat bends my ear every time I speak to her about those bloody ‘asylum seekers’ and did I know that the Government gives them a free house, a car and a paid-up cell-phone the minute they step off the boat? Sounds great to me – how do I apply? But it’s this kind of narrow-minded thinking that leads to xenophobia both in Britain and here. Although here it’s less overt – here we welcome asylum seekers with one hand and then just point the way to the unemployment centre with the other. I say again – what an incredible waste of talent.

What ever happened to a land that whole-heartedly encouraged immigrants so that they could build the country into what it is today – well the bits that aren’t xenophobic, racist and intolerant that is. Last week there was a ceremony to open ‘Ireland Park’ in Toronto [http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070621/irish_park_070621/20070621?hub=CTVNewsAt11].

That was the place where thousands of Irish families landed after fleeing the great Irish Famine of the 1840’s. They braved a horrendous sea voyage, sickness and an overland trek that killed most of them to make a new life for themselves and they practically built the entire city of Toronto from scratch. They worked their bums off to feed their families and carve out a little niche. But the irony is that their arrival was greeted, unsurprisingly, by the current inhabitants with outrage and letters to the papers about loss of jobs, lack of resources, the imminent downfall of civilization as they knew it, and all the old tired cliches about upsetting the status quo. Never mind that these poor exhausted people were literally starving and only wanted to make a place for themselves in a country that was, in terms of land area, more than twenty times the size of their homeland and there was plenty of back-breaking labour and hard work to go round. Talk about the [sour] milk of human kindness.

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