Is Canada really an inclusive space

By Canute Lawrence

Immigration Matter

I immigrated to Toronto, Canada, on October 6, 2006. I had the opportunity to get a US Green Card before relocating to Canada as I was teaching in The Bronx, employed by the New York City Department of Education, on an H1B visa. While I was living in New York City, I would visit Toronto during my holidays, and was very impressed with the civility and the politeness of its citizens.

After relocating to Canada, it quickly dawned on me that much of the civility and politeness was a plastic covering adorned with smiles that were not genuine.  While the Canadian Government prides itself in being the most multicultural society in the world, it truly does not translate to being very inclusive despite the many cultural festivals that happen throughout the summer months.

As a Jamaican, sometimes I do feel like I don’t belong in this Canadian space when persons constantly ask me “Where are you from?”.  With my little knowledge of history, Jamaicans have been in Canada from as early as 1776 settling in Halifax and helping to build the Halifax Citadel from 1795-1800. Subsequently, more Jamaicans came to Canada in the early 1900s to work as domestic helpers, railway porters, and blacksmiths. After the domestic scheme was implemented in 1955, there was an increase in Jamaicans immigrating to Canada.  During the 1960s some Jamaicans came to Canada on student visas, and many others came to work as nurses due to the severe nurse shortage in Canada at that time. As Jamaicans, we have distinguished ourselves as pioneers in many fields of endeavour; education, entertainment, sports, business, government, healthcare, etc. 

Fast-forward to 2023. I have experienced many instances of microaggression on the job as a Black teacher, from police officers during a traffic stop, and from strangers in public. But, I had never experienced before now, a white man stopping me to interrogate me in the parking lot of the premises where I live asking if the car I was standing beside was mine! When I told him the car was mine, he further questioned if I was sure. I opened the doors with the key in hand. I asked him if there was a problem because my car was not blocking another vehicle or the parking garage entrance. This incident happened on Sunday, August 6, 2023 – Jamaica’s Independence Day. Two Jamaican friends were also present as this unfortunate and glaring racist incident unfolded.

The interrogator was neither the building manager nor a law enforcement officer. However, he persisted in interrogating me about my presence in the parking lot wanting to know if I lived in the building. While I never lived in the Jim Crow era in the USA, that moment felt like I was! I expressed quite clearly to him that his line of questioning was inappropriate and that he had no right to be asking me those questions. Well, he did not stop, and further asked me to prove that I lived in the building by telling him my apartment/unit number! At that point, I felt the ire of my ancestors rise up in my spirit, and I told him unapologetically to go “F—” himself! What was even more alarming was that he was asking me why I was raising my voice and why I was angry, still not surrendering his unwarranted and inappropriate interrogation.

That incident cast a dark cloud over me for the next few days as I reflected on my speech, attire, presence of my friends, and actions. After my reflection and introspection, I realized there was nothing wrong that my friends and I did. In fact, it was traumatic, and a violation of our humanity. While I appreciate and honor my ancestors’ efforts and sacrifice to achieve Emancipation Day and Jamaica’s Independence Day from colonial rule, that white man is yet to emancipate himself from mental slavery. I have a right to this space as much as anyone else. I am my ancestors’ son.