Canada’s 2011 census showed that 45% of Toronto’s total population of 5.6 million was foreign born. Compare that to Pittsburgh’s 4% foreign population and you have a good idea of the demographic divide in the two cities.
There was a 16% increase in the number of immigrants arriving in Ontario (the province which houses Toronto) between 2006 and 2011, with nearly a third being Indian and Chinese immigrants. However the region is immensely diverse and has more than 230 ethnic groups. “In my opinion, Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world,” says Ratna Omidvar of Ryerson Maytree Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, Toronto.
The immigration patterns of Toronto and Pittsburgh couldn’t be more different. In Canada, one fifth of the overall population is made up of immigrants, most of who settle in one of the three cities – Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal. Moreover, Canada’s immigration policy shifted to a more proactive approach of welcoming newcomers in the 1970s, when Canada started using a point-based system to provide entry to immigrants, based on their educational credentials, English or French skills, age, and work experience. This policy let successful applicants bring in their dependents with them. On the other hand, the US immigration policy prioritized on letting in immigrants for reuniting family members.
As a result Canada has more highly-skilled immigrants relative to the US. About 44% of Canada’s immigrants between 2003 and 2012 had at least a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to only 30% of adult immigrants in the US.
However, Canada is still not free of immigration controversies. Experts believe that it takes too long for Canadian immigrants to become citizens. “The Canadian government has made becoming a citizen a long and arduous process. While there’s only a three-year wait to apply for citizenship, there’s another three to four years of investigations and background checks, and in the meantime you’ve paid all this property tax and you’re made to feel you’re an outsider,” says Joe Mihevc, a counselor in Toronto.
In addition there have been reports of discrimination against newcomers to Canada. Some of them have been in the form of attacks by local thugs on Asian and other ethnic minority immigrants who go for short trips to Ontario’s rural areas.
There is also a growing concern about Canada’s new immigration policies, pushed by the conservative national government, which focus on allowing immigrants entry to Canada on temporary work visas that do not let them apply for residence or citizenship.
It is estimated that there are about 386,000 temporary workers in Canada. The first group among these have a deadline to leave Canada next year, though immigration experts feel that many of them will continue to stay in Canada illegally.
In spite of these issues, it is believed that Canada’s immigration policy is more welcoming than that of the US. Interviews with immigrants to the US and Canada have revealed that unlike in the US, in Canada newcomers get access to several government-funded community-based groups that provide settlement support, help in getting jobs, English language skills and advice on citizenship requirements.
History also had an important role in shaping Canada’s pro-immigration attitude. “A hundred years ago the reality was that Canada was colder and smaller than the US and so the Canadian government had a hard time convincing people to come to Canada, and even if they did, people often then moved to America. That problem didn’t resolve until the US closed its borders. And so the attitude of promoting immigration has a longer history in Canada,” says Irene Bloemraad, the Thomas Garden Barnes chair of Canadian studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
And as Toronto witnessed a surge in the numbers of immigrants, “there were stresses, and some racial violence, but Toronto was known as Toronto the Good, and they had the sense it had to be managed well, so that suppressed a lot of anti-immigrant feelings because it wasn’t seen as the right thing to do,” says Timothy Owen of World Education Services.
It is hard to imagine any American city taking the kind of political decisions taken in Toronto. For example, in June the Toronto city council voted 29-8 to call itself a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants. This implies that Toronto will provide services to immigrants irrespective of whether they are in the country legally or illegally. “The charter defines the city as a corporation of the inhabitants, not of the citizens, so I have a duty to be as equally concerned with undocumented Torontonians as documented Torontonians,” says Mr. Brillinger, Toronto’s social development official.
Mihevc believes that every legal immigrant group in Toronto has friends or family members who are undocumented. “You can’t hold public office in Toronto and be anti-immigrant,” he says.
Other communities in Canada also want to benefit from immigration the way Toronto has. But Owen believes that “you can’t just invite people into your city. You have to educate the people in your city about what it means to welcome people and what it means to change your own attitudes so the people coming in feel they’re part of the community.”
“I’m still stunned by the fact that the foreign-born percentage in Pittsburgh is 4%. For a Torontonian, that is unfathomable,” says Brillinger.