Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition)
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Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today to speak briefly on Senator Omidvar’s inquiry on immigration. Immigrating to Canada is the story of my family, and it’s a familiar story that belongs not just to my family but to families across our nation and throughout our rich history. The way I like to view it, our Canadian society is a colourful fabric, and the threads that create this fabric are the distinct families, individuals, and communities that have found their way to our shores and call Canada home.
A common metaphor for Canadian culture is a mosaic of distinct pieces. This contrasts with the other popular metaphor of the United States as a melting pot. It is important, though, that we do not forget about the glue that keeps our beautiful Canadian mosaic intact. The glue is what binds us. It is what unites us in a spirit of cooperation and gives us pride as Canadians. And so, one of the things we must deeply reflect upon, acknowledge and work to strengthen is what unites us all as Canadians. Only through doing so can we preserve our distinct pieces of the mosaic while being glued together as a strong whole.
The future of this nation will come through steady and robust immigration. In recent years, net immigration has accounted for 80% of Canada’s population growth. That figure is slated to increase over the next decade. Because of this, immigration will be the key to our country’s continued growth and economic success.
In past years, and no doubt in the years to come, immigration from Asia has been important and steadily increasing, comprising over 60% of our country’s newcomers. Asian-Canadian leaders of the past paved the way for me and others — leaders like former senator Vivienne Poy, the first senator of Asian descent and the architect of Asian Heritage Month, adopted unanimously in this very chamber in 2001. As a result of her vision, so much key information and stories of tragedy, discrimination, racism, inequality and loss, as well as many triumphs, have come to light during the month of May and throughout the year.
Within the Asian experience in Canada comes a subset of Korean-Canadian stories, which begins in 1888 when the first Canadian missionaries set foot on the Korean Peninsula. In the century and a half that has followed, Canadians fought alongside South Koreans in the Korean War, and most recently signed a historic free trade agreement, the first and only free trade agreement in Asia. I had the honour of sponsoring the CKFTA implementation bill with the good work of the critic, the Honourable Senator Percy Downe. Currently, a quarter million Canadians of Korean descent are in Canada and nearly 30,000 Canadian citizens reside in South Korea. This deep-rooted shared history and people is what makes the Korean-Canadian community strong and distinct within Canada.
Korean Canadians have contributed to Canada’s success and progress on every front. People like iconic Hollywood Asian actress and Ottawa native, Sandra Oh; Commodore Hans Jung (Retired), a Korean immigrant to Canada who became the surgeon general of the Canadian Forces in 2009 until his retirement in 2012; and people like Dr. Ahn Suk Hwan, the engineer who designed the Canadarm, an achievement I am reminded of every time I take out a $5 bill to buy a cup of coffee and see the space arm displayed. Speaking of coffee, when my husband rode across our vast country from coast to coast on his Harley-Davidson, he noticed two constants in every city and small town: Tim Hortons and a Hyundai or Kia dealership.
The Korean-Canadian community possesses an incredible entrepreneurial spirit, a deep well of courage and optimism that has fuelled Korean-Canadian business people to settle across this country and operate businesses of all varieties and sizes. They demonstrate self-reliance through networks of hundreds of churches and non-profit organizations that take care of the community. “Kim’s Convenience,” the popular sitcom written by Ins Choi, brought into the mainstream these attributes of entrepreneurialism, family values, a tireless work ethic and close-knit family and communities.
Finally, I wish to recognize the more than 26,000 Canadians who fought alongside South Koreans and their UN allies in the Korean War, Canada’s third-bloodiest war in which 516 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice. They never returned home, but are buried to this day in the UN Memorial Cemetery in Pusan, Korea. The veterans are seen as heroes and an inspiration to Korean communities across Canada. Standing on this firm foundation of selfless sacrifice of Canadians in Korea for more than 120 years, Korean-Canadian communities have flourished in various regions with sincere pride, gratitude and commitment to Canada that welcomed the first wave of immigrants following the signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953.
Korean communities make Canada stronger and better. They are an integral piece of our Canadian mosaic and the glue — of course — the glue that binds us and touches all of the parts that make up Canada’s beautiful, colourful mosaic of the Canadian values that are shared in all the communities: fairness, inclusion, democracy, economic security, safety, sustainability, health, freedom and peace, to name a few.
Honourable senators, I would like to thank our colleague Senator Omidvar for introducing this important inquiry on a topic so critical to the past, present and future of our country. May the stories I have shared today be a reminder of the contributions to Canada by our Asian community, my own community of Korean Canadians, and a reminder of the glue that binds all of us as Canadians: the sharing of these Canadian values.
Before I finish, may I acknowledge Senator Jim Munson, someone whom I have known throughout my Senate career. He is here to the very last minutes of the sitting, and that is a testament to the kind of dedication with which he has served in the Senate of Canada. Thank you.
Honourable senators, I rise today to call attention to the link between Canada’s past, present and future prosperity and its deep connection to immigration. Senator Omidvar first rose in this chamber to launch an inquiry on the link between prosperity and immigration in February of last year, a month before the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, many things have changed, but immigrants’ contributions to Canada have not.
As my colleagues have aptly pointed out in the past, many new Canadians have been on the front lines of the pandemic, either by caring for the sick and elderly or ensuring that Canadians continue to have access to fresh produce. Senator Loffreda, through his own story, has shown us that when arriving in Canada, hard work is paramount. Senator Ravalia has spoken eloquently of his journey from Zimbabwe, where he was judged by his ethnicity, to Newfoundland, where he was judged by his ability, humanity and integration into his new home. In return, he has dedicated much of his medical career to his community. In short, immigrants are not only essential workers, they are essential to Canada.
Today, I would like to challenge our notion of prosperity, which is often equated to material wealth and social status. Like Senator Simons, I remember attending Edmonton’s three-day Heritage Festival, where over 100 different home countries and cultures met. Similarly, the streets of Toronto, under normal circumstances, come to life in the summer. Festivals and food trucks fill the streets with smells and sights from all over the world. I have fond memories of attending caravans where it was possible to travel the world without leaving the city. This is also prosperity.
I can relate to both Senator Loffreda’s life story and Senator Simons’s love for cultural events. Today, I would like to talk about how Canada has been enriched by immigrants and specifically about their influence on Canadian cuisine.
Canadian cuisine is often discredited, although Lenore Newman, author of Speaking In Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey, shows that it is entwined with the historical tropes of Canadian identity: fresh, wild, seasonal, multicultural and regionally distinct.
For instance, a trip to our national capital would be incomplete without a BeaverTail on the Rideau Canal or an Obama Cookie in the ByWard Market. However, Ottawa is also considered the shawarma capital of Canada. Similarly, Halifax is renowned for its lobster, but in 2015, Halifax city council voted to make donair the city’s official food. Now, the Halifax donair can be found in restaurants across Nova Scotia.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has upended our lives for over a year, forcing us to search new ways to cope with loss, anxiety and an uncertain future. Many Canadians, myself included, have turned to comfort food, and we have tried to support local businesses who have been struggling during these unprecedented times.
I would like to share with you some of the most popular dishes among Canadians during the first wave of the pandemic. The most-ordered dishes in Canada were the traditional poutine, as well as miso soup, pad thai, naan, edamame, shawarma and, in first place, senators, was butter chicken. I believe this is a testament to our multiculturalism and cuisine.
We often equate prosperity with a balanced budget and a higher GDP, but linking human flourishing to higher levels of material consumption is unsustainable. Cultural activities are a way of achieving a sustainable form of prosperity, where humans flourish through their capability to engage with cultural and creative practices and communities. I believe that by continuing to welcome Canadians-to-be, we ensure that every generation will continue to flourish and to find their own version of prosperity.
I see that my friend Senator Munson is not here, but I want to take this opportunity to say to Senator Munson, I have enjoyed working with you in the Senate, in this chamber, and outside on many of the various groups that we are fond of and that we support, specifically the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. I have really enjoyed our interactions, and you really knew what was happening throughout the world. I guess that goes back to your time as a reporter, and you contributed so much. I thank you and you will be missed.
Honourable senators, it is my honour to deliver on behalf of Senator Omidvar her right of final reply on this inquiry. She is unable to deliver this speech herself because of the death of her mother earlier today.
Let me start by offering our sincere condolences to our colleague and her family.
These are the words of Senator Omidvar:
I rise today to conclude my inquiry on the link between Canada’s past, present and future prosperity and its deep connection to immigration. I am grateful that so many of my colleagues joined me in speaking to this inquiry, including Senators Simons, Loffreda, Woo, Ravalia and Cormier.
Senators Martin and Ataullahjan also spoke to Senator Omidvar’s inquiry.
When I first launched the inquiry in February 2020, I noted how immigration has played such a significant role in nation building, and I pointed out its strengths, weaknesses and failings. When I relaunched it in December 2020, the pandemic had overtaken our lives, and I noted that our predetermined notions of immigrants had shifted. If I were to launch it again, I would likely note that as much as we pay heed to our economic prosperity, we need to also pay heed to the unfortunate rise in racism with its devastating impacts on our communities.
This inquiry has been immeasurably enriched by the contributions of our colleagues here in the Senate. Senator Simons emphasized that immigration is a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship and that Canada needs immigrants every bit as much as immigrants need Canada. Senator Loffreda told his own story of his immigrant parents in compelling words, noting that resilience is a characteristic shared by many who choose to make new lives for themselves. Senator Woo —
— yours truly —
— cast his eyes on the estimated 2.8 million Canadians living outside of Canada, characterizing them as one of our hidden assets. He points out that, as such, we are not only a country of immigrants but also a country of emigrants. Senator Cormier focused on the role of francophone immigrants and particularly their contribution to Acadian communities. Senator Ravalia was unforgettable in the story of his journey to Twillingate, Newfoundland, from being a stranger to now a part of the fabric of that community.
Just a few minutes earlier, Senator Martin touched on the prominent role of immigrants from Korea, which is, of course, her own heritage. Senator Ataullahjan, even at this late hour, whetted our appetites with a discussion of so-called immigrant foods that have become part of the Canadian palate.
I want to thank them all. And I want to signal to this chamber that they, along with others in the chamber who are members of an informal working caucus in immigration, believe that it is essential for the Senate to launch a proper study on immigration. As the chamber of sober second thought, with the capacity to do in-depth work in a non‑partisan manner, this is indeed the right institution to take on this essential task.