It was a banner week for those of us who live at the intersection of culture and immigration, although not much of the news was very uplifting.
First was the controversy here in Richmond about whether our child poverty statistics have been inflated by unreported offshore income. One letter to the editor of the Richmond News reported anecdotal evidence that some families whom Statistics Canada counts as impoverished are doing quite well, thank you, because they are actually supported by someone working offshore - who is apparently not letting CRA in on the secret.
Another letter writer responded incredulously that "the Canada Revenue Agency is quite clear in their documents that worldwide income is to be included when filing," going on to say that "If what the letter writer says is true and the poverty statistics are too high, then thousands of households in Richmond must be underreporting their income."
I can't say whether there are thousands of such households or not, but I also know families living in big houses in Richmond's nicest neighbourhoods who willingly confide that they pay no taxes or health care premiums because they are 'impoverished', at least according to their tax returns.
Under-reporting of offshore income is not necessarily restricted to the immigrant community, of course, but that seemed to be the implication.
Not to change the subject, (and I'm not trying to be a wise guy or court gratuitous controversy) but what exactly is 'child poverty' and how is it different from family poverty or poverty in general? Do we secretly harbour an underground society of Cinderella children, wearing rags and sleeping on the kitchen floor while their families are living the high life?
The use of the term child poverty always strikes me as an attempt to use children - regardless of whether the motives are noble or cynical - to make an already dire situation seem somehow more terrible. If anyone can enlighten me as to how child poverty is different from poverty, I would appreciate it - seriously.
Next, is the ongoing honour killing trial in Kingston, Ontario where the head of the household allegedly had his three daughters and first wife drowned in a canal for disobeying him, thereby dishonouring the family.
This case is mirrored by another in Belgium where a young woman was shot by her brother, at the urging of their father and mother, for refusing an arranged marriage to someone in Pakistan she had never met, instead moving in with a young Belgian man with whom she had fallen in love. Interestingly (frighteningly?) in Belgium it is apparently a crime to 'attempt to arrange a marriage'. There are some scary cross-cultural clashes brewing in Europe (with July's massacre in Norway the most recent) that Canada has managed to avoid with its less confrontational approach to cultural difference.
I've spoken before in this column about the dynamic tension between upholding mainstream Canadian values and the struggle to find space and acceptance for newcomers' cultural beliefs and customs.
I draw the line at honour killings, but things are a little less clear when it comes to our last topic for this week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's announcement that Muslim women must bear their faces to take the oath of citizenship.
The issue is fraught with symbolism and cultural and religious overtones - the Canadian values of openness and equality juxtaposed against deeply held convictions about modesty. Although I personally believe that we should be able to identify exactly to whom we are granting citizenship, I think that this is one instance where a little more patience and sensitivity could have been used to search for accommodations that would satisfy both sides.
This is exactly the type of issue that defines whether we engage immigrants to help them make the transition to Canada (allowing for Canada to make some transitions of its own) or whether we adopt a hardline 'if you don't like it, you can always go home' attitude to those whom we've invited to join us here.
Dr. Joe Greenholtz is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) and a director of the Premier Canadian Immigration Co-op. He also sits on the Richmond intercultural Advisory Committee. He can be reached at joe@premiercic. com.