Migration, Arrival, and Settlement

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Caribbean Peoples/Frances Henry

As a result of a largely dependent neo-colonial economy, opportunities for employment in the industrial and agricultural sectors of Caribbean society are few. Even countries which have some mineral wealth, such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana, are faced with severe economic constraints. Unemployment among the younger age levels is as much as 35 percent in some areas. Thus, economic “push” factors have resulted in large scale out-migration from the region. For many, educational and economic advancement is attainable only by migrating to the former European mother country of Britain, or to the United States and Canada.

For most immigrants from the Caribbean region, the move to Canada is motivated by economic reasons. The region’s average annual population growth of 3 percent has created an oversupply of labour. Emigration provides the possibility for improvement in jobs and education and the chance for some degree of social mobility. Previous to World War II, emigration from the Caribbean region was strongly stimulated by “pull” factors such as the demand for labour in Great Britain and the United States. Canada continues to maintain a government-supported domestic labour program which brings in women from several regions of the world, including the Caribbean, to work as domestics. In addition to economic factors, family reunification has increasingly become a decisive factor in the decision to migrate to Canada.

During the 1960s, Canada introduced new laws that established a more liberal system of immigration, including the adoption in 1967 of a “point system” which judged the suitability of immigrants on the basis of objective criteria. At the same time, Great Britain began to impose more stringent immigration requirements. As a result of both factors, Canada began receiving larger numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean. Moreover, between 1968 and 1973, persons who had been admitted as visitors could apply for landed immigrant status during their stay in Canada. Immigration to Canada from the Caribbean region reached its peak during the mid1970s. While few people of Caribbean origin migrated to Canada before 1966, between 1973 and 1978 they represented more than 10 percent of the total number of all landed immigrants in Canada. According to 1991 Canada immigration statistics, there are 314,365 persons in Canada who were born in the Caribbean region (including Guyana).

The vast majority (84 percent) are from the English-speaking former British colonies – Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and British Virgin Islands. Of these fifteen territories, some of which are today independent countries and others British colonies, four account for 93 percent of the British Caribbean population in Canada: Jamaica (102,440); Guyana (66,055); Trinidad and Tobago (49,385); and Barbados (14,820). Grenada (4,735) and St Vincent and the Grenadines (4,540) are the next largest sources of immigrants, while the number of immigrants for the remaining countries and colonies ranges from 35 to under 2,000. Aside from the above territories, the only other significant source of immigration to Canada from the Caribbean region is Haiti (39,880). Although the 1991 figures on ethnic origin are smaller, the pattern is the same. Of the 120,900 Canadians claiming partial or single origin from the British Caribbean, the largest numbers are Jamaicans (36,505), the generic category West Indians (31,530), Guyanese (26,435), Trinidadians (15,275), and Barbadians (4,145).

Some authors argue that neither the official statistics for immigration nor those for ethnic origin provide a correct picture regarding the number of British Caribbean peoples in Canada. It has been claimed, for example, that 455,000 Caribbean-born immigrants arrived in Canada between 1960 and 1989. The exact number of those who returned to the Caribbean or migrated to the United States is unknown, but it may be assumed to be one-fifth since this is the typical migration loss of other immigrant groups. That leaves a total of 364,000. If the number of Canadian-born children (91,000) to Caribbean mothers is added, using a formula to measure fertility, the resulting overall Caribbean population would be 455,000. This is a conservative estimate that does not include illegal immigrants.

With regard to geographic distribution, 81 percent of the 250,000 people born in British Caribbean lands live in Ontario, with the remainder in Quebec (20,000), Alberta (10,700), and British Columbia (7,900). Within Ontario, it is the “Golden Horseshoe” area encompassing London, Toronto, and Kingston that contains the largest numbers. Here, the major areas of concentration are Metropolitan Toronto and neighbouring Mississauga and Brampton. In Toronto itself, Caribbean migrants are increasingly concentrated. The Vaughan Road, Bathurst and Bloor, and Eglinton “strip” areas are almost entirely populated by peoples of Caribbean origin. While the city’s Jane-Finch area is ethnically mixed, a high percentage of its residents are also of Caribbean origin.

Age and gender have significantly influenced the Caribbean migration to Canada. There is a common pattern for parents to leave their young children in the care of grandmothers and other relatives when they emigrate. A smaller than average proportion of migrants, therefore, is under the age of five. Those children who eventually join their parents in Canada arrive when they are already of school age. The relatively late age of arrival of children has a negative impact with respect both to the ability of the children and to that of the educational system to adapt to their special needs.

Another characteristic of Caribbean migration has been the pattern of women immigrating alone. In 1981 the ration of Caribbean men to women was 0.83. If only those from Jamaica are counted, the sex ratio was 0.71. This imbalance, particularly in the early years of the Caribbean migration to Canada, reflects in part the government-run domestic-labour schemes in which women were allowed entry into the country if they agreed to work as domestics for one year. The domestic-labour scheme made it relatively easy for Caribbean women to immigrate, since applications, letters of reference, school documents, and so on were processed in the country of origin and replies would be sent out relatively quickly.

Caribbean migrants also tend to be in the young adult age grouping, clustering in the twenty-five to forty-five age range. They have a lower than average number of young dependants and are markedly under represented in the retirement-age group. The median age of the Caribbean-born population was thirty-two, whereas forty-two was the median for all immigrants to Canada. As of 1981, the number of Canadians born of Caribbean origin (that is, living in households headed by a Caribbean-born person) was only 50,000.

There is also the phenomenon known as “double lap” migration. This refers to people of Caribbean origin who initially emigrated to Great Britain, after which they, or their children, re-emigrate to Canada. Such persons are listed as British in the Canadian immigration statistics that merely ask for last country of origin. It has been estimated that as many as 10,000–15,000 people are “double lap” migrants. The continuing, and allegedly increasing racism in the United Kingdom is largely responsible for this movement. As well, the policies of the Thatcher government forced many plant closures and privatization of state-run enterprises, leading to the loss of jobs.

The immigration process does not end with a migrant’s arrival in Canada. One of the major points of contact between Caribbean migrants and the Canadian state is their continued relationship with immigration authorities, especially for those concerned with bringing over relatives. Continued contact also comes about when a person on a visitor’s or a student visa wishes to stay. In Canada, they consult with immigration officials, but even more often with private immigration counsellors who have sprung up in significant numbers to service the needs of the community. It is alleged that some individuals have paid as much as $15,000 to “purchase “ landed immigrant cards or passports. Some fraudulent schemes have been uncovered over the years that have in some instances implicated both lawyers and immigration counsellors.

For many others, however, entry into Canada today is almost impossible. Persons with no immediate relatives to sponsor them and who do not qualify as independent applicants through the point system have no recourse other than to enter the country as visitors and then to go underground. The number of illegal immigrants from the Caribbean has been estimated to be from 10,000 to 30,000. The attitude of the Caribbean community towards “illegals” is extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, there is considerable support for illegals and there are groups, some affiliated with religious organizations, who provide help in finding jobs and accommodation. On the other, the threat of exposure is often used against the illegals by members of their own communities. The stories of immigration officers being tipped off by “one of our own” are legion within the Caribbean community.

The Caribbean community in Canada is not homogeneous. Hence, the term communities would be a more accurate description of a group that is clearly segmented by a number of factors. Stratification based on social-class divisions is of primary importance in differentiating the community in Canada. This continues to reflect the strong emphasis on class differentiation which characterizes the Caribbean homeland, where the stratification system was almost entirely based on skin colour and other racial features. A gradation in skin colour from white to near white to brown and finally to the black-skinned lower class has traditionally been recognized in the region. In addition, however, membership in a family that can trace its origins back several generations to earlier French and English settlers is also a marker of status, particularly among upper-class creole whites. The rigidity of this colour class-, class-, and family-based hierarchy in Caribbean society has only recently begun to change.

Migration has continued to emphasize the important role of class differentiation. But what has changed is that the determinants of class position have been modified to resemble those of North American society. Consequently, education, income, and occupational achievement have replaced skin colour and other racial characteristics in determining social status. Status derived from the traditions of family have also declined in importance. The differences in criteria such as income, housing, and consumer goods are extremely marked between the middle- and working-class segments of the community, as are education and professional achievements.

There is also a growing “underclass” composed of youth born to working-class parents or single mothers who are increasingly frustrated by the barriers of racism and poverty which they experience in Canada. They feel uncomfortable in the school system and are easily led to drop out. Some succumb to drug dealing and related forms of petty crime. They develop a cynical, negative view of Canadian society and feel themselves to be marginalized. Thus, aside from the middle and working classes, there is a third division within the Caribbean community in Canada consisting of a growing underclass of marginalized, alienated youth.

A severe obstacle for Caribbean people arises because these class divisions are not recognized by the mainstream. This is especially true for authority groups like the police, the justice system, and agencies of government. Even the media have a tendency to group all black and Caribbean people together. Much of what is written and reported about this community relates to their social “problems.” The media’s emphasis on criminals and others with severe social, education, or domestic problems reinforces the “racialization of crime.” Government agencies also tend to emphasize only the problem aspects of the working and underclass strata of the community.