TORONTO - There is something extra Reading Marino Toppan’s opus, Land of Triumph and Tragedy, and his personal history, The Voice of Labour, I was reminded of the strength of character that was required to be an immigrant in this country and to survive conditions we would be embarrassed to attribute to a Third World country today.
I was a young boy and an adolescent when to be Italian in Toronto was, in the polite language of today, to be a “white slave in North America”. I was “privileged” (contemporary lexicon to explain insensitive or irresponsible behaviour) and “fortunate” because my parents deprived themselves of luxuries so their children could attend good schools and cultivate refined friendships.
Toppan, like my own parents was subjected to insensitive, uncaring working conditions reminiscent of sweatshop environments, hazardous, inhumane working conditions for hourly rates that were barely su.cient for the survival of families.
There were no worker rights, at least none that applied to them. What semblance of rights existed were largely unenforced. Unions were typically ine.ective or impotent – at least as far as considering workplace safety and working conditions, let alone pay packages and benefits.
The worst of those were the construction sites, in particular, residential, but the industrial commercial building sectors vied for top spot as “widow-makers and orphan generators”. Toppan estimates that in the fifties and sixties, upwards of 80% of the workers in the sector, in and beyond Toronto, were Italian.
Other sectors generated crippling injuries that earned meagre compensation for their victims from today’s WSIB. Whenever some objected to what some people called “militancy” – speaking up for basic (unrecognized in law) rights, mainstream Canadians and the Press called for jail and repatriation.
Thanks to people like Toppan and Frank Colantonio a culture change slowly emerged that valued workers’ contribution to the economy. It wasn’t easy. Loyalty to Canada was always raised. [Lack of] Respect for the Law was always insinuated in the discussion. The threat of deportation was invoked almost incessantly.
If you were Italian, you were a second-class citizen. Even as your struggles paved the way for Rights of all types, most importantly to be treated as a human being with respect and dignity. Thankfully, Italians never suggested these principles were restricted to Italian immigrants. Nonetheless, Italians don’t seem to exercise the political power they have so painfully earned.
It is not clear that they have graduated to first or equal class. If you have been following the Corriere’s pieces on immigration under the administration of Ahmed Hussen, it certainly seems as if those who aggressively strove to improve the lot of Canadians are now shunted to one side.
The mainstream Dailies have all run their own “special investigations” into the abuses of today’s immigration system.
That’s nice. But Italians in 92 Federal constituencies where 5,000 or more of their brethren live, voted to keep Trudeau in power - including the 15,000 in Hussen’s own electoral district who voted to keep him. He’s a former refugee who won’t extend the same welcoming hand o.ered him to others. Ironically, he wouldn’t be here if his predecessor Italian immigrants had not turned abuse into rights.
Meanwhile, in England, the government is exploring all avenues to keep the estimated 800,000 undocumented workers who will become illegal after the Brexit legislation, post election.
Hussen and whoever the new Minister for Canadian Border Services Agency will be are preparing removal orders for people who are gainfully employed (even if exploited by their unions or their employers) but without status.
Trudeau can avoid all of that with a policy change starting with the shu¬ing of Hussen out of Immigration.