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Chinese immigration: Protesting racism on TV

They risked their lives to help build Canada's railroad in the 1880s. But as soon as the work was done, Canada just wanted them gone. It was the beginning of a difficult history for Chinese immigrants to Canada. They struggled through the head tax, personal attacks and job discrimination. But the Chinese in Canada persevered. And today, Chinese-Canadians are an integral part of Canada's multicultural society, forging their own cultural identities.

Chinese-Canadians are fuming. The CTV program W5 aired an episode called "Campus Giveaway," which charged that foreign students from China were taking up a large proportion of Canadian university spots. According to many in the Chinese community, however, the facts have been completely misrepresented. And as this TV news clip explains, a massive protest movement is afoot. Chinese protesters believe this show "smacks of racism" and they aren't going to take this lying down. 
• Aired in September 1979, the "Campus Giveaway" episode of W5 reported that some 100,000 foreign students (mainly from China) were taking away educational opportunities that could have gone to Canadian students. The statistics were later found to be exaggerated. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, the actual number of foreign students in Canada was "55,000 at all levels of education, including only 20,000 in full-time university studies."

• Historian Anthony B. Chan's book Gold Mountain, which devotes an entire chapter to the W5 incident, uncovers another inaccuracy. An angry Canadian student told W5 her marks were high enough to get into the University of Toronto's pharmacy program, but she wasn't let in because foreign students were taking up all of the spots. Further research revealed that there were actually no foreign students in the pharmacy program at the time, and that the student's marks weren't as high as she indicated.

• Although the inaccuracies upset the Chinese community, what disturbed Chinese Canadians even more was the fact that many supposedly "foreign" students shown in classroom shots were later proven to be Canadian citizens of Chinese origin.
• As Chan writes in Gold Mountain, "Since the foreign faces in the report were Chinese, W5's implication was that all students of Chinese origin were foreigners, and that Canadian taxpayers were subsidizing Chinese students - regardless of citizenship."

• The protest movement over the show began in the student community, then slowly spread throughout the Chinese community in Canada. Protesters' demands included a public apology from CTV, an opportunity to present a fair and accurate report to repair damages done by W5, and for CTV to take any steps necessary to make sure this didn't happen again.

• The main protest rally occurred in January 1980 in Toronto, with more than 1,000 protesters present, including a number of high-profile politicians such as NDP MP Bob Rae and Toronto mayor John Sewell. Another rally of 500 protesters occurred simultaneously in Edmonton.

• The rally evoked a "statement of regret" from CTV, but not an apology. The Chinese community kept working to demand an apology, and got it in April 1980. CTV's top executive, Murray Chercover, admitted that much of the research data was "clearly wrong." He added: "We sincerely apologize for the fact Chinese-Canadians were depicted as foreigners, and for whatever distress this stereotyping may have caused them in the context of our multicultural society."

• The "Campus Giveaway" controversy is now considered by historians to be a turning point in Chinese-Canadian activism. It led directly to the creation of the Chinese-Canadian National Council, which is still active in Chinese-Canadian causes today (2004). As the council's website explains, Chinese-Canadians from across Canada met to discuss what to do about the W5 incident - "Out of that meeting, the importance and need for a strong, national organization became so evident that the Chinese-Canadian National Council was formed."

• Canadian writer Robert Fulford recalled the W5 incident in a 1999 Globe and Mail article: "What stayed with me, and many others, was the visual treatment. The people who put the program together worked from the quaint assumption that they knew what a Canadian looked like. While the narrator told the story, the camera panned over Chinese faces in the classroom. It did not occur to the producers that any such shot would likely include students who were Canadian-born or Canadian citizens."
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Jan. 22, 1980
Reporter: Jonathan Craven
Duration: 1:59

Last updated: April 23, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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