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By Belen Febres-Cordero in Vancouver

Upon arrival, immigrant populations in Canada tend to present less allergies than their Canadian-born counterparts, but prevalence increases with time, a national study finds. However, exposing them to ethnic foods and cultural practices that they were accustomed to may help reduce allergies in this population, according to the researchers. 

There is no definitive answer as to the cause(s) of the definitely noted increase in allergies in immigrant populations when they move to Western countries such as Canada. However, the pattern is real and needs to be analyzed”, says Dr. David Fischer, President of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI).

As first-generation immigrants to Canada, Dr. Hind Sbihi (picture below), Research Associate at the University of British Columbia, and Jiayun Angela Yao, PhD candidate at the same institution, became intrigued by allergy rates among newcomers and conducted a study to understand the role that genetics and environmental factors play in the development of non-food allergies, such as hay fever.

“Our best hope to curb the increasing trend in allergic disorders is to prevent it.”

The researchers explain that in the past decade, the media, public and researchers have mainly focused on food allergies “It’s critical to raise awareness for non-food allergies given their high prevalence in our population, and posing a big burden to our health care system,” they add.

Canada has some of the highest allergy rates

This is particularly true because Canada has some of the highest allergy rates in the world. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, approximately 10-30% of the global population has hay fever. While in the United States roughly 7.8% of people 18 and over has this allergy, almost 20% of the population in Canada is affected by it. Considering these statistics, Sbihi and Yao wanted to understand if immigrants in the country would also display an increase in allergies.

“Our study highlighted the unique opportunity to investigate allergies in migrant populations, who are going through a natural experiment, in which the environment around them changes dramatically in a relatively short period of time,” they explain.   

To conduct the study, the scholars used the data collected in the Canadian Community Health Survey, which gathered information about the health status, lifestyle habits and basic demographics of a large and representative sample of Canadians. In the survey, respondents were asked whether they had non-food allergies – diagnosed by a physician-, and whether they were immigrants to Canada and if so, their time since arrival. “We took the responses to these questions, and assessed the statistical association between non-food allergies and immigration status”, they say.Photo Credit:Hind Sbihi Linkedin

Following this method, the study found that only 14.3% immigrants who had lived in Canada for less than 10 years had non-food allergies, while the rates for immigrants over 10 years and non-immigrants were 23.9% and 29.6%, respectively.

These results suggest that environmental factors, such as pollution, levels of sanitization and dietary choices, carry more weight in the development of allergic conditions in Canada, Dr. Fischer explains, while Dr. Sbihi and Yao add that more research is needed to pinpoint what those factors are, and to better understand how allergies arise by country of origin.

They also highlight the need for undertaking multicultural strategies to improve newcomers’ health.

Ethnic foods may help

Dr. Sbihi and Yao add that it is also important to understand that allergies are symptoms of a loss of internal balance that results from a dysfunction of the immune system. “Providing immigrants with means to access food or cultural practice that are ethnically-friendly may help them transition smoothly into the new environment without perturbing their natural balance,” they suggest.  

“Our best hope to curb the increasing trend in allergic disorders is to prevent it. Prevention can only happen when there is a good understanding of risk factors that come to play in the development of these disorders.” For these reasons, they suggest that raising awareness among health practitioners about the link between immigration, environment and allergies might help in their patients’ management.

“The main role for medical practitioners is to work with patients to recognize if they have allergies, to manage them acutely with their patients and if necessary refer them allergist if there is some doubt about the diagnosis or for more definitive management,” says Dr. Fischer.

Published in Health

by Our National Correspondent

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have just put out results of a "psychological analysis" of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Announcing the results via a news release Nov. 8, the university said, “Contrary to what might be expected, grandiosity, simplistic language and rampant Twitter activity were statistical predictors of success in the Republican primaries. Although Trump’s bombastic communication style was shocking — even detestable to many viewers — our research suggests that this style helped him win the Republican nomination.”

The results were put out before the election results were clear following the end of polling in the U.S. Tuesday night. 

“Trump’s outrageous statements over the course of the campaign led many political pundits to underestimate his chances of success,” according to supervising author Delroy L. Paulhus, a personality psychology researcher and professor at UBC. Sara Ahmadian and Sara Azarshahi were co-authors of the study titled, “Explaining Trump via Communication Style: Grandiosity, Informality, and Dynamism”.

New Canadian Media interviewed one of the researchers, Sara Ahmadian, via an e-mail exchange.

Q: Does your study offer any insights into what sort of president Trump will be? Specifically, will he be a disruptor or a conciliator? Will he keep his promises, specifically as it relates to Muslim immigrants and building a wall with Mexico? Temperamentally, can he really be a "president for all Americans"? And, most importantly, are America's nuclear missile codes safe in his hands?

A: The qualities that got him elected may impair his ability to get things done. An effective leader must have self-control, ability to compromise and complex thought. You have to be able to listen and take criticism. These are not Trump's strongest points.  Previous research has shown that leaders who are able to use more complex rhetoric while in office are more effective leaders, but Trump is mostly known for his informal style.

Whether he can switch is a question that only time will answer. Previous research has also shown that presidents with styles similar to Trump's have had more scandals while in office. So, my prediction is that the Trump drama will continue on. Trump has also been known to flip-flop between ideas and policies.

We cannot determine if he will keep his promises. However, we have to keep in mind that many of the things that Trump wants to do will have to pass through the Senate. So, in conclusion, while I argue that he will not be the most effective leader, I think the nuclear missile codes will be safe. However, I cannot guarantee that he will not threaten to use them.

Q: In terms of psychological profile, what type would best describe Donald Trump? Does his profile match any other international leader?

A: I would say he has a highly narcissistic personality. I think that’s the one aspect that stands out the most considering his level of boasting. To the extent to which there are other international leaders like him, I would say the one person that stands out the most is the U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Interestingly enough, Farage is a big supporter of Trump.

Q: Does your study explain or provide any insights into why Trump was particularly critical of immigrants in the campaign?

A: Our study doesn’t directly address this question. But, indirectly, if we think about the social context that has allowed Trump to be successful then that might provide some information as to why immigrants are the target. Americans and most of the world are currently extremely fearful of immigrants, especially because of the world events such as war in Syria or even the simple problems such as financial instability. These types of events can lead to personality styles such as Trump. These styles need a scapegoat and at times it is the immigrant population that suffers. I mean examples [such as] Brexit, the rise of Norbert Hofer in Austria or Geert Wilders in The Netherlands.

Q: Any lessons we can draw in Canada? Can a similar candidate gain traction here?

A: I think we were very lucky in regards to the timing of our election. Although it has been said that we are more liberal than the U.S, it is important to point out that had a big terrorist event happened prior to the election in Canada, we might have chosen an individual more similar to Trump’s style. 

Q: What was it about this candidate that made him a good case study? 

A: Well, when Trump announced his bid to for the presidency, everyone thought it was a joke and it would be over in a month. In addition, all the experts said there is no way that Trump would continue or win the nomination. They all believed that Jeb Bush would be the nominee. Time and time again, it was revealed that all of these experts were wrong and that we have underestimated Trump. So the question became, how could we have been so wrong?

Furthermore, I work in a dark personality lab and Donald Trump is the greatest example of a narcissist.

Q: What does your study tell us about those who voted for Trump? Why didn't they see through his vacuous campaign?

A: What our study tells us is that we have been focusing too much on the content rather than Trump’s style, in explaining his success. If you look at interviews with Trump supporters, they usually say they don’t know what Trump’s policies are and they don’t care. What separates Trump and helped to make him a successful candidate was his style. These supporters can relate to Trump because of his informal style and they see him as a very successful individual thanks to how often Trump over-exaggerates and boasts about his accomplishments.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and updated following President-elect Donald Trump's win.

Published in Top Stories

PRIDE is a complex emotion that plays an important role in our lives.

In her book, Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success, UBC psychology professor Jessica Tracyexamines the role of pride in shaping our minds, and how pride helps politicians like Donald Trump attain power.

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Published in Politics

 LIVING in a democratic country may add 11 years to your life expectancy, according to new research from the University of British Columbia’s department of sociology. The study found that people living in countries that hold free and fair elections live 11 years longer, on average, and see a reduction in infant mortality by almost […]

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Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Health

 SANTA J. Ono is the new president of the University of British Columbia. The former University of Cincinnati president was born in Vancouver and earned his PhD at McGill University and his BA at the University of Chicago. Ono was just the person that UBC so desperately needed after being battered by the abrupt resignation of Dr. Arvind […]


Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Education
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 15:44

Not All Immigrant Children Created Equal

by Charles Ungerleider in Vancouver

Canada’s economic prosperity and population depend upon immigration. Canada would not exist nor could it survive without immigration. Population maintenance depends upon immigration. The Canadian birth rate per woman is in the region of 1.6, far below the replacement ratio of approximately 2.1 births per woman. Canada’s economic prosperity is linked to having enough well educated people to support an increasingly dependent population.

A high proportion of recent immigrants have university degrees. In fact, by 2001, the portion of immigrants with university degrees was about twice that of the Canadian-born population. Although their parents are well educated, the children of immigrants still face challenges in school. The children of immigrants have lower reading literacy levels than their Canadian-born counterparts. It is fortunate that, over time, this disadvantage disappears for most students, but not all. Despite lower reading literacy, most recent immigrants perform better on average than their Canadian-born counterparts in mathematics and sciences.

... it is important to ensure that students acquire facility in English or French for academic purposes prior to enrolling in courses that depend on such fluency.

As most people recognize, group averages can hide significant variation among groups. When we look beyond the averages for immigrant students, we notice that immigrants from particular backgrounds are doing less well than their peers.  Students from Asian immigrant backgrounds are so numerous and, in general, so successful in school, that their performance obscures the results of the students from other immigrant backgrounds who find Canadian schooling more challenging, who perform less well and sometimes leave school prior to graduation.

Time is one of the challenges faced by immigrant students trying to learn English or French in school. Often they do not have sufficient time to both learn the language for academic purposes and to gather sufficient credits for graduation. The problem is compounded in those jurisdictions that place age limits on who can attend school and limits on the amount of additional support that students are able to receive. Older immigrant students are especially challenged by the limited time they can attend school.

Socio-economic factors

Confusion arising from different cultural expectations is also a challenge for immigrant students and for their parents. The prominence given to student engagement, critical thinking and questioning is sometimes quite different than the prior experiences that some immigrant students have had. For some students and parents, Canadian schools seem less demanding and too informal than their prior school experiences. The mismatch in expectations and experiences between prior and current school experiences adds to the challenge faced by immigrant students and their parents.

Immigrant students whose parents have neither educational nor economic advantages are often among those who find school more challenging, perform less well and leave school early. Even among those who graduate from high school, there are socio-economic differences between those who attend post-secondary school and those who do not, favouring those whose parents are more advantaged.

Child refugees or children of refugees who have not had the benefit of schooling prior to arrival in Canada are among the most challenged. Lacking familiarity with schools, prior school socialization, and basic literacy makes school a daunting set of challenges for refugee students.

Beyond averages

Over the course of their history, Canadian schools have become better at welcoming and educating immigrant students. There are many factors that have contributed to the noticeable improvement. Canadian society is less overtly discriminatory than in the past when immigration was restricted to persons of European origin. While it has not completely freed itself from its past, Canada has acknowledged and apologized to descendants of Canadians of Japanese, Punjabi, Chinese and other backgrounds whose ancestors were excluded and mistreated. This has contributed to a national climate more accepting of difference that influences all of Canada’s institutions, including its schools.

Immigrant students whose parents have neither educational nor economic advantages are often among those who find school more challenging ...

Schools have recognized that early and continuing intervention is necessary whenever students exhibit evidence of being challenged – especially in the acquisition of literacy. Parents whose children appear fluent in social contexts with friends often infer that their children possess the requisite knowledge to succeed in courses demanding greater facility with the language than is normally used in social discourse. Although it challenges the expectations and aspirations of those parents, it is important to ensure that students acquire facility in English or French for academic purposes prior to enrolling in courses that depend on such fluency.

Schools know that they must observe student progress closely and make adjustments to the education and supports that immigrant students require to be successful in the school environment. This requires looking beyond group averages to see how individual students are succeeding.

Canada’s need for immigrants often translates into action designed to increase the likelihood of school success because adult productivity, health and engaged citizenship are built upon a foundation of successful schooling. But action is not uniform across all schools or for all immigrant students. To ensure greater uniformity, we need better policies, practices, close monitoring and a willingness to change practice and policy when the evidence suggests that they are not working to the advantage of all students. 

Charles Ungerleider, a Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia, is Managing Partner of Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP,  a partnership of professionals with experience in applied research, policy analysis and evaluation in a variety of domains, including K-12 and post-secondary education, social services, justice, and health. He has served as Deputy Minister of Education in British Columbia, Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Council on Learning, and Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at The University of British Columbia. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education


By Balwant Sanghera

VANCOUVER: The University of British Columbia (UBC) is not only the oldest university of Canada’s British Columbia province, but also the largest and most prominent centre

News East West

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Published in Education
Thursday, 03 July 2014 00:00

New Washrooms Policy Divides Vancouver

by Janice Thiessen (@automaticjane) in Vancouver

The Vancouver School Board trustees’ approval last month of a policy to accommodate transsexual students in schools has triggered corrosive divisions in the community, challenging Canada’s view of itself as a society that celebrates diversity.

The controversy pits the obligation of the public school system to accommodate transgendered students and ensure they feel safe and secure, against the reality that in a linguistically and culturally diverse city such as Vancouver, there is a continuum of tolerance for and experience with transgendered students.

After speaking to several sources on both sides of the controversy, this reporter came away with the impression that newcomers to Canada are not necessarily conservative or fundamentally opposed to the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) lifestyle.

Communication has been a significant issue in this debate and language barriers can prevent those who don’t speak English well from understanding the nuances of the issue.

Not enough consultation

Two leading opponents of the policy, trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, argue that there was insufficient consultation with the community, and that parents of international students, who comprise a considerable number in the Vancouver School Board, could be uncomfortable with the change, and that in turn could affect enrolment.

The new policy, passed 7-2 by the board, is an update of a 2004 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities policy. It stipulates that single-stall, gender neutral bathrooms be installed in all school buildings so a child won’t have to reveal to anyone their gender based on the bathroom they used. The new policy also pledges to reduce or eliminate the practice of segregating students by their gender.

Denike said he and Woo support GLBTQ students but wanted more time to deliberate, and more specific language in the policy. “What we were upset about is there was very poor consultation with the community. People could have translators but there was still a real issue of communication.”

 “There are potential effects on enrolment of international students. It was our view that further consultation could relieve those concerns,” added Denike.

“We had spoken with parents who are realtors with expansive networks in the international community. They expressed concern about changes to the GLBTQ policy without sufficiently inclusive consultation – and the potential effects on enrolment of international students. ”

Real estate impact

Following their June 13 news conference outlining their opposition to the new policy, Denike and Woo were expelled from the Non-Partisan Association, a group that nominates candidates for Vancouver Parks, City and School Board trustees.

Peter Armstrong, NPA President, defended this draconian measure.

 “The Caucus has had ongoing issues with Ken and Sophia for a long time and the Board has been aware of this,” he said. “The raucous news conference called by Ken and Sophia last week was just one issue among many that forced the Caucus to take action.”

Woo defended the media conference, saying she was giving many people a chance to express their concerns about the new transgender policy. “The Vancouver School Board is highly dependent on international students for budgeting purposes. Cuts of over $11 million were required for 2014/15.

“We had spoken with parents who are realtors with expansive networks in the international community. They expressed concern about changes to the GLBTQ policy without sufficiently inclusive consultation – and the potential effects on enrolment of international students. ”

Woo said she heard from hundreds of parents expressing concern over details of the policy. “The limited consultative meetings held by the Board were filled to capacity with concerned parents. The May 29 public meeting, which lasted for over six hours, ended before many parents had an opportunity to speak. Over 14,000 parents signed petitions within a four-week period before June 16 calling for further consultation.”

Protecting all children

But Patti Bacchus, Chair of the Vancouver School Board, said that the policy merely codifies and formalizes the 2004 policy, and is intended to protect all children. “One of the newspaper articles I read quoted a 15-year-old who was thinking about returning to school because of this policy. It gave me a great feeling that kids are more inclined to feel safe at school.”

Trustee Denike preferred the 2004 policy, which gave more leeway for staff to interpret how to implement it.

He says the controversy has caused the parent advisory groups to split along racial lines, with many in the Chinese community opposed.

Cheryl Chang, chair of the Lord Byng Secondary School Parent Advisory Council, wrote an open letter to the Vancouver School Board in May outlining her concerns that the policy was not written by medical or health experts, and that it could have long-term damaging impacts on children.

She urged that the vote, originally scheduled for May 20, be delayed.

“When people come to Canada, part of what draws them is the climate of relative safety that we enjoy here, and the opportunity to live in a place where there are democratic pluralistic values and respect for difference and diversity,” said Jordan.

Agreement in principle

Charter Lau, former Burnaby Parent’s Voice trustee candidate, said he supports GLTBQ students but is concerned that a person with male body parts may enter a change room for females and harass them. Alternatively, male students could feel embarrassed with the presence of a student with female body parts who identifies as transgender in their change room.

“It’s very unfortunate that some of the media put parents in the opposition side, when in reality we are all on the for side, no one is against the intent of the policy. We all agree to the principle, to respect all students, but we need to address both concerns, obligation to satisfy all students, not just a small group.”

He claims that Bacchus stated the policy had to be voted on in June and there could be no more delay, but Lau asks, “What’s the rush?” He added that he has a sibling who is a part of the GLBTQ community. “We love and support each other. Disagreement doesn’t constitute opposing, we don’t agree with everything but we are still a part of one family.”

Intersecting gender and race

The debate over the policy is sensitive and fraught with potential misunderstanding, in part because it deals with prejudices against both gender and race. Rainbow Refugee, which advocates for those seeking protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV (Aids) status, said differing communities face differing degrees of tolerance.

“We do know that racialized GLBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable. This is an issue that we are all working on changing together,” said Dr. Sharalyn Jordan, assistant professor in of counselling psychology at Simon Fraser University and Rainbow Refuge representative.

“When people come to Canada, part of what draws them is the climate of relative safety that we enjoy here, and the opportunity to live in a place where there are democratic pluralistic values and respect for difference and diversity,” said Jordan. “This policy helps schools provide a place where people can learn about gender and racial and cultural diversity.”

High level of support

In spite of very vocal opposition, the motion did pass with a majority vote, showing the high level of support from teachers, the administration and some parents. “These policies are in place so students can better learn about diversity in a safe environment. It’s about re-tooling what is there to make it more inclusive and building inclusive infrastructure when new spaces are built,” said Lau Mehes, youth worker, Qmunity Gab Youth.

Qmunity Gab Youth works with Vancouver schools and the community to provide a safe space in which young people can learn about GLBTQ issues, access to services and referrals, provides special events and leadership training. People from every background are included and encouraged to participate.

Often people who are from a different cultural background and GLBTQ may have a more difficult time finding support. “One of the biggest problems that occur with trans/homophobia is that it intersects with racism. (It’s) a big struggle. I think it’s tied to systemic discrimination around homophobia. Anyone outside the gender binary, the strict idea that there are only two types of people, very masculine and feminine; any threats to this are hard to understand for some people.”

A global issue

A study by the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Nursing found that GLBTQ students reported lower rates of high-risk behaviours such as binge drinking when they are in a safer, more comfortable climate. They also had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts after schools had anti-homophobia policies in place.

Whether people support the policy or not, one thing is clear: the GLBTQ community has supporters and opposition in every community around the world. With such a diverse population, it’s no surprise there would be a wide variety of views in Vancouver as well.

“Cultural attitudes toward GLBTQ people vary widely. In Uganda, we know there’s a death penalty for being gay, but in Sweden, it’s not celebrated but accepted,” said Mary Little, chair of Trans Alliance (non-profit advocacy and outreach service provider for trans people).

“If people love their children, if they find out one of their children are transgendered, they adapt their opinion to that reality. We applaud the policy and hope other school boards in the province and the country do the same.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

by Shruti Prakash -Joshi in Vancouver

When the worlds largest democracy is in the midst of choosing its next government, it is only natural that the the worlds largest cluster of Indians outside India are on tenterhooks. 

Canadians of Indian origin tend to follow the tumultuous political goings-on in their country of origin. The fact that most of them dont have the right to vote in Indian elections is hardly something that distracts them from voicing their opinion on how and who should run the country.

For the last month and more, the drawn-out Indian elections have become a hot topic for discussion. Whether it is at house parties or on open-line South Asian talk shows, at parks or even at work, Indian politics seem to have captured the imagination of not only the Indian diaspora, but South Asians in general.

The most interesting comments and debates are, of course, on open-line talk shows where we, the emotional people,have so much to say that hosts have a hard time switching from one caller to the other.

Interestingly, the participation by women in these talk shows is poor, although in India, women voters are being hailed as a major deciding factor in the polls this year. The Indian Election Commission had made great efforts to woo women voters through its ‘Power of 49 campaign (women make 49 per cent of registered voters in India), but not here in British Columbia, where political conversation in the public sphere remains a largely male bastion.

The contenders

The comments come in fast and furious: Narendra Modi (the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, BJPs prime ministerial candidate) is communal, Congress (the ruling party) is corrupt and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, a new party, translated loosely as the Party of the Ordinary Man) is like a breath of fresh air, but perhaps doesn't have the experience ... they go on and on breathlessly.

So much so that a protest rally was recently organized in Surreys Holland park to condemn yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who reportedly made insulting remarks about dalit (a class of people considered lower-caste) women, in India. A motley group of people at the park raised slogans against the yoga guru and called for the authorities in India to immediately arrest him.

Kuldip Grewal is a self-employed person of Indian origin who follows the elections quite closely. He listens to radio talk shows and has often engaged in discussions with friends, mainly because he feels an emotional connection to his country of origin. "We might not really know the ground realities as they exist in India, but sitting so far away we wish the best for our country. All we have heard in the last five to seven years are reports of scams and corruption and it saddens us. And, therefore, when a new party such as the Aam Aadmi Party comes forward promising to clean the system I see it as a welcome change. Whether they win or not is a million dollar question, but we want the best for India," said Grewal.

Passionate for change

Equally passionate to see a change in India's leadership is Vishwanath Dhiri, an accountant in Surrey. But he sees the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as the only leader who is capable of leading this change.

"AAP's objectives might be laudable, but they have no experience in governance and it's too early for them to actually govern a diverse country like India," said Dhiri.

Talking about Modi's oft-alleged communal bent of mind, he said that it is merely a mistaken perception and blamed it largely on social and other media which, he said, is often prejudiced and biased.   "If you repeat a lie constantly it tends to become the truth in people's mind. The Godhra (the 2002 riots in Gujarat in which a large number of Muslims died under Modi's watch) riots should have never happened, but then after 2002, Gujarat has progressed by leaps and bounds. You can't judge a person by just one incident; the benefit of the doubt has to be given to him," he said. According to Dhiri, the Congress party, fearing a massive defeat, is desperate and therefore is fear-mongering. "I think Modi has proved himself in Gujarat. He has proved that he is business friendly and will take India forward undoubtedly," said Dhiri.

"I think Modi has proved himself in Gujarat. He has proved that he is business friendly and will undoubtedly take India forward."

Two extremes

Professor of political science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Anjali Thomas Bohlken, who takes a particular interest in India, agrees that the 2014 Lok Sabha (lower house in Parliament) elections in India have become particularly interesting because of the choices that are being presented before the people. "On the one hand  you have the BJP which is seeing an unprecedented surge, and on the other hand is the beleaguered Congress Party desperately trying to shed its image of being a corrupt, dynastic party. In between these two extremes is the newly minted Aam Aadmi Party, which is proving to be a massive vote spoiler," she said.

According to her, these  elections have become overly polarized because of the campaign tactics being used, especially playing the communal  card. "It has been seen that both BJP and Congress have played the card to their advantage many a times previously. In these elections, emotions are being flared and both the parties are trying to either use the secularism card or the dynastic rule card,"  she said.

This is something that Dr. Jasbir Singh Romana, a popular talk show host, hears regularly. He has been featuring the elections, with a particular focus on the state of Punjab (from where most Indo-Canadians in B.C. hail), for the last month and has invited journalists, opinion leaders, candidates and ordinary people from Punjab and other cities in India to speak on his show. 

According to him, the anti-incumbency factor is huge. "People certainly want a change and they are pinning their hopes on the AAP, perhaps sometimes without realizing that AAP has a limited presence and can't form the government. But for them a change is crucial at this time," said Romana.

Interestingly, so excited are people to bring about change that, according to Romana, a large number of people have actually travelled to India, sent monetary assistance and are frantically making calls to their family members, to influence the vote. "We are all emotionally connected to our country (of origin). What happens there effects us," he said.

"We are all emotionally connected to our country (of origin). What happens there effects us."

Similarly, Harjinder Thind, another popular talk show host on Red 93.1 FM, also said that immigrants cannot break their ties with India so easily. "Whether it is through property, parents or family, they will always be connected and discussing what happens there, thrashing out solutions, even though they know that these might not bring about direct change, (but) gives them satisfaction that they have contributed in some way," he said.  

He said these elections are particularly very polarized because the BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi, are viewed with suspicion by the large Sikh community here. They are worried that if he becomes the prime minister, minorities will be persecuted in India and this perception is mainly through what they see and hear in the media,said Thind. The people here, having experienced the Congress, are worried about the BJP and now are pinning their hopes on the Aam Aadmi Party, which according to them, will change the way politics is played out in India.

And thus it will go on -- discussions, comments, heated debates -- until the results come in on May 16. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
by Stacy Thomas in Vancouver
A group of Canadian universities thinks that distance learning is the new frontier for international enrollment in Canadian schools, and are stepping up promotional efforts abroad.
Representatives of the Canadian Virtual University (CVU), a consortium of 11 universities which offer graduate courses and programs via distance learning, attended a Study in Canada Fair in Manila, the Philippines in October 2013. This was the first trip abroad to promote Canadian distance education since the consortium’s inception in 2002.
In 2012, over 100,000 students from overseas chose to study in Canada, a 60 per cent increase from 2004.
On top of this, immigration policies are being catered to streamline student entry to the country and also to encourage applications for permanent residency, such as the Canadian Experience Class, a new level of qualification created in 2008 to ease permanent residency applications for international students with Canadian skilled work experience. Over the last three years, more than 23,000 foreign students transitioned to permanent residency—an average of almost 8,000 students per year. 
Lori Wallace, CVU President and Dean of Extended Education at the University of Manitoba (UMAN) — CVU’s founding university — said the trip was a necessary promotional tool for the consortium, as international awareness of Canadian distance study options is low. “We had literally hundreds of students ask us for information and indicate that they were unaware that this opportunity existed,” Ms. Wallace said. 
The Philippines was the first target for CVU marketing as there is already a strong Filipino presence in Canada, and because English is commonly spoken there making admission to Canadian universities a comparatively smooth process. In 2012, 941 study permits were given to Filipino students, a 429 per cent increase from 2004.
“[The Philippines] is not the only country that we may promote this opportunity in, but it looked to us to be a very good way to begin,” Wallace said.
Distance learning has gained popularity recently with the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free non-credit courses and programs offered by accredited universities throughout the world. In 2008, the first MOOC course was offered to extended education students at UMAN.  
Other universities across Canada offer distance learning, such as the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Vantage College, which offers a year of distance English tutoring and first year bachelor degree courses in arts or sciences, but CVU-affiliated programs are unique in that there is no limit as to how long students may study in their home countries. Also, courses can be mixed-and-matched among the 11 member universities.
“Some may do their entire degree online and not come to Canada,” Ms. Wallace said. 
There are over 200 degree programs offered through the consortium, among 2,000 other courses.
Through distance education, students can begin to familiarize themselves with their programs before the shock of a move to a new country, thereby easing the transition not only to campus life but to life in a new culture, Wallace says.
The universities themselves benefit from offering distance education because more international students bring a higher global profile to the schools; “All universities are seeking to internationalize, and having international students in our online courses is another way in which we internationalize our curriculum, and our [school] becomes a global campus,” Wallace said.
But, not all students are convinced. 
Missing the traditional classroom
Ron Garvin, a Filipino student pursuing a master’s in education at UBC, thinks a classroom-based method of teaching is essential, and he wouldn’t have been interested in distance learning even if he had been aware of it before relocating to Canada.
“For me, I really like being in the classroom, the interactions that you have face-to-face with people,” Mr. Garvin said. “[Distance learning] wouldn’t have been an option for me.”
Also, some students dislike the impersonal aspect of enrolling via online avenues. Dennis Gupa, a Filipino theatre student at UBC, researched his program thoroughly and in person before choosing to study in Vancouver. For him, he says, the community of teachers and students to be found on campus and in the surrounding city are the most important aspect of his education.
“I saw that Vancouver was a very multicultural city, and I saw that this would be the best fit for me. It was not just about looking at a webpage,” he said.
He found online registration to be overwhelming while he was transitioning to Canada, and says the community he found once arriving offered him more than enough support.
“They are offering so many programs for students to transition well. I felt a very strong sense of community in the university when I first arrived at the campus. People are warm and friendly. I thought I was home.”
In 2011, it was reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade that international students contribute over $8 billion annually to Canada’s economy. 
CVU is planning another trip to the Philippines and the Caribbean in 2014. -- New Canadian Media

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

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