(Image Credit: Jon Kenfield via flickr.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
By fostering ethnic / cultural silos, our version of multiculturalism encourages behaviour that, in any other context, would be described as racism. Not all of this behaviour is motivated by racism, though.
As I have written in some of my articles, one of the major problems with our social contract in Canada is that when the rights of two or more parties are in conflict, no effort has been made to arrive at a reasonable compromise that balances their concerns. What is worse, even the idea that such compromises are desirable is not on the radar in the political sphere. This is perfectly understandable – although equally disconcerting and unacceptable – because political careers thrive on the existence of conflict between different groups, and the more the merrier. As a result, whenever a case involving such a conflict comes to the surface, all energies are devoted to taking sides, rather than using that instance as a fulcrum to arrive at a broader resolution of the conflict. In a nutshell, what we have in Canada is an unending series of cases that amount to nothing more than ‘treating the symptom while ignoring the disease’.
One specific reason for the existence of these conflicts is that we have a population that is extremely heterogeneous – and getting more so as time passes, which means that these conflicts will only increase. A recent case of such a conflict surfaced recently, and I thought it might be useful to delve deep into the possible factors involved so that we can take a step in the direction of seeking the ‘broader resolution’ that I mentioned earlier. Here is that case:
One of the areas where two opposing rights collide is rentals: the property owner and the would-be renter are often living in separate worlds mentally while being in geographic proximity to each other. Before we go into the specific instance of this conflict that prompted me to write this article, let’s delve into why the probability of this conflict grew as a result of government actions. To clarify, this is my understanding of how the current circumstances came to be as they are.
On the ‘market rental’ side, the best form of the rental market is when Purpose Built Rental (PBR) properties are created by large entities (REIT’s) & managed by professional property management firms. This is because it is a lot easier to keep the management accountable and also ensure that all tenants and prospective tenants are treated equally. The peak for building PBR’s was in the 1970’s & the early 1980’s. Then, this activity fell off a cliff, more or less. Thus, over the past 4 decades, a vast disparity has grown between the supply of PBR’s on one hand and the increased demand (via immigration-fueled population increase) on the other. Increasingly, would-be renters have had to depend on private individuals to supply the rental accommodation.
Outside of the ‘market rental’ space, things also went downhill on the ‘affordable housing’ side. By the mid-1990’s, government finances were in a dire state, so the federal government downloaded certain services to the provincial governments, who, in turn, downloaded some to the municipal governments (for an introductory look at the case for Alberta, please see this June, 2022 article at Rocky Mountain Outlook). However, as the truism goes, Resources are finite and have alternative uses. The municipalities, being the last ones in the chain of downloading and therefore left holding the bag, had no option other than to curtail some of the services that they used to offer. Affordable housing is one of the big-ticket items in municipal budgets, and therefore took a major hit. As I mentioned in my article ‘The OTHER Housing Crisis’, during the 10 years from 2010 to 2019, Toronto added a grand total of 4,093 new affordable housing units, while the waiting list for the same stood at 81,042 as at the end of Q3 of 2022. In other words, at the current pace, it would take the City of Toronto 200 years to get around to building the number of affordable housing units that are needed now. Of course, the applicants aren’t going to live that long, so they will have to find accommodation on their own, in properties owned by individuals. Needless to say, this accommodation will be crowded and/or otherwise suboptimal.
On the other side, increasingly onerous zoning regulations and government levies have stifled private building activity, while the number of newcomers to Canada steadily rose (and much more than steadily in the recent year). The sum total of these factors is that the individual – whether as an investor in rental property or a homeowner who wants to rent out a part of their home – has become the primary supplier of rental accommodations – and specifically, additional rental supply – in Canada, especially in densely populated urban centres where most immigrants settle. This is significant because while a PBR being run by a professional property management company can enforce uniform rules on all the occupants, the individual owner himself / herself has Charter Rights, and quite often, these Rights may and do come in conflict with the Charter Rights of the prospective renter or an existing renter. Let us now return to Ms. Omoruyi’s tweet and explore some hypothetical scenarios.
Taking Ms. Omoruyi statement at face value (“We are looking for Indian tenants only”), my first observation is that the homeowners / landlords are able to say this only because (a) there is an overall shortage of rentals in Brampton, and (b) the vast majority of people seeking rental accommodation are from India. Therefore, the owners can be selective (this is not to be construed as justifying it). In a perverse way, the owners have ‘an abundance of riches’. But there may also be perfectly valid reasons for them to be selective. Let us take the example of dietary restrictions on religious grounds (which would come under Charter Rights of the owner):
- Vegetarian Hindu & Sikh owners may not want non-vegetarian food to be cooked or brought in their house by tenants.
- Non-vegetarian Hindu owners may not want beef to be cooked or brought in their house by tenants.
- Muslim owners may not want pork to be cooked or brought in their house by tenants.
Without suggesting in any way that these factors were at play in the cases mentioned by Ms. Omoruyi, it is possible to explore, broadly speaking, if denial of rental to anyone on any of those grounds would amount to ‘racism’. My answer is a clear ‘No’, but I am open to engaging in debate with anyone who thinks otherwise. And that is the crux of the matter: as I keep saying, these debates have not only not happened, but are also not on anyone’s radar in the political arena. The politicians are benefiting from the resulting strife, and the ‘activists’ (which may include some – or many – journalists) are enjoying the victimhood (of others, of course) because it keeps them relevant.
There is a house on my street which (I am told) is owned by a single mom who lives elsewhere. For the past several years, the house has been rented out to a rotating cast of 4 or 5 young women who appear to be enrolled as international students in the nearby Sheridan College. Is there a reason why there are no male renters in this house? Without even knowing the details, yes, absolutely. ‘Girls Only’ is a commonly appearing title in ‘Room(s) For Rent’ advertisements in Brampton. If the owner is a lady, she may not want to rent to potentially rowdy young men & then have to attend to headaches. This may appear ‘backward’ thinking to some people in Canada, but in the Subcontinental culture, girls are generally viewed as being less troublesome than boys.
So, the question is this: are these ‘Girls Only’ advertisements discriminating against boys? And if not, can the same principle (in relation to sex) be applied in relation to race? The common factor here is the familiarity – real or perceived – with the behavioural patterns of the would-be renter. I think the owner is within their rights to seek to minimize the potential for unpleasantness arising out of the tenant’s behaviour. When the owner intends to rent out to ‘Indians only’ this may be the deciding factor, and as we saw above, given the tightness of the rental market, they can afford this luxury.
OF OUR KIND
One consequence of our version of multiculturalism has been the creation of ethnic / cultural silos. As I have detailed in my old article ‘Ghetto Economy’, these silos remove the need for new immigrants to interact with Canadians outside their ethnic or cultural group. Two things happen as a result of this: (a) the development of the newcomer’s ability to reach out beyond their cultural boundary is hampered, and (b) the newcomer starts expecting that they will not need to interact with people outside their cultural boundary. This expectation then carries into other areas. When they put up a part of their house for rent, they did not expect that someone of another race may show up as a prospective tenant.
This is not to suggest that there is no racism in the South Asian community – far from it. In fact, it is common for many South Asians to exclaim, in moments of frustration, that “We are more racist than white people”. However, I prefer to call it ‘bias’ or ‘othering’, because this tendency manifests in relation to other South Asians of a different sub-ethnicity as well. I am sure that if it is possible to investigate such cases exhaustively, one can find instances where a landlord rejected someone as tenant on account of being a different sub-ethnicity.
As Robert Pirsig observed in his seminal book ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’, the word ‘kindness’ derives from the same root as the word ‘kind’ (as in ‘of the same kind’), as does the word ‘kin’ (as in ‘next of kin’). Pirsig’s conclusion was that ‘kindness’ is a feeling or emotion that occurs in us naturally for people that we have a blood relation with. My takeaway from this point by Pirsig is that it is a great achievement of human civilization that now, ‘kindness’ is expected to be extended to people without the biological urge to do so. However, I suppose it is early days yet of this improvement, and therefore, our best bet lies in creating systems that minimize the possibility of people being ‘unkind’ to each other.
LAND OF OPPORTUNITIES
The easy money policies of the past 2 decades have played their part in giving rise to this situation. Lax lending practices and super-low interest rates combined to enable a lot of people to buy ‘too much house’ for their needs and finances, but at the end of the day, bills must be paid, so a part of that house needed to be rented out. I remember that when I came to Canada some 20 years ago, many people advised me to buy a house without any delay, and specifically before our family income was high enough to pay for it, because, they said, I could always rent out my basement and then “The tenant is paying your mortgage, heh-heh-heh”. I didn’t heed their advice because, as the Gujarati saying goes, “One should stretch one’s legs only as far as one’s blanket extends”. But all around me, I was seeing new immigrants buying houses beyond their means and then managing by renting out their basements.
Then, in the past decade or so, the situation changed drastically – and for the worse. People who could, in a sane world, only dream of buying a house for themselves were not only owning a large one but also buying ‘investment properties’. Rates of mortgage interest were in the range of 3.5% to 4.0% at the time, and the difference between the rents and the costs of carrying the property made for easy profits. Then, for a while starting with early 2020, mortgage rates dropped lower, and the profits got even sweeter. Now, with the mortgage rates having risen sharply, many of them are in serious trouble – but my main point here is to show how the ‘democratization’ of the rental market has created conditions where the likelihood of two parties’ rights is greatly increased. The most salient example of this is the case of a black homeowner in Brampton who was held by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to have violated the religious rights of his Muslim tenants, and fined $12,000.
The way out of this tricky situation is to bring the rental market back into the space where these conflicts are minimized, or preferably, eliminated altogether. In my opinion, that space is where Purpose Built Rental (PBR) properties are situated. ‘Democratization’ is usually a good thing, but there are areas where it is the opposite. The ‘feudal’ structure of PBR’s, where the required resources, both financial and non-financial, are concentrated in the hands of a (relatively) few REIT’s. Paradoxically, it is only under such a ‘feudal’ structure that tenants’ rights can be guaranteed to be upheld.
Independent voices are more important than ever in today’s Canada. I am happy to add my voice to the public discussions on current issues & policy, and grateful for all the encouraging response from my listeners & readers. I do not believe in a Paywall model, so will not make access to my content subject to a payment.
To help me bring more content to you, please consider donating a small amount via this PayPal link on my website: https://darshanmaharaja.ca/donate/