News/Canada: Migrants flood into Toronto's Chinatown

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Subject: News/Canada: Migrants flood into Toronto's Chinatown
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Wed Sep 22 1999 - 11:20:52 EDT

Migrants flood into Toronto's Chinatown
Jim Bronskill
The Ottawa Citizen, September 20, 1999

TORONTO -- Chinese migrants are being smuggled to Toronto in growing
numbers, stirring fears of the crime and social problems that human cargo
operations breed.

Police and community leaders say an increasing percentage of the Chinese
spirited into Canada are shunning the long-popular destination of New York
City, choosing Toronto instead.

Authorities say the newcomers arrive with dreams of a better life, but also
come burdened by huge debts owed to the smugglers -- obligations that can
drive them into the unseemly, but lucrative, trades of sex, drugs and

The clandestine influx of migrants has also roused indignation among
longtime members of Toronto's Chinese community.

The federal government must take swift action to send a firm message to
smugglers, said Steve Ang, a real estate developer and cultural leader.

"It's bad enough now, but if nobody responds, it's going to get worse."

The city's lively downtown Chinese district is abuzz with rumours that some
of the 600 migrants smuggled by sea from China's Fujian province to British
Columbia this summer have ended up in Toronto.

But authorities say these newcomers represent only a fraction of the annual
Fukinese arrivals.

Numbers are sketchy, but Toronto police Det. Peter Yuen estimates between
500 and 1,000 Fukinese quietly slip into the city each year.

They are drawn by Canada's social-support system, the presence of friends
or relatives and the jobs available in garment factories, restaurants and

Many have little trouble making refugee claims, obtaining social benefits
and finding places to live. Some are leery of heading to the United States,
where a law passed two years ago enables authorities to detain claimants
for the duration of their refugee hearings.

"These migrants don't want to go there, take the chance of getting caught.
Here, anyone can walk into an immigration office and claim refugee status,
and the process is not that strenuous," says Det. Yuen, a member of the
city's special police task force on Asian crime.

"I would say that for every 100 that originally intended to go to New York,
50 per cent will stay in Toronto."

Some newcomers, who pledge as much as $40,000 for passage from China, are
swayed by the fact they can save up to $5,000 by dropping the final leg of
their journey, from Toronto to New York City.

Arriving in Ontario by truck or car from the West Coast, migrants usually
set about trying to scrape together enough to pay the thousands of dollars
owed to their smugglers.

Though they often work under the table in Toronto for as little as $6 an
hour, they still earn more at their menial jobs than they could at home.

Mr. Ang, whose own ancestral roots stretch back to Fujian, says many
migrants work hard, obey the law and sometimes save the money needed to
start businesses.

Strolling down Dundas Street West in the heart of Chinatown, Mr. Ang points
out grocery stores and knick-knack shops run by people who arrived in
recent years from the Fujian port city of Fuzhou, the source of many

Live crabs, papaya and Chinese grapefruit compete with toys, jewelry and
clothing for the attention of shoppers who mill about the thriving Toronto
neighbourhood. English-language classes and immigration services are within
walking distance.

Mr. Ang says it is impossible to tell who has come to Canada by skirting
the rules.

As for those who arrive with the help of smugglers, he sympathizes with
their desire for a better life, but objects to their means. "Their way of
doing it is totally illegal. And it should not be condoned."

Police acknowledge that many migrants elude Canada's security measures.

"I couldn't tell you the figure, but I know there are a lot of people who
come in undetected," said Det.-Const. Raymond Miu of Toronto's Combined
Forces Asian Investigative Unit.

Although only a small percentage of the arrivals are criminals, that
provides little comfort to police.

"If you go through the proper channels, your background will be checked,"
said Det.-Const. Miu. "But these people, who've never been checked, you
will never know who they are."

Det.-Const. Miu fears a return to Toronto's difficulties of the late 1980s,
when a wave of Chinese migrants from Canton included a number of
troublesome criminals.

But there's a more pressing problem: the smugglers, known as snakeheads,
not only reap large profits from transporting people, they frequently
exploit the newcomers.

Early on, the snakeheads put migrants through a series of training sessions
on how to answer questions from immigration officials and where to obtain
legal services and social benefits. Women are counselled to say they oppose
China's one-child policy, while men are told to portray themselves as
victims of Chinese restrictions on religious or democratic freedoms.

The smugglers, many involved with criminal groups, are known to charge
interest rates of up to 900 per cent on the balance of the fees migrants owe.

While many men find legitimate work, others are lured into crime. "If
you're a bit ruthless, or you have some potential, then they'll recruit you
into the gangs," said Det. Yuen.

Some women end up in massage parlours or brothels. Many migrants are
abused, but are too afraid to go to police.

"We know there's a lot of assaults, extortion, threatening. Females have
been raped, we know that. But we don't have any people coming forward to
report it to us," said Det. Yuen.

"We do go to these massage parlours, and these girls fit the profile of a
migrant, perfectly, to the tee. I know that, she knows that. But she won't
tell me. It's very frustrating."

Det. Yuen said those who manage to pay their smugglers often find
themselves with few places to turn. "The girls are selling their bodies
until they pay off their debts. And by the time that's done, they really
have nowhere to go, so they stay in the same business."

The smuggling of Fukinese to New York City has spawned squalid prostitution
dens, extortion rackets and kidnapping, said Jim Fisher, Asian crime
specialist with the national Criminal Intelligence Service in Ottawa.

He believes Toronto could experience the same serious problems if trends
continue. "To me, that's the major concern out of this whole phenomenon."

As many as 50 to 60 per cent of Fukinese eventually gain refugee status,
but even a large number of those who are rejected remain in Canada, say
police. Most assume phoney names, making it extremely difficult for
authorities to prove they have come from China, let alone return them there.

The Chinese community is becoming anxious about the problems smuggling
rings bring to Toronto, said Joe Tseng, a resident of suburban Scarborough
who serves as chairman of a police liaison committee.

"The influx is having a definite impact on Toronto. There will be a lot
more Fukinese showing up ... but whether they are legal or not, I don't
know," said Mr. Tseng.

"They will never advertise that they are illegals."

Melanie Orhant

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