In 1979, some White Canadians believed that Chinese Canadian university students were “foreign” students taking the places of “Canadians” in Canadian universities. They produced a program about it, called, Campus Giveaway, which aired on CTV’s W5.
However, in 1979 and 1980, a group of Chinese Canadians formed an ad hoc Council of Chinese Canadians, rallied and marched against the Campus Giveaway program, and took legal action against CTV. The protesters chanted, “Red, brown, black, yellow, and white! All Canadians must unite!” outside CTV’s offices.
Here is a transcript of Protesting racism on TV, a CBC News clip from 1980 covering the W5 incident:
Reporter: A protest movement is gaining momentum in metro against the CTV television network and its public affairs program, W5. Last September, W5 aired a program called Campus Giveaway, which focused on “foreign” students in Canadian universities. Protesters say the show implies that foreign students, and Chinese students in particular, are taking the places of “Canadian” students in universities, an implication they say “smacks of racism”.
Wong [with a
n embarrassinglythick Cantonese accent, which is not representative of the English ability of Chinese Canadians in general]: We are concerned about the W5 program, because it gives the viewers the image that Canadians equals, ah, Chinese students equals foreign students, by selectively showing only the Chinese faces as representing foreign students [...] We are asking CTV network to give the public an apology, because of the distortion and exaggeration of statistics that it [uses] in the program, and also that it smacks of racism in the program.
Reporter: The committee says that one example of misleading statistics quoted in the show is that there are at least 100,000 foreign students in our schools. Wong says he has evidence that there are only half that many. He’s also angered by pictures from the program portraying Chinese students as foreigners. Wong says most of the Chinese students shown are actually Canadian citizens.
Reporter: A rally and a march are being organized this weekend in front of CTV headquarters. Many other ethnic groups and university organizations are expected to attend. The Council of Chinese Canadians has taken legal action against CTV over the controversial program. Because the issue is before the courts, CTV is withholding comment, but they do say that they support the W5 program, and no clarification or apology has been made for its contents.
In a recent Globe & Mail article (with a title that reinforces the stereotype that Asians are quiet, when the article is about Asian activism) Tom Hawthorn interviewed some Chinese Canadians who were university students in 1980:
Victor Wong was studying science at the University of British Columbia when Campus Giveaway aired on the popular program W5 (today known as W-Five ).
“It touched many of us,” he said Tuesday. “The message was: Because of your skin colour, or your ethnic heritage, you don’t belong here. You’re just taking up someone’s space.”
Sid Tan was also studying at UBC in 1979.
“They were calling a bunch of Canadians foreigners. It was quite disgusting and quite off the mark,” he said. “I remember it as a galvanizing experience.”
Anthony Chan, a communications professor born in Victoria, recalls the shock.
“We’re going, ‘Huh?! They’re saying we’re foreigners. They can’t be serious.’ ”
The report alleged that Canadian students were being prevented from studying medicine and engineering because foreign students were occupying their rightful place in university classrooms. Much of the segment focused on the plight of a student from Ontario who was thwarted in her aspiration to study pharmacy at the University of Toronto.
Even 30 years later, Dr. Wong is baffled by the airing of footage in which any Asian face was presumed to be non-Canadian.
The committee had identified all of the unnamed students shown in the report. Not one was a foreign student.
The W5 incident occurred thirty years ago, but many White Canadians in 2009 still feel that Chinese Canadians and other Asian Canadians in universities are taking away spots belonging to White Canadians.
Many White Canadians still conflate Asian students with foreign students, and vice versa. When many graduate students consist of international students from China, India, and Europe, White Canadians perceive the international students from China as evidence that Chinese Canadians are doing very well educationally.
These pervasive assumptions arise from the two primary and persistent stereotypes about Asians:
- All Asians are the same; which inevitably leads to
- All Asians are foreigners.
When White Canadians fail to distinguish between Asian individuals, the fact that some Asians are foreigners is going to lead them to believe that all Asians are foreigners. Conversely, when White Canadians fail to distinguish between Asian individuals, the fact that many graduate students are Asian international students leads them to believe that Asian Canadians are a model minority.