Dr. Chandrakant Shah, MD, FRCPC, O.ON
I immigrated to Canada in 1965 after medical training in India, the United Kingdom and the United States. At the time, Canada was a less receptive country for visible minorities, and I faced a significant amount of discrimination in my professional life.
In Ontario in particular, I was told that I would never get a license to practice medicine no matter what my qualifications were. This attitude led me to British Columbia to practice medicine. I returned to Ontario in 1972 when I was approached by the University of Toronto with an offer of a professorship in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics and a staff physician at the Hospital for Sick Children.
In 2007, I was recognized as “Outstanding Physician of Ontario” by the same organization that had rejected me in 1965. This experience shaped my work and my advocacy efforts over the years.
At the University of Toronto, I worked to shift thinking on diversity in faculty composition. U of T is the largest Canadian university, in the most diverse Canadian city where visible minorities constitute over 50% of the population. By 1999, the University’s student body reflected the diversity of Toronto but the same was not true for its faculty (only 8.7% visible minorities).
During this period the University had made several pledges to increase the diversity of its faculty but very little had been achieved. In January of 2000, The Toronto Star published my interview with them about the lack of a plan to increase faculty diversity by administration at the University of Toronto. Working with a colleague, I had constructed a model to show projected diversity rates within faculty, based upon current efforts, would take 52 years to reach 15%!
The Toronto Star report drew a large amount of attention and resulted in changes in hiring policies and proactive recruitment. By 2014 (a mere ten years later), U of T achieved 15% of visible minorities in the faculty.
In my career, I have also focused my efforts to help Aboriginal peoples. I was always bothered by the Citizenship Examination and the lack of Aboriginal history content.
The Citizenship Department requires all immigrants who wish to become Canadian citizens be well versed in certain aspects of Canada such as its parliamentary system, organization of provinces and local governments, as well as aspects of historical perspectives, such as the role of ‘founding nations’; and it had three cursory lines about the Aboriginal population. There was no mention about the treaties that were signed; about the forced process of assimilation through residential schools; the “sixties scoop”; and how systematically, Aboriginal peoples were stripped of their culture, heritage, language and belief system.
In 1991, I began a one-person letter writing campaign to Governments of the day, churches, and social organizations about need for a change in the Citizenship Guide to provide more information about Aboriginal peoples to new immigrants. Since Confederation, new immigrants represent at least sixteen percent of the Canadian population, yet they have very little or almost no knowledge about Aboriginal peoples -- leading many new Canadians to hold stereotypical negative views towards Aboriginal peoples.
My letter-writing campaign lasted for almost three years and as a result in 1994, the materials provided in citizenship guide and the citizenship exams were updated. The guide now includes relevant material about Aboriginal peoples and questions on the exam. Since 1994, over two million new Canadians are now aware Aboriginal peoples and their history; as will all the future newcomers to Canada. This has been in keeping with the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report!