Simmering tensions between Brampton’s International students and Indo-Canadians


In a face-off between the students and Indian community in Brampton, at a recent town hall that saw representation by federal, provincial and municipal authorities to decipher the reasons behind the recent escalating tensions, it came out that the international students are not solely to blame.

Many students claim they are seen as mere cash cows, both by the academic institutions and the local community. What perturbs the IndianCanadian community in Brampton is that these international students, who work overtime, are stealing “their” jobs. Abhinav Patel from Brampton has even shot off a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blaming Indians and largely Punjabi students, who form a sizeable chunk in provinces like Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. “These students work overtime, stealing our jobs. Go to your homes, we have been here for twenty years and still feeding our kids…All we want is strong regulations in place. Employers benefit as they pay less than minimum wages to the students and students gets to work beyond 20 hours per week,” he says.

Living in basements For most international students coming from Punjab, life in Canada starts from a basement. At times, from a 350-400 square feet space shared by 3-4 room-mates in not-so-healthy living conditions. Almost 70 per cent students coming here can’t afford proper accommodation due to exorbitant rentals. Colleges and government authorities have failed to address these issues  despite charging exorbitant tuition fees. Many feel this is just one aspect.

For Gurpreet Kaur from Phagwara, her biggest surprise after enrolling for a course at college in Brampton was to find student unions at Humber, Sheridan and Seneca collges in Brampton, largely led by Punjabi youth, and operating the same way as in Punjab – luxury SUV cavalcades, similar slogans, loud music and horns, tensions with rival parties, mass bunks and gang wars. Changing equations Parminder Sandhu from Humber college in Etobicoke is afraid of the changing equations between students and Canadian policy-makers in the wake of the spike in violence by Punjabi students in Brampton.

The violence left four critically injured, compelling Canadian Parliamentarians of Punjabi origin to issue strong statements against the students. However, not every student is a culprit. “Mostly 3-4 students share a small 300-sq ft place to save money, while earning for the next semester as fees has to be paid in advance, and at the same time attending classes and exams.Locals are trying to paint us in a different way. The moment we talk about our rights, they take offence. They want rental income without providing proper facilities. Since we pay in cash, we can’t even sue them,” says Parminder Sandhu, this one from Sheridan College.

Like hundreds of other students, Gurminder Kaur from Seneca college nurtures had thought of settling permanently here. Coming from Moga in Punjab, she has been toiling to fund her studies. “I just took initial tuition fee of the first semester from my parents. They could not afford more than that. Farmers can’t get study loans so easily for their children. It’s been two years and  I am managing all the expenses, from living costs to tuition fee. Life gets tiring as we shuffle between night shifts and classes,” she adds.

It’s only hopes of a PR-Card that keeps her going. Permanent residency no longer easy In Alberta in western Canada, international graduates can apply to the program through the Alberta Opportunity Stream only if they have graduated from an approved Alberta post-secondary institution and are working on a post-graduation work permit.

Applicants will need to show that they have at least six months work experience in Alberta in an occupation related to their field of study, meet the same minimum language and income requirements as other applicants. “In a nutshell, students from other provinces will not be welcome,” says Subhash Batra, with an experience of some 10 years in international education.