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Human Art Installation Critiques Race and Immigration in Canada

Volunteers staged a "mass arrival" of white-skinned settlers to challenge Canada's legacy of colonialism.

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Dozens of volunteers in a makeshift ship take over Yonge Street.

On Monday evening, more than a hundred people in white T-shirts took over Queen Street just west of Yonge Street. They gathered together as volunteers assembled the makeshift walls of a giant sea vessel around them. Bewildered pedestrians and motorists looked on as a woman in front of the ship unfurled a flag that read “#MassArrival.”

In stark contrast to the occupants of the MV Sun Sea, which landed on Canadian shores exactly three years ago carrying nearly 500 Tamil refugee claimants, all the inhabitants of the Mass Arrival ship were white. Their brief street intervention was a challenge to the apparent normalcy of white settlers in Canada, and fear of racialized migrants like those aboard the Sun Sea.

“This action made me think about the process of colonialism and genocide,” said volunteer Meagan Gohnston. She believes the legacy of European settlement and the brutal treatment of Native people at the hands of colonialists still shapes Canadians’ views on immigration. “How come one group is seen to have a legitimate claim to this land, but others don’t?”

Volunteer Darcy Martin echoed this sentiment: “I think there are issues around Canada as a settler colony,” he told us on the sidewalk after the event. “Race is an issue for white people, and white people need to step up.”

The action certainly caught the attention of passersby, many of whom stopped to ask what was happening. A woman who initially believed the marchers were trying to advocate for white-only settlement in Canada shouted, “This is so racist!” Volunteers engaged her with literature and an explanation, which she seemed to accept with relief.

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Organizer and artist Farrah Miranda, whose own family immigrated to Canada from India, told us she wanted to counter the “huge media spectacle” that occurred in 2010 when the Sun Sea landed. “The racist discourse around the arrival of the Tamil ship was captured through images,” said Miranda. “The government and media made references to people as cargo, as terrorists, as smugglers, as carriers of diseases…as everything but human beings seeking safety.”

Miranda believes Canada’s federal immigration policy is only getting worse. “The cuts to the Federal Interim Refugee Health program, the human smuggling laws that actually punish potential refugees…it is all part of a revolving-door immigration policy,” she said.

Her art installation, which made no specific demands of government or bystanders, was meant to start a conversation many find uncomfortable. “It feels like you’re gonna get in trouble for naming whiteness,” Miranda laughed. “It’s up to us to create stages of our own, however temporary, to talk about racism and the kind of world we want to live in.”

Images from the Mass Arrival project will be featured at Whippersnapper Gallery.

Photos by Tings Chak.


  • AngryCitizen

    “human beings seeking safety”? Weren’t there any other safe countries between Sri Lanka and Canada? Why did they have to travel so far to seek safety when they could have easily gone to India, Malaysia, Singapore, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, or the US (all of which were closer)? they came here solely because Canada is viewed as a patsy country that welcomes everyone and provides free healthcare and education. I am sick and tired of paying for it, and it must stop.

    • OgtheDim

      Angry so much but unwilling to listen.

      The cost to us all, in total, is less then the amount of money spent on construction in Toronto this summer.

    • vampchick21

      Are you for real or are you just trolling? People actually think like you? That’s scary.

      • OgtheDim

        A lot of people believe this, including a surprising number of recent immigrants.

        • vampchick21

          That’s….that’s just plain scary to me. Especially considering the vast majority of immigrants, regardless of background, come here, join the workforce, do what they need to do to get on their feet and contribute, and are anything but the drain on society that these thinkers claim they are. I just can’t fathom the thought process.

  • Zlotco

    Oh – so if a Muslim country “settled” in North America instead of white Europeans, then the aboriginals would have been better treated?

    Not likely, If the Ottomans came to North America in the 1400s, then it would be genocide, similar to what they did to the rest of Europe that they conquered.

    Convert or kill was their policy, along with kidnapping children. Preteen girls for brides for their sons, and boys to be brutalized and brainwashed into soldiers for their empire.

    • HotDang

      Sounds like they were a bunch of dicks, but everyone was 600 years ago.

    • OgtheDim

      As against how Muslims acted in Spain and across North Africa

      The Ottomans are an outlier in terms of Muslim conqueror behaviour.

      If you want to use history to assess today, you might want to look at things beyond those that just fit your stereotypes.

    • OgtheDim

      Oh, and last I checked, the Tamils who came on that boat.

      Not muslim.

      So is there a reason WHY you insisted on raising that particular spectre or do you just equate immigrants with whatever group you have a hate on for?

      • torontothegreat

        No, the poster is just trying to setup a strawman against this quote

        “She believes the legacy of European settlement and the brutal treatment of Native people at the hands of colonialists still shapes Canadians’ views”

  • vampchick21

    interesting thought that just came to me, as the descendant of Irish immigrants. When the Irish were coming in droves to Canada in the 1840′s, the discourse was much the same as that surrounding any other wave of immigrants (Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Indian, Tamali, etc, etc).

    • OgtheDim

      No dogs…No Irish.

      That was a sign in taverns in Toronto in the 1840′s.

      • vampchick21


  • geili