High Commissioner Julia Bentley: Extending A Welcome to Canada's Warm Bosom


High Commissioner Julia Bentley: A Definition of Canada's Warmth

Canadian High Commissioner to Malaysia Julia Bentley travelled the world before settling down to join the diplomatic corps. The Mandarin-speaking ambassador shares tales from her early travels and how it shaped her world and views on migration with AWANI Review's Zakiah Koya.

One may be forgiven if one thinks Julia Bentley is in the job just to get to travel and to get to know people of all types. 

As a matter of fact, Bentley admits in some ways that she is a people person and she has always been travelling since she was a teen, having lived in India and China on her own.

However, that teenager-traveller has swapped her knapsack for an executive briefcase and as we speak, she is the Canadian High Commissioner to Malaysia.

Sitting well dressed and poised for the interview in her upscale ambassador's residence in Ampang, one would have never guessed this woman has so much more to her than the mere diplomat.

Despite decades into the job, Bentley's eyes light up most when we talk about her world experiences in her younger days.

"I am not your typical diplomat" 

She said that she has always been a curious one about people, their cultures and their thoughts.

I became interested in the question of large Asian countries with very high population and how they manage those difficult questions on what form of governance they have

"Long before I was a diplomat, I lived in India as a teenager. I lived in China as a student and a teacher and I have travelled excessively in Asia, including working in Singapore in development before I became a diplomat," said Bentley. 

She said that living among the people in countries with such a diverse and huge population provided her the opportunity to understand what makes these countries tick. 

"I became interested in the question of large Asian countries with very high population and how they manage those difficult questions on what form of governance they have. 

"I then learned Chinese first when I was a teacher, then as a student. The reason I kept going back to China is because I still found there were many puzzles about it. I want to try to understand better why it is the way it is.

"I speak Mandarin. I love Malaysia"

"As a young person going to China at a time when there were not many foreigners, I question how does it feel to be a visible minority where you can’t pass a notice, can’t go under the radar because people may immediately know who you are and there is an expectation of how you might behave based on people’s preconceived notions of what you look like, who you might be. 

"I often found myself confounded by my own expectation of what I thought places like India and China might be, and then have a social interaction where the turn out is something quite different," admitted Bentley. 

She said that now that Canada is a society open to migration, her experiences can now be put to good use. 

Canada, unlike many Western countries, is still very much open to immigrants from all parts of the world and that the anti-migrant movement there is not a strong one.

"Canada has made great strides on women"

She said that while there may be those with views that certain traditions and customs of certain immigrants clash with what is believed to be the typical Canadian traditions, this is not the government's stance.

"Overall, immigration is good for Canada socially and economically. Canada traditionally has set a target number of immigrants we wish to accept each year. We don’t set quotas where that should come from. Immigration could be for the purpose of family reunification or economic migration, if you have a professional or talent particularly needed by the Canadian labour force. 

"So, we are still open for immigration and we are still accepting refugees and asylum seekers, and I think we will continue to do this because this is something that most Canadians would associate with their understanding of what Canada stands for:  as a country that welcomes people from all around the world," said Bentley.