Most Canadians Welcoming to Immigrants But Concerned with Irregular Arrivals
There are, currently, over 50 million refugees in search of a home on the planet. While there are some in Canada who would suggest our country has done its fair share for these people, the fact remains our nation is a world leader with a notable track record for helping and welcoming people in search of a new home.
In a recent opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, David Kilgour discussed some of Canada’s highs and lows, and one of the central paradoxes at the heart of the current debate over immigration and refugees in Canada.
Canada welcomed Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the 19th century, writes Kilgour, and continued this tradition in the 1950s with Hungarians fleeing Soviet oppression and Vietnamese and Ugandans arriving in the 1970s.
Kilgour also notes two particular black spots on this record, though: the Komagata Maru incident and the turning away of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in 1939.
Suffice to say, public opinion hasn’t always been completely positive when it comes to refugees, but the vast majority of Canadians are welcoming of the diversity they bring.
But while Canadian public opinion surveys suggest citizens have no real issue with immigrants and refugees, they’re concerned with how they arrive in the country. This is the paradox Kilgour discusses: that we’re very generous with wanting and allowing people to come in, but tight-fisted with how. Over the past two years, nearly 40,000 persons entered Canada at irregular borders after getting a US tourist visa.
In response, the federal government will now be implementing stricter refugee claim policies. If someone has made a claim at a partner country’s borders and been denied, they will not be eligible to make another refugee claim seeking Canada’s protection.
The concern with irregular arrivals stems from a misunderstanding of the very nature and concept of a refugee. Refugees cross borders to seek safety and have been doing so for many years. The recent influx of refugees through the US border coincided with the election of President Trump in the United States and anti-immigration policies in that country. Individuals seeking protection in Canada should be able to do so even if they have already made a claim in the United States because in many legitimate respects they may not feel safe to make their claim in that country.
The Government’s response and implementation of stricter policies is not justified and was in large part a political decision because of the upcoming Federal elections. Canada’s immigration and refugee policies should not be politically motivated, and Canadians need to better appreciate the reasons behind the rise in refugees coming through the Canada/US border.
We are indeed a welcoming nation and have a reputation for accepting refugees and offering protection. That reputation can be undermined by short-sighted legislative amendments with long-term and severe consequences.