Canada's Immigration Dilemma
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COLUMN By DOUG THOMAS
July 29, 2009
Canada has always encouraged immigration. A large part of our motivation has been our vast open space-fabulous to live in, but not self-supporting economically. We would like to fill the place up with the right people who want to be here. The problem, of course, is deciding who are the "right" people.
Visitors are always welcome because they spend money. Students are welcome because they spend money, and they make us Canadians proud of our educational facilities. Immigrants are welcome because Canada is still under populated-Southwestern Ontario aside. Refugees are welcome because they need refuge and because they appeal to the Canadian need to do the right thing.
Visitors, up to now, generally have not required any documents except passports (U.S. citizens require those only to get back home), and students get student visas quickly enough once they have been accepted into a school. Refugees get in quickly too-if they are, in fact, legitimate refugees and therein lies the dilemma. Who is a legitimate refugee?
We are as concerned about unsuitable people coming to Canada as you are about them coming to the U.S. Yes, there have been some notable lapses. The Khadr family, led astray by its El Quaeda father, is not particularly popular here even though we find Omar Khadr's imprisonment in Gitmo unjust. At least one Somalian warlord kept his family in Canada while he wrought havoc in his homeland.
However, we have some notable refugees as well. Our last two Governors General came to Canada as refugees: Adrianne Clarkson from Japanese-occupied Hong Kong and Michaëlle Jean from Duvalier-dominated Haiti. They represent the majority of refugees to this country-those who have made real contributions to our society.
To qualify under our refugee rules one's life has to be in immediate danger from an unsupportable regime. However, every year thousands of people come to Canada as visitors and students only to apply for refugee status when they get here. They may consider themselves legitimate refugees from bad economic systems or climates, but they don't qualify under the rules and their trying to cheat the system doesn't indicate that they are the "right" people. Desperation we understand, designer desperation we don't.
Recently, Canada has imposed visa requirements on people visiting from Mexico and the Czech Republic. The number of people from these two countries entering as "visitors" and then claiming refugee status or staying here illegally has skyrocketed recently. Visas are not as draconian as the press claims. For example, New Zealand has required visitor visas from Canadians for a long time.
The Czech Republic's objection to the new system rings hollow since the claimants from that country are often Roma, a group that government discriminates against and encourages to leave.
These new regulations may or may not solve the problem completely, but they are a legitimate attempt to close some loopholes and save taxpayers considerable amounts of money spent on the appeals processes that inevitably result when visiting "refugees" refuse to leave gracefully.
Our door is open, but like any luxury institution, we require that you enter through that door.
Doug Thomas is an English teacher and novelist, an agnostic member of SOFREE (Society of Ontario Freethinkers), and an active member of the Humanist Association of Canada. He is also Managing Editor of Canadian Freethinker.