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Immigration is a hot-button topic right now. The Trump administration is only beginning to reunite the over 2,500 children separated from their families due to illegal border crossing along the southern U.S. border. Canada is currently seeing an influx of asylum seekers from all over the world (because, we’re the best, obviously), with many of them landing in Ontario. And that’s just the news from North America.
In the case of the U.S., where a government is essentially holding thousands of kids to punish their parents, of course the world is going to talk about it. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the United States’ family separation policy, calling it “wrong” and saying, “obviously, this is not the way we do things in Canada.” In comparison, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act has saved countless lives by welcoming people from all over the world. On the surface, it looks like Canada should get major kudos for its efforts — yet immigration is still a widely contested topic across the country.
While blatant racism and so-called “old-world views” are real issues, there is one word to sum up why certain Canadians just can’t seem to get behind the do-gooder propaganda that the Canadian government has projected regarding immigration, and that’s this: Politics.
With a Liberal PM in office, it goes without saying that the other political parties will try to undermine many of the Liberals’ policies as poorly thought-out power plays. The Conservative Party and NDP have both hailed Canada’s immigrant situation as an “emergency” in need of fixing. The Liberals, in turn, have accused the Conservatives of stirring up “hysteria” where none need be. (Perhaps the previous reference to politics should have been accompanied by an eye-roll.)
(It’s worth noting this liberal-vs-conservative debate isn’t a conflict unique to us: Right now, Germany’s employment minister is asking to take in more immigrants in order to bring more skilled workers into the country, while conservatives in the country put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to cut down.)
Setting trigger-words like “emergency” and “hysteria” aside, let’s take a look at the facts:
- Since 2016, Canada has helped resettle nearly 50,000+ Syrian refugees.
- The election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidential office in 2016 spurred an increase in immigration and asylum seekers to Canada.
- Ontario and Quebec continue to receive the most asylum seekers across Canada.
- However, the number of asylum seekers coming to Canada has decreased by more than 50% since April 2018.
- The unprecedented number of immigrants and asylum seekers entering Canada’s most populous cities has caused a housing crisis and is costing provincial governments millions of dollars as they attempt to care for and eventually settle the migrants.
THE IMMIGRATION CRISIS
Let’s face it: Canadians are in a pretty privileged global position. Our neighbours are a little nuts, but none of us are fleeing our homes in order to avoid mass slaughter and/or persecution, which is precisely what many of the immigrants to Canada are trying to escape.
The refugee story is a sad one, with a record-breaking 68.5 million people “forcibly displaced” in 2017 — meaning they had no choice but to leave their homes and find shelter elsewhere. (Hard to imagine when we have the privilege of Netflix and chilling.) So while the current immigrant and refugee influx into Canada is creating the foundation for a political crisis-narrative, the plight of the refugees — our global neighbours — is, arguably, the larger issue. And it’s only expected to worsen over time.
It was agreed by the UN General Assembly back in 2016 that the responsibility of assisting and protecting refugees would be shared globally — and since then, it (mostly) has been. (Gold stars for cooperation, everyone!) In fact, at the start of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, approximately 35 countries were above Canada in terms of their refugee population, including the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. All this to say that, comparatively, Canadians have relatively little to complain about.
For context, these are the main areas that refugees are coming from, and why:
- Syria, where civil war has been ongoing for seven years, and violent jihadi groups have taken control of large areas of the country. (Close to 20 million people in need.)
- District Republic of the Congo, where anarchy follows on the heels of their last civil (which officially ended in 2003) and human rights violations to Congo civilians (physical mutilation, mass murder, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention) run rampant. (Close to 6 million people in need.)
- Iraq, where mass execution, rape, and horrific violence have laid waste to the country and its people since 2014. (Close to 2.4 million in need.)
- Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims, the majority of which are women and children, are fleeing targeted violence in mass exodus. (Over 720k in need.)
- Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgency has devastated the region. (Close to 2.5 million in need.)
- South Sudan, where large-scale conflict has displaced millions, mostly women and children. (Close to 2.5 million in need.)
- Yemen, where worsening violence in a country already poverty-ridden has forced its people out in search of basic survival. (Close to 500k in need.)
And that’s only the worst of it. So the next time you are fussed about the weather or traffic in your Canadian city, think twice.
WHAT ABOUT US?
There are two things on Canada’s mind when it comes to harboring refugees: money and space. Ontario alone is facing a bill of close to $200 million for refugee claimant costs – and counting. While the federal government wastes its breath arguing over whether or not it’s politically correct to use the term “illegal” when describing some of Canada’s border-crossers, the provinces are left to foot the bill of a federal government-level decision to keep Canada’s doors wide open. As Ontario’s social-services minister Lisa MacLeod said in parliament on Tuesday, “You would rather have a debate on words. I would rather have money for the things my ministry pays for.” (Touché.)
It’s a catch-22: Our global neighbours are in desperate need of help to survive, and by all means we want to keep offering it. But the Canadian government seems to want to have their cake and eat it too, without considering the financial cost. They’ve taken Ontario and Quebec out to dinner but left their own wallet at home.
A big part of the cost issue is housing. Right now, close to 800 refugees are living in Toronto school dormitories during the schools’ summer holidays, but with an August 9th start date for at least two of those schools looming on the horizon, the city needs to find an alternative housing option – and fast. Mayor John Tory has appealed to the Canadian government for housing funding, but the previous PC government’s fear-rhetoric has resulted in an unwillingness for the teamwork needed to tackle the overall refugee situation.
It seems nobody can agree on what should happen next — or who should be held responsible — leaving it all (unfairly) in the landing cities’ hands.
LET’S TALK PROS
We all love getting gold stars for things like teamwork and kindness. But even beyond moral bragging rights, there are real benefits to immigration for receiving countries, such as heightened global status and economic stability.
Canada is often seen as a follower, not a leader, on the global stage — we are historically portrayed as Great Britain’s offspring, or the younger sibling of the United States. However, for perhaps the first time, Canada is paving the way in terms of global immigration policy, inspiring Scandinavian countries who have been struggling with their own significant increase in refugee numbers. Denmark, Norway and Sweden have all taken Canada’s policies towards skilled economic immigrants (less risk, more payoff) as a model for new “labour immigration” policies in their respective countries. (This is super awesome, considering Scandinavia has statistically scored as the happiest place on Earth.)
Immigration can also boost Canada’s labour economy, according to John Shields, a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Toronto’s Ryerson University. He reports that immigration is critical to the growth and stability of our labour market — which is largely thanks to work done by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government — and solves the problem of Canada’s rapidly aging population. Working immigrants are lessening the possibility of a sudden labour market crash that was sure to come with the retirement or passing away of many of Canada’s labour workers due to old age.
Immigration is a monetary sore spot for municipal and provincial governments, but that’s not the refugees’ fault. At the end of the day, the federal government needs to work harder at finding financial and housing solutions for the refugees they want to help — because leaving them homeless in Canada isn’t at all helpful. That said, we shouldn’t be barring our doors or locking people up like our child-snatching neighbours to the south, either. (Except maybe for President Trump. He could use a taste of his own medicine.)