Canada, like the United States, is an immigrant nation, with waves of newcomers predating Confederation (1867) and many millions more arriving in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Indigenous peoples probably came first over the land bridge from Asia, followed millennia later by fishermen and fur traders from today’s northern Europe.
After 1845, for example, immigrants came from the Irish potato famine and its aftermath; farmers from today’s Britain and Ukraine began arriving in the 1880s. Myriad families from numerous nations devastated by World War Two chose Canada. Hungarians were welcomed after their 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union, with Vietnamese joining us often from boats after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Ugandans expelled by Idi Amin arrived between 1972 and 1974 and many Syrians came in 2015.
Two former Governors General and the current Immigration minister came as refugees respectively from Hong Kong, Haiti, and Somalia.
Conspicuous and humiliating exceptions to this admirable record occurred in 1914 when 376 passengers arriving from India on the Komagata Maru were not permitted to disembark in Vancouver, and in 1939 when the St. Louis was refused permission in Halifax harbour to unload 900 Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Holocaust.
Public opinion surveys have long indicated majority support across Canada for continuing high levels of immigration—no doubt based on pride in diversity and a well-substantiated view that newcomers enrich our national life enormously, boost our economy, and replace an aging population with young families. Understandably, they also show that many Canadians of all ages and backgrounds oppose admitting or re-patriating persons brainwashed into committing violence outside Canada by ISIS or other terrorist organizations.
With refugees around the world today at an all-time high, exceeding 50 million, it is important for all to respond to the horrors faced by most displaced families in their own or in other lands, especially in the Middle East, or suffering from bombings or starvation in Yemen and elsewhere.
Human dignity advocates, such as Amal Clooney and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Nadia Murad, a Yazidi enslaved for a period by ISIS, continue to attract attention and interventions by responsible governments and persons. Some Canadians judge that Canada has done its fair share for now in accepting refugees.
For many years, successive national governments in Ottawa of differing political stripes have favoured independent immigrant applicants with high educational and work skills judged useful to our evolving economy. Most apply under national or provincial assessment criteria, which require them to obtain 67 of 100 points in six categories: work experience, age, languages, education, arranged employment and adaptability. In recent years, it has become easier to obtain immigrant status for Quebec, which sets its own immigration policies, for most occupational groups than for Canada as a whole.
One consequence is that about 22 per cent of Canada’s 36.5 million population today were born outside the country.
Paradoxically, most Canadians appear now to favour both generous entry for immigrants/refugees and secure borders. This probably reflects the reality that during the past two years an estimated 40,000 persons have walked across the Canada-U.S. border at a point where New York State and Quebec province meet. Many of them allegedly entered the United States on tourist visas for the purpose of making a refugee claim in Canada.
This phenomenon violates our decades-old policies, which included making it very difficult to obtain visitor visas if there is any risk an applicant might attempt to stay in Canada as an asylum seeker or illegal immigrant.
The situation has become even more complex because the Trudeau government in a recent budget bill has proposed a new tougher line on refugees. The government would enact a measure seeking to ensure that asylum seekers who have already made such a claim in the United States, Britain, Australia or New Zealand would be barred from having access to a full refugee hearing by our Immigration and Refugee Board (I.R.B). Such applicants could access only a pre-removal risk assessment by the Immigration department.
In practice, asylum seekers have a better chance of challenging successfully a rejected application with the I.R.B. than they do with the departmental risk assessment. True, they can seek leave to appeal a negative ruling to the Federal Court, but the rejection rate there is in the 80 per cent range.
Pollster Darrell Bricker says Canadians seem more concerned than ever before about the process by which immigrants are admitted to Canada. He adds, “In Canada the focus doesn’t seem to be on the immigrants themselves, more about the process of how someone gets into the country,”
The reality is that Canada’s immigration and refugee policies probably lead the world today.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in the House of Commons for almost 27 years. He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.” Kilgour’s experience as Crown counsel before going to Parliament was with the City of Vancouver (1967-1968); Dept. of Justice, Ottawa (1968-1969); Government of Manitoba (1971-1972); Government of Alberta (1972-1979).
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.