Federal Elections and Canada’s Immigration Policy

Posted by admin on Apr 6th, 2011

Harsha Walia, Vancouver Sun, April 5 2011

Federal politicians have been attempting to gain sympathies with immigrant voters, while simultaneously spouting racist rhetoric.  A Conservative party ad depicts the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil refugees as “criminals who target Canadian generosity”. Despite the fact that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney must be (or should be) versed in refugee law and the internationally upheld reality of irregular migration, he justified the ad: “Anyone who’s coming to Canada illegally is breaking our laws. Such statements are not only misleading, they are deliberately irresponsible in facilitating and feeding off a growing anti-migrant sentiment. An Ottawa Sun editorial, for example, parroted that the migrants are “queue-jumpers, scam artists, back-door home invaders, plus a terrorist or two…Truth is, none is even a bona fide refugee”, and suggested firing on the ship: “Lock and load would be our approach.”

Immigration advocates — whom Jason Kenney disparagingly refers to as the immigration industry lobby, as if raising issues of human rights is comparable to greedy corporations lobbying for tax breaks — have been pointing to the increasingly exclusionary immigration and refugee record of Canada, itself a nation built on the settlement of Indigenous lands.

A recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report indicates that the number of asylum applications to Canada has fallen 30 per cent. The number of refugees granted permanent residence dropped by 25% under Jason Kenney; in fact according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s own 2009 report, the number of refugees who had their asylum claims approved dropped by 56% in 2008 from 2005. In 2010, there were 8,466 Pre-Removal Risk Assessment applications made by asylum-seekers facing removal orders. Only 89 were approved. According to figures in the Canadian Press, deportations have skyrocketed 50% over the last decade.

None of these facts can substantiate a claim of a ‘generous’ refugee system.  Some of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicators, such as David McBean, have a zero-percent acceptance rate. A recent CTV News report revealed that government lawyers and judges were forcing Tamil refugees in detention to pay back thousands of dollars in smuggling debt in order to be released from jail.

While the government boasts a record number of immigrants, the government was actually cutting overall immigration by 5%. The number of family class immigrants accepted has dropped by 10,000 since the Conservatives took power.  This is a 15% decrease. Despite assuring Parliament that the parents and grandparents visa category would remain stable, Jason Kenney was slashing these visas by 25%. This now means a wait of up to 14 years, while the government collects millions of dollars in sponsorship application fees. The government has similarly decreased skilled worker visas by about 20%.

So who are all the migrants coming into Canada? Temporary migrant workers.  The number of temporary foreign workers is up 30% over the past four years and in 2008 for the first time Canada received more people on temporary work permits than as permanent residents.

The ballooning numbers of temporary workers alongside plummeting numbers of permanent residents is no coincidence. It is not actually in Canada’s interests to shut its borders to immigration since Canadian businesses need a pool of exploitable labour.  According to author and sociologist Nandita Sharma, “What motivates the Canadian government to recruit temporary workers [over permanent residents] is that migrant workers are essentially indentured servants bound to specific employers and do not have minimum wage and work condition protections, cannot effectively unionize, and cannot access most social programs.”

The anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by Jason Kenney and others about “illegals” and “terrorists” is to create and cultivate a climate of fear and xenophobia that justifies the recruitment and treatment of migrants as sub-human. By shutting the door to refugees, family sponsorships, and skilled workers, Canada is ensuring that migrants are increasingly worthy only in as much as they meet the labour needs of big business.

This hypocrisy should not be surprising when rising unemployment and social service cuts are deemed necessary because of economic austerity, though banks and corporations are getting million dollar bailouts. Capitalism’s drive to maximize profit intrinsically involves a constant search for cheaper labour and the need to perfect the mechanisms for controlling workers. Immigration law is one such mechanism, rendering disposable those whom capital has already displaced through the ravages of global corporatization and militarization.

French philosopher and theorist Jacques Derrida offers the following challenge: “The word for hospitality is a Latin word Hospitalitat, a word which carries its own contradiction incorporated into it, a word which allows itself to be parasitized by its opposite, ‘hostility’, the undesirable guest which it harbors as the self-contradiction in its own body.”

Rather than continuing to identify migrants as suspicious strangers to whom our hospitality is conditional, we should see ourselves as part of a universal humanity. The rhetoric of migrants stealing jobs and their dehumanization as ‘illegals’ is a powerful tool to destroy solidarity between working people. There is far more reason to be suspicious of opportunistic politicians, rather than those who live, work, play, and love alongside us every day.

Harsha Walia is an anti-racist, anti-colonial, feminist, and migrant justice activist and writer trained in the law. You can find her at http://twitter.com/HarshaWalia

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