Canadian Compassion Towards Refugees: A Case for Open Borders

Canadian Compassion Towards Refugees: A Case for Open Borders

David Clement is a Campus Coordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Over the past decade, Canada has seen itself rise on the  Frasier Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World index. In fact, Canada recently surpassed the United States. But, unfortunately, as the nation inches towards a free society, there are some aspects of political governance that have done harm to this positive growth. Canada has historically been seen as an international beacon for refugee assistance and acceptance. This global viewpoint towards Canadian refugee policy, although historically founded, is one that is fading over time, especially since the end of the Cold War. This article will show that although Canada was admitting dramatic flows of refugees in the aftermath of World War II, such acceptance has since diminished. It will be seen that the Canadian government has been restricting refugees through bureaucratic loopholes such as complicity, growing wait times and increased security measures. Lastly, it will be noted that much of the fear surrounding refugees is unfounded, as historically refugees have not struggled to adapt to Canadian society and have provided the Canadian economy significant economic benefit.

Canada is known on the global scale as a nation of compassion and acceptance, especially when it comes to the admittance and acceptance of refugees. Indeed, Canada has been a nation of accepting refugees since it was first colonized by French settlers. The compassionate reputation that Canada has historically been associated with originated from the period of mass migration that followed the end of World War II. The mass flow of migrants saw 40,000 refugees migrate to Canada in 1948. More specifically, Canada admitted 37,000 Hungarians from 1955-1957 and over 220,000 refugees from 1947-1958. Unfortunately this trend of mass acceptance did not remain in the decade that followed. From 1959-1967, Canada only accepted 18,000 refugees which is an 84% percent decrease from just one decade prior.

Canada’s refugee policy did see another upward shift prior to its more recent downfall. From 1970-1985, Canada returned to the generous policies of the post World War II period. In this time frame, Canada admitted over 50,000 South East Asian refugees. This generosity towards refugees is further seen by the fact that between 1978-81, refugees accounted for 25% of all immigration to Canada. Unfortunately for refugees after 1989, Canada has not been nearly as generous in its acceptance. In the time period between 1989 and 2011, Canada had its acceptance rate on refugee claimants fall from 84% in 1989 to 38% in 2011. As one can see, Canada has admitted significantly fewer refugees as time has passed which significantly calls into question its reputation for compassion.

As the government of Canada significantly reduces the amount of refugees, one must ask how such measures are being enacted. The first way in which the government is restricting refugee claimants is through the concept of complicity. “Complicity” is a term in Canadian law where by the Canadian government can deny refugee status to anyone who complies, colludes or concurs in any banned act in a foreign land. Another way in which refugees are being restricted is through increasingly growing wait times. It takes forty months on average for a claimant to go through the application process and to be accepted. During this period of waiting and applying, refugees have limited services, including health care, and often have significant trouble finding employment due to insecurity.  Lastly, refugees are discriminated against through increased security measures. Since 9-11, the Canadian government has enacted Bill C-84 which allows for immigration officers to turn away ships who may carry claimants. Alongside this, the Canadian government has created an agreement with the American government whereby Canada can no longer allow claimants who have traveled through the USA first. It is clear that the Canadian government is significantly purposely hindering the admittance of refugees.

Canadian immigrants in 1913

There is a growing dissent for refugees as they are usually portrayed in an intensely negative light. The Canadian government has developed itself into a gatekeeper against refugees to protect Canadian society from the perceived drain of mass migration. More specifically, a traditional nationalist viewpoint on refugees frames refugees as a net drain on the economy and states that they steal “our” jobs. This viewpoint on migration, specifically the mass migration of refugees, is unfounded. A longitudinal study was compiled that demonstrated that Czech and Ugandan-Asian refugees saw high rates of entry into the labor force and only slightly higher rates of unemployment, after one year, when compared to the national average. Another study of Indo-Chinese refugees showed comparable results to the Czech refugees, which demonstrates that ethnic origin and language have little effect on refugee adaptation and thus decreases the perceived drain. Two years after landing in Canada, these refugee migrants were contributing more to the Canadian economy than naturalized citizens and were largely complimenting Canadian talents and not substituting for them. Migrants and refugees, when legally admitted, have a higher propensity to start businesses and lower rates of crime when compared to Canadian citizens. Furthermore, these migrants and refugees end up being an overall net gain for tax revenues. Although there are common conceptions that deter the acceptance of refugees, such claims are disproved by the success of the Czech, Ugandan and Indo-Chinese refugees and the positive economic that arise from open borders.

It is clear to see that Canada does not deserve its reputation for compassion on the acceptance of refugees and that its policies are significantly restricting such migration. Furthermore, it is clear that the concerns against migration and open borders are largely unfounded. Refugees, of all backgrounds, provide the Canadian economy with valuable labor, both high a low skilled. They are not economically draining for Canadian society, and are in fact net gains for government tax revenue. Lastly, they certainly are not stealing our jobs, for their higher propensity for entrepreneurship leads them actually provide jobs, not remove them.  I am happy to see Canadian society move more towards a free society; however there is much work to be done to restore Canada to a place in which it truly deserves its compassionate title.

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