Canada’s immigration system is no kinder than America’s

Opinion: Despite the Liberals' boasts of its humanitarian credentials, Canada's refugee intake numbers reveal something else

A Canadian Border Services agent walks past a welcoming sign at Gate 521 at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

More than four decades ago, my father applied for immigration to Canada. Then, like today, the process in place, instituted in 1967, was based on a points system that measured a person’s ability to integrate into Canadian society, both economically and socially. It was revolutionary for its time, putting aside racist biases preferential to “white” immigrants while assessing a prospective immigrants’ skills regardless of where they came from.

It was logical. It was calculated. What it was not was humanitarian.

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My father, in the early 1970s, passed the points system. But today, he would not. Despite his excellent English, a master’s degree in economics, and years of experience in banking, he would not be welcome according to the Express Entry online assessment tool at the Immigration and Citizenship website. Certainly, the logic of that decision would make sense: Canada does not need more bankers. But at the same time it is cold-hearted.

Today, immigration under Canada’s skilled worker point system is not much different. By every account, it is a cold calculation based on domestic economic requirements with little consideration for humanitarianism. Like the proposed RAISE Act in the U.S., it sets the bar for Canada’s needs and then determines if a person meets them.

And yet, the Liberal government endlessly props up its humanitarian credentials. From gender rights to refugee policy, it has tried to project itself as a world leader and Canada as an immigrants’ wonderland. No doubt, Canadians do have something to be proud of: Canada is proving to the world that a diverse society can also be a harmonious society.

But that harmony is engineered. When you look more closely at the statistics, Canada is nowhere near the humanitarian ideal it claims to uphold.

The question is: how do we measure humanitarianism?

MORE: One day in seven towns dealing with refugees on the U.S.-Canada border

Firstly, we can eliminate the “economic” category of immigrants, representing 57.5 per cent of the 300,000 Canada plans to welcome this year, according Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s 2017 Immigration Levels Plan. As was the case with my father, cherrypicking immigrants based on what Canada needs may be prudent, but it is not humanitarian.

That leaves three categories—family reunification, refugees, and a vaguely defined “humanitarian and other” category. The family reunification category may appear humanitarian on the surface but it requires the family member living in Canada to provide for the basic needs of the incoming family members. It’s nice, but still not humanitarian. And it will only account for 28 per cent of immigrants this year.

In purely humanitarian terms, refugees and the “other” categories offer the best measure how big Canada’s heart really is. At a measly 1.3 per cent, we can drop the “other” category as statistically insignificant, leaving 13.3 per cent, or 40,000 spots, for refugees who will be resettled to Canada. That compares favourably to the U.S in terms of refugee resettlement as a percentage of total population—0.13 per cent, compared to America’s 0.03 per cent. By this number, Canada also seemingly compares well to other industrialized nations.

But refugee resettlement figures are misleading. They only represent the official number of refugees registered by the United Nations who are approved for resettlement in third countries. They do not include refugees who arrive in countries on their own, through irregular migration routes.

This is crucial. By dint of geography, Canada is perhaps the least accessible country in the world, meaning that while more people are trying to get here than ever before, very few actually overcome the oceans and the Arctic. Even the surge in asylum seekers who have crossed the border illegally from the U.S. this year—4,375 in the first six months alone—is minuscule compared to the millions of irregular migrants Europe has taken in since 2015. So when you account for refugees who arrive on their own, Canada’s supposed humanitarianism starts to look pretty abysmal.

Given this, let’s compare Canada to Germany, which only accepted 800 refugees through the UNHCR’s resettlement program in 2016. But over the last year, 280,000 asylum seekers arrived in the country. Not all of those will be accepted, of course, but with an average acceptance rate of around 37 per cent, 103,600 will be; another 23 per cent, or 64,400, will be granted some sort of protection, allowing them to stay in Germany. That brings the total refugee intake for 2016 up to 0.20 per cent of the German population.

Even Sweden beats Canada. For a small country with a population of less than 10 million, its 2016 quota of 1,900 resettled refugees, while small compared to Canada, put Germany to shame. But the Swedes also granted asylum to another 67,258 irregular migrants, raising their total refugee intake as a percentage of population to 0.70—more than six times the number Canada accepted last year.

MORE: A refugee flood? Pull yourself together, Canada

Globally, the total refugee population has reached unprecedented numbers, more than doubling to over 22 million between 2012 and 2016. Canada’s record-setting refugee resettlement numbers from last year—46,700 in total, a figure the Liberals love to boast about—look less impressive given the context. The previous record, 40,271, was set in 1980 when the total number of refugees worldwide was 8.45 million.

Most experts agree that refugee numbers are set to rise for the foreseeable future, and without a truly humanitarian turn, the world faces the prospect of a tragedy of epic proportions. The Trump administration’s protectionist policies and rhetoric of fear and hate only fan the flames. Canada, however, is not doing much better. Its immigration policy no doubt benefits Canadian businesses and boosts the economy, but on a humanitarian scale, it falls flat.

The difference, however, is this: Trump never pretended to be a nice guy. From the beginning, he made no bones about putting U.S. interests ahead of humanitarianism. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, has staked its reputation on creating an image of a kinder, gentler Canada, a Canada willing to take on the world’s most pressing issues with a focus on humanitarianism. But its policies—from trade to immigration—belie a Canada First mentality. It is, in practice, Trump-lite.

If Canada truly wants to be the proverbial heart in today’s heartless world, it’s time for the Liberals to put up or shut up.

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