Human smuggling, immigration anxieties, and the Canadian way -

Human smuggling, immigration anxieties, and the Canadian way


Today’s announcement of the new Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act (when will the revolt against Overly Wordy and Politically Contrived Names for Acts commence?) is bound to be interpreted, naturally enough, as a bid by the government to crack down on human traffickers who prey on the dreams and desperation of people determined to come to Canada whatever it takes.

But I suspect that the prime motivation behind the Conservative government’s rush to draft the bill, after a rusty boatload of Tamil refugees arrived in Vancouver last summer, was not to find practical ways to crack down on the snakeheads. Prime Minister Stephen Harper signaled the real aim more accurately this week when he said,  “A failure to act and act strongly will inevitably lead to a massive collapse in public support for our immigration system.”

That takes us closer to the heart of the matter—assuaging the worries and anger of Canadians about immigration abuses. It’s a worthwhile goal. There can be no doubt that many North Americans and Europeans these days are increasingly anxiety ridden about undocumented refugees and economic migrants. The anti-immigrant bent of some in the Tea Party movement is a nasty turn in American politics; in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel declares that multiculturalism has “utterly failed.”

In light of all this, the Harper government’s signal of its determination to make Canada’s immigration system as lawful and orderly as possible is a sound defensive move against the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, even if the actual measures in the new act, like mandatory minimum penalties for human smuggling, are more symbolic than substantial.

For the same reason, this would be a good time to push back against those who sniff that Canada’s version of multiculturalism is an overrated artifact of Sixties silliness. I don’t just mean by making the most of upbeat news like the surprise election of Naheed Nenshi as Calgary’s mayor this week. I also mean arguing against the dismissive view that multiculturalism is merely a fairly recent frill tacked onto the Canadian way.

There’s a growing body of well-researched evidence for far deeper roots to the concept of different cultural communities combining without disappearing in this country. John Ralston Saul’s new biography Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin expands on his case for how the pre-Confederation reformist leaders laid the foundations for, among many other things, bilingualism and the notion that French and English could get along in one state quite nicely.

And then there’s historian Alan Taylor’s new book The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies, praised in the New York Review of Books’ current issue. The NYRB describes Taylor’s view of the Upper Canada as the Americans tried to conquer in 1812, its population of 75,000 largely created by two waves of Loyalists, not only Brits who had fled the U.S. after the revolution, but also “humble Quakers and pietistic Germans” who came a bit later:

As ethnic and cultural minorities, they had felt threatened by the American republicanism that promoted majoritarian conformity. By contrast, the British officials of Upper Canada imagined a society in traditional and prenational terms, as a mix of quasi-corporate communities. “Upper Canada,” writes Taylor, “was an ethnic and religious mosaic rather than a melting pot.”

Of course, setting Canada’s mosaic against the U.S.A’s melting pot is a too-familiar element in the often tedious Canadian boasting about our more easygoing attitude to identity. But the idea means more when we consider it as a foundational aspect of Canada’s peculiar political culture, rather than a recent add-on. It makes finding ways to not fear immigrants seem more a matter of maintaining continuity, preserving our essence.


Human smuggling, immigration anxieties, and the Canadian way

  1. Well, 'the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment', is directly attributable to Harper…who made it sound like an ordinary boatload of refugees was some kind of terrorist invasion! You can always stir up fear.

    I assume someone took Harper aside and explained our obligations on refugees because suddenly all the 'alarms' died down and the Tamils turned out to be the ordinary people everyone else expected.

    As to Merkel….Germany has never BEEN multicultural, so it didn't 'fail'… it's never been tried…..and all she's done is link Germany once again to what they called Jews…. 'auslanders'…. foreigners…in Hitler's time….and we all know how that worked out for them

    • +1
      The idea that these braying jackasses care about "…a massive collapse in public support for our immigration system.” is absurd. They "created a crisis" as per standard conservative operating procedure.

    • Agreed on the Germany part, it's never been multicultural if anything it seems like their own little world, and perhaps that's part of Hitler's legacy and East Germany, people might be a little scare to move there, after all they did start two world wars!

  2. You could try to get a member to propose a private members bill to create "An Act to Prevent Overly Wordy and Politically Contrived Names for Acts" but they might actually take you up on it.

    • I so agree with you – why not an amendment to the Immigration Act?

      • Or maybe it was already included in the last budget bill, and no one has read all the way through to that point yet …

  3. There is also Joseph Boyden's new book "Through Black Spruce" about Louis Riel. "I don't think a lot of people understand that he was incredibly inclusive. If you read his 10 points, a very straightforward petition that Riel put together, along with the white settlers, along with the Métis, along with the Indian tribes, it was very inclusive of all peoples — immigrants, First Nations people, the settlers already there.

  4. Precisely. Well said.

    Existing legislation is more than sufficient to punish those who would illegally profit from the refugee "trade". A government needs only the will. Rather, we too often have government choosing (easy, cheap – not inexpensive) PR campaigns over the difficult work of law enforcement.

    It's just so much more political and fun to hold quickie announcements and slag political opponents. More effective? Not bloody likely.

  5. "That takes us closer to the heart of the matter—assuaging the worries and anger of Canadians about immigration abuses. It's a worthwhile goal."

    That may well be. It also conveniently serves as another wedge issue for an overly political PM. As others have pointed out, the same effect might have come about by not pouring gas on the fire ie., tarring everyone one on board as a terrorist. But that wouldn't have quite the same political payoff, would it?

  6. The anti-immigrant bent of some in the Tea Party movement…

    John, your writing has impressed me on many occasions, so I will assume you understand the difference between "anti-immigrant" and "anti-illegal-immigrant." I merely rise to point out that your choice of phrase unfairly risks suggesting that you do not understand the difference.

    • I take the inclusion of the word 'some' to mean anti-immigrant. A very large number of the Tea Party are anti-illegal-immigrant, a significantly smaller number are anti-immigrant. But they are still there, thus: 'some'.

      • Well, ok, but one of the main themes of the Tea Party movement has been the need to properly enforce the law against illegal immigration. So, to focus on the odd crackpot (which may be found within any political party or movement) opens one to the charge of unfair characterization.

        • Of course. The problem is that a number of those odd crackpots have made it to positions rather high in the various Tea Party organizations. Fortunately, in most instances, these people have been removed.

    • i think he knows but saw an opening for a cheap shot and took it.

  7. Yes, you are correct it is not the title of the book about Riel. The correct title is "Extraordinary Canadians Louis Riel And Gabriel Dumont".

  8. Refugees are not the same as immigrants. Harper and Co. appear to be conflating the two.

  9. When will the revolt against Overly Wordy and Politically Contrived Names for Acts commence?

    IT. STARTS. NOW!!!!!!

    It's like the Mike Harris Tories all over again. Probably because it's the Mike Harris Tories all over again.