The recent image of a Syrian toddler whose lifeless body lay on a Turkish beach, prompted Canada’s Citizenship & Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to suspend his re-election campaign and issue a statement designed to evoke compassion. Despite this ploy which took place against the backdrop of the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, the conservatives, during the past almost 10-years, have displayed a heartless record with Canada’s immigrant population. Here are five reasons why.
Since mid-2013, Canada has settled less than 2,500 Syrian refugees. In January, the conservatives announced that Canada would welcome 13,000 Syrian refugees over a 3-year period, mostly through private sponsors. Yet our government has been near silent since then – until last week when it was forced to respond to this international humanitarian crisis. In contrast, Germany plans to admit as many as 800,000 asylum seekers this year alone, nearly 1% of its population. Sweden with a population almost four times smaller than Canada, took in more than 25,000 last year.
For refugees, the Conservative government implemented legal reforms that deny due process to vulnerable asylum seekers under a discriminatory two-tier system based on nationality. These modifications are currently being challenged in Federal Court. It also tried to eliminate the basic health care services refugees are entitled. The Federal Court struck down the government’s cuts to refugee health care describing it as « cruel and unusual » because it jeopardizes refugees’ health and shocks the conscience of Canadians.
The Harper government’s pitiful refugee policies lay bare its punitive agenda against immigrants and refugees. Over the past 10 years, the federal government jailed an average of 11,000 migrants per year, including hundreds of children as young as age 16, without charge. Canada is one of the only Western countries to have indefinite incarceration. A credible report finds these policy changes imply reduced access to justice for refugees for whom consequences of refugee protection decisions are frequently life or death matters. Even permanent residents are now subject to arrest, detention and could face deportation for even minor criminality such as driving while intoxicated traffic offences.
Canada has traditionally been a safe haven to oppressed minorities across the world, being home to thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Hungary, and Uganda, among other countries. In 1979 and 1980 Canada opened its doors to 50,000 Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing the Indochina refugee crisis. But this has all changed under the Conservative government, which to date, has seen its refugee acceptance rates decline by 30%. It has been very reluctant to admit refugees from Syria. When pressed recently on the matter of excessively long approval and processing delays, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asserted that national security background checks take long and the safety of Canadians is first and foremost. If Germany and Sweden can successfully orchestrate a much larger refugee program with similar safety and security concerns to guard against infiltration by terror groups, surely Canada could do likewise. It just needs a more compassionate government.
For family reunification, Canada has arguably adopted a far more hostile stance towards Canadian spouses sponsoring a foreign spouse where processing times have increased by up to 500 per cent over the past decade. This was largely due to the debilitating 2011 budget cuts imposed by the Conservative government. The ever increasing waiting times have led to ever increasing numbers of people who find themselves lost in our immigration system. Additionally, as if the emotional and financial burden on immigrant families was not enough, the Conservative government also reduced the age of eligible dependents qualifying for family reunification from 22 to 19. Applicants with children over age 19 must now consider relocating to Canada without their families or hope their children secure admission to Canada under a study program. Yet, family reunification is supposed to be one of the hallmarks of Canadian immigration policy.
The Conservative government’s failure on immigration has also affected citizenship applicants. The government has not only quadrupled fees and doubled processing times, but has adopted unnecessary hard line policies with aspiring citizens. Applicants must now wait longer to qualify and no longer receive credit for time spent in Canada as students, or work permit holders while older citizenship applicants face more difficult knowledge based language tests.
Under its tenure, the Harper government has advocated a strong stand toward economic immigration. But its immigration policies in this area have been met with failure and ambivalence for these immigrants as well. Last year, the government abolished most business immigration programs, including the Federal Immigrant Investor program which had more than 15,000 unprocessed applications, including many who had been waiting up to 6 years to invest $800,000 each. In 2012, the conservatives orchestrated the termination of close to 300,000 skilled worker applications, the largest backlog in Canada’s history while reneging on promises that their credentials would be evaluated under previous criteria. The majority had been waiting between 5-10 years to have their cases processed.
Temporary Foreign Workers
Canada’s business community was severely harmed by a dubious tactic of the former immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who initially encouraged use of the temporary foreign worker program and even allowed Canadian employers to pay 90% of prevailing wage rates. Then last summer, the temporary foreign worker program was practically shut down for almost six months when it was revealed that one high profile employer was abusing the program. Instead of devising a meaningful enforcement modification to the program to address the abusers, which to its credit it has recently accomplished, the government increased refusal rates thus preventing thousands of employers and temporary foreign workers across Canada from renewing their work permits. In doing so, it added to a perception that under this government, Canada promotes an exploitive, revolving door system that readily disposes its foreign workers.
Immigration has been an important part of government agenda. It remains essential in most OECD countries, but especially in Canada, in part to offset demographic developments, including low fertility rates, an aging population, a growing elderly dependency ratio, a shrinking labour force and high out-migration rates. But we need to conduct our affairs with a humanitarian and compassionate face. Our government must now find the way to invoke exceptional measures and respond positively to an imperative of moral urgency, in the context of the current international refugee crisis. It’s what Canadians have been known to do.
Colin R. Singer is immigration counsel for www.immigration.ca and Managing Partner of Global Recruiters of Montreal. He is one of Canada’s foremost senior corporate immigration attorneys. Colin is internationally recognized as an experienced and recommended authority on Canadian immigration and foreign recruitment. In addition to being a licensed human resources professional, he is a licensed Canadian lawyer in good standing with the Quebec Law Society for more than 25 years and is authorized by the Canadian government in all immigration matters.
Source: Colin R. Singer