Canada’s success with immigration is now prompting other nations to sit up and take note. European nations, most notably, are struggling to cope with immigration, with heated debates on the subject making regular headlines there. So it is no surprise that they wonder how Canada, with its relatively liberal immigration policies, has managed to navigate the immigration minefield so well. This is what German president Joachim Gauck also wanted to know when he attended a round table on immigration in Toronto in September this year.
The difference between the Canadian and the European approach lies in how immigration is seen in each case. In Canada, immigrants have traditionally been seen and treated as ‘future citizens’, while in Europe, immigration is often discussed as a ‘problem’, with immigrants being part of the problem.
For years Canada has been offering a quick and simple pathway to citizenship for immigrants, and future citizenship is inherent in the country’s public philosophy and immigration policy. With newcomers being treated as ‘future citizens’, there is no discrimination faced when it comes to availing access to social services like schools and hospitals. Immigrant children can go to the same schools as everyone else, where they are treated as fellow Canadians and not as ‘outsiders’. This is possible only because of the idea that immigrants are future citizens is deeply imbibed in everybody’s mind.
With this mindset, Canada invests in immigrants from the very start. In fact the police services and school boards follow a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy so that non-Canadians can also get access to their services without bias.
However what has been Canada’s mantra for success with immigration is now under threat with the current government’s policies on immigration, one of which is to increase the minimum residency requirement from three to four years in order to qualify for citizenship. And an even more restrictive bill severely limiting refugees’ access to social services is going to erode this liberal Canadian spirit ever further.
The new bill, if passed, will in essence lift a ban on minimum residency requirements for newcomers in order to access social assistance. The ban had ensured that anybody living in Canada, irrespective of their duration of residence, could get access to social assistance. The government has been justifying this proposed law by saying that they will not allow people to take “unfair advantage of their generosity”.
Statistics show that 40-45% of refugee claimants are accepted each year. Immigration activists argue that while their claims are being decided, refugees deserve to be treated humanely in the same Canadian spirit that treats everyone as possible ‘future citizens’. The year 2013 alone saw 10,000 applications, which in essence means those many possible future Canadians, whose first experience of the country need not be a bad one because of such policies. That would truly undermine the essence of what made Canada.
Source: The Star