Learning from our mistakes

May 28th, 2008

The Canadian government announced last week that it will create a 29 million dollar grant program as redress for various shameful incidents in Canada’s history, relating to the way Canada treated prospective and landed immigrants. For example, from 1885-1923 there was a Chinese head tax which was a fee charged for each person wishing to immigrate to Canada from China. There was also the Komagata Maru incident in 1914, when more than 350 prospective immigrants from India were held on a ship in Vancouver harbor because they would not be admitted to Canada. In addition, in 1939 more than 900 Jewish refugees trying to escape Nazi Germany on the steamship St. Louis were denied entry to Canada, among other countries, and were sent back to Nazi Germany, where it is estimated a third of the passengers were executed. Ten million dollars will go the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Schevchenko as compensation for discrimination and the internment of Ukrainians and other East European ethnic communities during the First World War.

It is ironic that our government is issuing these grants in recognition of past discrimination, when at the same time it is proposing amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) that would make our immigration procedures susceptible once more to discrimination. The hallmark of IRPA as it now stands, is that everyone who chooses to submit an application to come live in Canada is entitled to fair and equitable consideration, according to objective criteria. If the new law is passed this will no longer be the case. The proposed amendments would empower the Minister of Immigration to issue instructions to Visa officers, as to which applications to process quickly, which applications to hold for processing at a later date and finally which type of applications to return to the applicant without any consideration at all. These instructions would not be based on IRPA Regulations but rather on the Minister’s “opinion”, this would make the selection process vulnerable to discretionary selection and personal bias.

The Minister argues that these amendments are necessary to clear out the current backlog of 600,000 skilled workers and to bring applicants whose skill sets are in high demand in Canada, to the front of the immigration queue.

But in fact, the law as it stands already contains the mechanisms to regulate the flow of economic immigrants and can therefore be used to reduce the current backlog. For example, the government could increase the pass-mark to limit the number of fresh applications, make use of “restricted occupations” to better match the flow of immigrants to the labor market needs in Canada and/or facilitate the use of “arranged employment”, whereby an offer of employment from a Canadian employer can speed up the processing of the application of the skilled worker the employer would like to hire. It is not necessary for the government to insert discretionary measures into the system in order to reduce the backlog; it can do so using the current law, which is effective, clear and unbiased. If the government was concerned with redressing injustices committed against immigrants in the past, it would seek to preserve the impartiality of the current immigration process, so that injustices would not occur in the future, instead of compensating people after the injustices have already occurred.

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