10/07/2019 16:25 EDT | Updated 10/15/2019 11:05 EDT

So, About Those Anti-Immigration Claims Being Made This Election

There's misinformation abound.

Immigration is a crucial issue in this upcoming election, and Canadians need to be able to trust that their leaders don’t lead them astray. It appears that the immigration debate in Canada undergoes a pattern: fearmongers stoke anxieties through misinformation, followed closely behind by advocates rushing to inform Canadians about present realities.

I find the spread of this misinformation deeply concerning. The results of October’s election could have a drastic impact on Canada’s immigration and refugee policies, which affect one out of five people in Canada and more than 300,000 immigrants who’ve entered Canada in 2018. 

Let’s take a look at some of the ways the immigration debate has been framed this election.

Dangerous or criminal immigrants

In recent weeks, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer tweeted suggesting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might allow a “child killer” into Canada.

Allowing this man into Canada would be disturbing, except the story wasn’t true. The British Justice Ministry later confirmed the media report was false, and the federal government dismissed claims that Venables would be coming to Canada. In fact, it is likely that Canada’s immigration rules would have barred Jon Venables from ever settling here.

Canadian immigration policies already have robust checks in place to ensure threats are minimized. Some people are not allowed to come to Canada because they are “inadmissible” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which provides various grounds for foreign nationals and permanent residents to be barred — “being a threat to national security,” “human rights violations” and “organized criminality.” Permanent residents and foreign nationals can be inadmissible for “criminality” if they’ve been convicted of a crime outside Canada that would otherwise result in a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment on Canadian soil.

While overcoming inadmissibility is possible due to criminal rehabilitation, it is more difficult in cases of serious criminality and in those instances, an individual must wait five years after the commission of the offence to apply for rehabilitation.

Chris Helgren / Reuters
A Canada Border Service Agency officer.

These laws work. Boutros Massroua, a refugee claimant originally from Lebanon, had his claim repeatedly denied due to meeting the legal standard for complicity in crimes against humanity. He repaired vehicles for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2015, although he claims he did so under duress.

High-profile celebrities have also been denied in the past due to their criminal convictions. In 2005, rapper 50 Cent was denied entry because of his criminal record. Rapper Lil Wayne was denied entry in 2011 because of weapons and drug charges. “The Hunger Games” actor Wes Bentley was denied entry in 2012 because of a 2008 drug possession charge.

Economic impact of immigration

The People’s Party of Canada, led by Maxime Barnier, claims that immigration “put[s] excessive financial burdens on the shoulders of Canadians.” Refugee claimants in Canada do not receive resettlement assistance. Privately sponsored refugees, such as those sponsored by community and religious groups, are not entitled to government assistance during the period of their sponsorship (typically for one year after arriving in Canada). Government-assisted refugees receive financial assistance through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) for a maximum of one year if they do not have their own financial resources. A single person receives $567 to $751 per month, depending on the province.

Rick Madonik via Getty Images
A Toronto billboard sign promoting the People's Party of Canada, which has promised to reduce the country's immigration numbers if elected. The sign were not funded by the party.

The reality is, Canada’s economy needs immigrants to keep growing in light of low fertility rates. Furthermore, immigrants have the skills Canada needs. The Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration indicates that in 2017, 56 per cent of permanent resident admissions were in the Economic Class. This class selects people based on their skills and ability to contribute to Canada’s economy.

Economic immigrants residing in Canada for at least five years exceeded Canadian average earnings by six per cent, and were 15 to 24 per cent more likely to be working than Canadian-born residents. Ninety-three per cent of immigrants understood English or French, and a similar percentage reported having a strong sense of belonging to Canada. With an ageing population, immigration is important for ensuring that Canada’s labour force keeps growing.

“Jumping the queue”

In the first national leaders debate, Scheer was quoted as saying asylum seekers who make claims at the border are “jumping the queue.” This language is problematic because it conflates two different systems. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) processes overseas claims, while the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) processes claims received in Canada. As a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Canada allows asylum seekers to make claims here, and inland claims are assessed in the order they are received by the IRB.

AFP Contributor via Getty Images
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer talks to migrants after they crossed the Canada/U.S. border near Hemmingford, Que. on August 6, 2017.

In fact, many of those crossing into Canada irregularly are trying to avoid the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which would bar asylum seekers from making a claim in Canada if they landed in the United States, first. Some Canadians view “irregular” crossings as “illegal” and a sign that Canada is being taken advantage of. According to Statistics Canada, about 1,762 people were stopped crossing into Canada from the U.S., down from 1,874 in July. In comparison, 120,000 people were apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border in May, down to 82,000 in July. I hope we can agree that the situation for migrants south of the border is definitely not safe right now. 

The system currently in place isn’t perfect, but it seeks to benefit Canada’s future while also protecting vulnerable persons. According to a spokesperson for Border Security, asylum seekers are given due process, but once they exhaust legal avenues, they are removed from Canada in accordance with our laws.

Newcomers contribute to the cultural fabric and economy of this country, and Canadian values and culture are built on multiculturalism and diversity. Immigrants, refugees and their descendants have contributed their skills and hard work to build this vibrant country of 37 million people. As the election approaches, and no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it is important for Canadians to stay informed and reject misinformation.

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