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12/13/2018 10:48 EST | Updated 12/13/2018 10:53 EST

Why Canada's Right Lied About The UN Migration Compact

A core argument was the deceitful claim that it infringes on state sovereignty.

Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, Dec.4, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, Dec.4, 2018.

On December 10, the governments of 164 states adopted the Global Compact for Migration in Marrakech, Morocco. However, a handful of countries, most notably the U.S. but also Australia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Israel, among others, denied their support after right-populists launched a massive campaign of misinformation and propaganda.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — as it's formally known — contains 23 objectives that will help the world to better manage "migration at local, national, regional and global levels." It is not legally binding, which means that national governments are not obligated to implement its objectives. Thus it does not infringe on any signatory country's sovereignty. Louise Arbour, the Montreal-born UN special representative for international migration, stated that "it creates no right to migrate. It places no imposition on states."

Despite the reality, a core argument of campaigns against the pact was the deceitful claim that it infringes on state sovereignty.

Not only did white nationalists jump on the bandwagon, so did Conservative Party Leader Andrew Sheer.

This misinformation was echoed by countries who rejected the compact, including Austria, citing concerns about its sovereignty, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu citing "a duty to protect [Israel's] borders."

A year earlier, the United States had pulled out of the preparations for the Global Compact for Migration on a similar basis, with U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declaring that it is "simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty" — despite no country on earth having the capacity to act more independently.

Canada ultimately adopted the Global Compact, but not before facing similar misinformation here. Not only did white nationalists jump on the bandwagon, so did Conservative Party Leader Andrew Sheer. Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen worked to counter the narrative, calling the claims "a conspiracy theory."

So, what motivated the populist right to spread this misinformation, and some countries to act on it? After all, international efforts to better manage migration seem to coincide with right-populist interests.

The answer is that with globalization, demonstrating sovereignty has become increasingly difficult for Western countries. With the loss of control over trade, the cross-border flow of capital and information, or military intervention, migration has become "the last bastion of sovereignty."

Sovereignty is a technique of political control. It emerged in medieval Europe as a way for feudal lords and kings to claim control over their territories and the people on it without interference from other powers or being held responsible to moral standards, such as those imposed by the church.

In a way, sovereignty itself is a fiction. Although it is enshrined into international law, no country has the power to act completely independently. To maintain the illusion of sovereignty, states must continuously demonstrate their capacity to act independently.

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In an era of globalization, vulnerable migrants and refugees have become an easy target to project an image of national strength. The erection of border walls between the U.S. and Mexico,on the southern edge of Europe and in other parts of the world as well as the thousands of fatalities in the Mediterranean Sea, in the U.S.-Mexican border region and along other migrant routes speak to the brutality with which states proclaim their sovereignty.

The rejection of the Global Compact of Migration by right-wing political activists is only the latest episode in this script. What is new, it seems, is the degree to which the populist right is proclaiming sovereignty based on lies, deceit and calculated misrepresentation targeting not only defenceless migrants and refugees, but the international community.

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