Am I just a Canadian or a human? - Keith Roulston editorial
So, the Canada-U.S. agreement last week to shut down illegal immigration through Roxham Road in Quebec put me on the spot. Am I happy, as a Canadian, to see an end to people who are avoiding the rules to enter Canada, or am I unhappy as a human being to see people less fortunate than I am prevented from entering Canada?
The use of this unregulated border crossing for refugees to enter Canada away from the regular immigration system has led to growing tension, particularly in Quebec, where the refugees are crossing. To keep that province’s authorities less unhappy, the federal government has been picking up these refugees and sending them to places like Niagara Falls. But with the busy summer season approaching, that city was not happy to see hotel rooms tied up for regular tourists with more money to spend. So, for all these people, a more regulated entry to Canada is appreciated.
But as I watched the rules change, and unhappy immigrants turned back at the border, I also had to think of them as fellow human beings. What if, instead of being fortunate to have lived an entire lifetime in Canada, always at peace and with general prosperity, I had been born, as most of the aforementioned immigrants were, in a country with a corrupt government that made it hard for them to prosper.
Then, too, there was the reality of the figures. Canada promised to allow 15,000 refugees to enter Canada, which sounds generous, but last year about 40,000 entered via the Roxham Road crossing alone. What happens to all those seeking a better life who are now stopped from entering Canada?
I’m sure U.S. President Joe Biden must have suppressed a smile when he heard the Canadian pleas for help. He’s constantly criticized for the never-ending stream of people wading or swimming across the Rio Grande River to Texas and other U.S. states seeking a better life. His predecessor Donald Trump made a big deal about building a huge fence to stop the immigration.
Meanwhile, we have labour shortages in Canada with some businesses having difficulty finding enough employees to keep running – even though we allowed 430,000 legal immigrants into Canada in 2022 and expect even more this year. At the same time, people can be on the waiting list for legal immigration for years before they are admitted. Refugees short-cut the system. But no matter how many people we admit, thousands more are waiting to enter.
What happens to those who’d have used the Roxham Road entry point? Refugee spokespeople worry they will seek other, more dangerous ways of entering Canada. We’ve heard stories earlier about people freezing trying to cross from the U.S. at unregulated crossings.
When I was young, in 1960, Canada had fewer than 18 million people. Way back in 1885, under pressure from the government of British Columbia, Canada passed a head tax to restrict Chinese immigration. Even white immigrants were discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds: Anglo-Saxon settlers from Britain and the U.S. were seen as the best fit, whereas Italians and Greeks were viewed as harder to assimilate and, therefore, less desirable.
After large cohorts of mostly European immigrants came to Canada between 1903 and 1913, and a series of political upheavals and economic problems that followed World War I, such as the Winnipeg General Strike, a much more restrictive immigration policy was implemented.
Under a revised Immigration Act in 1919, the government excluded certain groups from entering the country, including Communists, Mennonites, Doukhobors and other groups with particular religious practices, and those nationalities whose countries had fought against Canada during World War I, such as Austrians, Hungarians and Turks. In 1939, Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany aboard the MS St. Louis were denied entry into Canada on arbitrary grounds related to their Jewish backgrounds.
After substantial consultation, the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau passed a new Immigration Act, which took effect in 1978. A radical break from the past, it established, for the first time in law, the main objectives of Canada’s immigration policy. These included the promotion of Canada’s demographic, economic, social and cultural goals, as well as the priorities of family reunion, diversity, and non-discrimination.
The rules brought a huge change to Canada, with people of all races welcomed, as well as seeing our population doubled to 38.25 million today.
Given the Canada of today, it’s no wonder so many people want to get in. So I’m still undecided whether I’m simply a Canadian or a member of the human race.