Canada’s Conservatives, the Toronto Sun, and the far-right are obsessed with refugees and asylum seekers crossing Canada’s border. They say this group of people represents a “crisis”.
But the truth is the entire notion of a “border crisis” is a myth manufactured by anti-immigrant forces.
I recently sat down with immigration law expert Sharry Aiken for an episode of Cable Street. We discussed Canada’s immigration system, including common myths about immigrants promoted by anti-immigrant right. Listen to the entire interview.
Here are the facts about Canada’s immigration system covered in the episode.
1. Fact: Canada Depends on Immigrants
Sharry explains that Canada, unlike many other countries, actively seeks out and recruits economic immigrants.
“We compete with other countries to get the best and brightest people to come to Canada, ideally to hit the ground running and contribute to Canada’s economy. Indeed it’s fair to say we depend on immigrant labour to fuel our economy”.
Business groups estimate that if Canada were to close its doors to immigrants, our economy would shrink significantly.
2. Fact: There is No Border Crisis
Sharry explains that the border crisis is nothing more than “a moral panic that’s been completely manufactured by certain elements in Canada together with right wing media.”
The number of refugee claimants entering Canada has risen over the past year, but as explained by refugee lawyers Lobat Sadrehashemi and Lorne Waldman, Canada experienced a similar increase in 2001.
Canada’s overall intake of asylum seekers is small compared to other countries. In fact, Bangladesh deals with as many refugee claimants in one day as Canada does in an entire year. The countries dealing with the biggest flows of refugees are not western countries, but countries like Pakistan, Iran and Uganda.
3. Fact: Canada’s Border Backlog Requires More Resources
A quasi-judicial tribunal Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada manages refugee claims. Those who qualify for protection can remain and those who don’t are deported.
Sharry explains that the backlog of claims is not due to the volume of refugee claimants, but rather the fact that the Board “has not been given the resources to adequately process the claims”.
4. Fact: It is Not Illegal to Cross a Border and Initiate a Refugee Claim
Contrary to what many believe, it’s perfectly legal to cross a border and initiate a refugee claim. In fact, this is what Canadian law demands of asylum seekers.
The 1951 Refugee Convention stipulates that no signatory country will return a refugee seeking asylum “where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.” Refugees who present themselves are able to make a refugee claim.
This is now considered a rule of customary international law. States are expected to cooperate and ensure the rights of refugees are respected.
Canadian law stipulates that it’s not illegal to cross a border informally, as long as that person presents themselves to border services without delay.
Sharry explains that an illegal border crosser is someone who does not present themselves and did not initiate a refugee procedure with the government. Canadian border crossers are not illegal because they present themselves to border officials.
News reports labeling Canadian border crossers as illegal are not true.
5. Fact: Refugees Are Not a “Drain” on Social Services
Study after study shows that accepting refugees is a net benefit to Canada.
In the short term, it takes time for refugees to adjust, learn the language, and become acclimatized to Canada.
But in the long term, immigrants, and especially their children, tend to perform better on many economic indicators such as educational attainment and earnings, than their Canadian-born counterparts.
Rather than a drain on social services, immigrants are a vital part of Canada’s economic growth.