Don’t believe the hype

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Our government wants us to believe the immigration and refugee system is broken and we are suckers if we don’t fix it. But guess what? It isn’t broken.

And worse, our government is trying to break it. These days, permanent residence processing times are measured in years, not months. The refugee backlog has dramatically increased over the last seven years as a result of not enough adjudicators being hired. Proposed changes to the law via Bill C-31 will have a devastating impact on one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, refugee claimants.

The cost: lives. And if you aren’t so concerned about that because they are foreigners and you are a taxpayer, the other cost: hundreds of millions of dollars.

Every week there is a new story telling Canadians they are being taken advantage of by foreigners. Catchy phrases like bogus refugee and birth-tourist abound. If you read the fine print in many of the articles, there are no details about how widespread the problem is. Is it one or two? A hundred? A thousand? No one knows.

We are being bullied by our own government into thinking we are chumps for having an immigration system that protects the vulnerable, abides by Canada’s international obligations and respects the Constitution. We are being told if we don’t make these changes,  our society is at risk. Countries like the US and Australia are cited as examples of the doom and gloom of “illegal” immigrants and boatloads of people washing up on our shores. What we aren’t reminded of is the reality: our geography makes Canada almost impossible to get to from anywhere. Save forRussia and maybe Iceland, we aren’t at risk of droves of migrant workers crossing the border in the numbers the US has seen. Same thing for the boatloads: even if every few years, a decrepit ship full of desperate people sets sail for our shores, make no mistake: our government is taking unprecedented steps to prevent that boat from ever entering into our waters, let alone arriving onshore.

If you want something to gripe about, immigration-wise, there is lots of fodder. Wait-times for family reunification, the unpredictability of almost constant changes in the laws, the increasing complexity of the system, the fact we are losing immigrants to mind-boggling bureaucracy and delay.

One of the first questions students are often asked to think about in first year law school is “how many guilty people should go free to prevent the conviction of an innocent person?” Meaning, the system is never perfect. It makes mistakes. Due process has a cost. In Canada, we don’t have capital punishment so the stakes aren’t as high as countries that do. But in immigration law, and refugee law in particular, it is a matter of life and death.

Every system is vulnerable to abuse. As far as immigration law goes, resources and legislation are in place to deal with things like fraud and misrepresentation. But in this case, to throw out the entire system to prevent something which is unpreventable is mistaken. Worse, it is cynical and manipulative. The rhetoric will fundamentally alter our collective conscience from being proud of our humanitarian tradition to being paranoid and suspicious of the very people – immigrants and refugees – who helped shape this country in the first place.

But as far as the bogus refugees, birth tourists and marriage fraudsters go, don’t believe the hype.