Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

By Brian Low

Elinor Caplan, Federal Minister of Immigration, has just tabled a new and improved Immigration Act. In large measure, this is in response to public outcry following the ships of Chinese boatpeople who washed up on the shores of British Columbia last fall. The new bill has been touted as a cure-all for all the immigration woes. It can be better compared to snake oil than to any miracle drug when it comes to curing what ails Canadian immigration.

On the good side of things, Caplan’s new act streamlines the immigration system significantly. There are faster and fewer hearings to determine Canadian citizenship. Those who make it into the country as part of a criminally-organized operation will be automatically detained. This means there will be less chance for illegal immigrants to disappear once they are in the country, which is admittedly a good thing.

On the other hand, Caplan’s act and rhetoric still belies the assumption that most immigrants place Canada at risk. You know, the basic "watch out for the nasty immigrants, they’ll get you if you’re not careful" cast of mind.

An example of this outlook is found in the provision that insists if a claimant is even charged with an offence here in Canada, that his application be automatically denied. Nota Bene, that’s charged, not convicted. Now far be it from me to assume that our noble police service ever makes mistakes or perpetrates injustices, but don’t we have a court system because cops routinely make mistakes? Somehow, to deny the presumption of innocence to someone for having the nerve to be an immigrant just doesn’t sit right with me.

Then there is the provision that no convicted criminal be eligible for immigration. On the surface this doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. It fails, however, to take into account the nuances between our justice system and that of many countries. In many places in the world, you can get locked up for looking askance at the wrong government official or printing the wrong opinion in a newspaper. By not recognizing this and instituting a blanket prejudice against all with a criminal record, Caplan’s proposed act bars immigration from some of the people we want in our country most. Under the proposed act, Nelson Mandella wouldn’t even qualify for citizenship.

Immigrants are an asset to our nation, not a liability and they ought to be treated as such. Canada is a big country with lots of room for an expanded citizenry, and the overwhelming majority of immigrants contribute immensely to both the Canadian economy and society. There is absolutely no reason for officials to treat immigrants as criminal suspects, just waiting for them to screw up so they can gleefully deport them. Unfortunately, this is one of the effects of the "new and improved" Immigration Act. Though it aims to solve all of Canada’s perceived immigration problems in one fell swoop, in many instances, Caplan’s new Immigration Act simply misses the mark.

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