Of the top Canadian news stories of 2010, could it be coincidental that more than a few pertained to issues surrounding the Canadian immigration system? Take, for example, the cargo ship, carrying nearly 500 Tamil asylum seekers, that landed off the coast of British Columbia last August, which prompted the government to issue the controversial Bill C-49, criticized for seriously undermining Canada’s international human rights obligations. Then there was the case of seriously mistaken identity, where a young Asian man posed as an elderly Caucasian on his flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver to claim refugee status, sparking intense attack on Canada’s airport and border control security.
In Toronto’s last municipal election in October, newly-elected Mayor Rob Ford caused a heated debate for stating that the city couldn’t handle more immigrants until it could deal with its 2.5 million residents. Ford was criticized for adopting an anti-immigration stance, although some people did relate to the idea that greater incoming population flows could place a serious strain on the city’s infrastructure, which has yet to cope with its residents’ employment, housing and transportation demands.
But how far is too far when it comes to immigration controls? To what extent should domestic infrastructure and security concerns hinder international humanitarian obligations? Amnesty International Canada reports that Bill C-49 was allegedly drawn up to target human smuggling events, but it did more to punish legitimate refugees, justifying expansive powers for arbitrary arrest and indeterminate detention, while making mobility and family unification extremely difficult.
The ‘no borders’ debate mentioned in New Internationalist’s December issue was intriguing, since both sides of the argument seem convincing. On the one hand, border controls for the purposes of national security and state sovereignty seem essential, but then so are humanitarian obligations to individuals who are victims of war, poverty and persecution. Canada’s failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council last year affirmed the allegation that as a nation, we have much to achieve on the international stage. This seems to indicate a necessary reflection on our most exigent priorities.