Im­mi­gra­tion based on fore­sight, not fear

The Victoria Standard - - Commentary - FROM THE ED­I­TOR

Dou­glas Gib­son crossed the bor­der from the United States into Canada on Sept. 8, 1967 - broke, with only a vague idea of what he wanted to do for work. That was suf­fi­cient for the Cana­dian bor­der of­fi­cial of the day.

To­day, the abil­ity to cross borders and re­main in the coun­try of our choice (or ne­ces­sity, in some cases) is a far more com­pli­cated, if not im­pos­si­ble, task. In an era of global ter­ror­ism, real or imag­ined, it is un­der­stand­able why na­tional perime­ters have grown less por­ous. There are, how­ever, more malev­o­lent rea­sons why na­tions, cul­tures and groups of all sizes choose to keep peo­ple out.

More than the threat of phys­i­cal ter­ror, the fear of ris­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity has awak­ened a pos­ses­sive re­ac­tion in many, lead­ing them to hold firmly onto what­ever they can, while they can be it land, jobs or their sense of iden­tity. As that fear takes hold, an in­creas­ingly black and white un­der­stand­ing of the world emerges. A ‘with us or against us’ kind of men­tal­ity be­comes ever-present and mid­dle ground erodes faster than the no­tion of mid­dle class.

He­len Delfeld il­lus­trates this be­hav­ior in Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to aban­don the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA) pro­gram in the United States. Trump’s move, de­plored by Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike, fol­lows on the heels of his re­fusal to de­nounce White Na­tion­al­ists and their overt dis­plays of hate. Part and par­cel of the same big­otry, Trump has be­come a spokesper­son for a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans who feel threat­ened by the world’s in­sta­bil­ity, and look around to the near­est per­son that looks un­like them to lay blame.

Liv­ing in a coun­try with ad­vanced so­cial safety nets and a govern­ment ac­knowl­edged pur­suit of di­ver­sity, it is all too easy for Cana­di­ans to as­sure our­selves that ex­clu­sion­ary prac­tices are left south of our bor­der. In in­tro­duc­ing Pres­i­dent Obama to the House of Com­mons in June 2016, Trudeau re­marked:

"The North Amer­i­can idea that di­ver­sity is strength is our great­est gift to the world. No mat­ter where you are from, nor the faith you pro­fess, nor the colour of your skin, nor whom you love, you be­long here. This is home."

Th­ese words were, at once, a heart­warm­ing mes­sage to thou­sands of ar­riv­ing refugees, and a re­buff of Trump’s racist, anti-im­mi­grant po­si­tion. In re­al­ity, our arms have not been quite as open as Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau would lead us to be­lieve. In the case of refugees, we have sim­ply as­signed a lim­ited num­ber of agents with open arms. Such is the case with the Es­maeels, the Syr­ian fam­ily of six shoved around by war. They are lan­guish­ing as refugees in Jor­dan await­ing the green light to come to Bad­deck.

In rec­og­niz­ing the eco­nomic po­ten­tial of in­ter­provin­cial and in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion (see the work of the One Nova Sco­tia Coali­tion), the Prov­ince of Nova Sco­tia has taken sig­nif­i­cant steps to of­fer in­cen­tives to ex­ter­nal pop­u­la­tions will­ing to re­lo­cate and work here. The re­cent an­nounce­ment of a two-year deal be­tween the Cape Bre­ton Part­ner­ship and the Prov­ince of Nova Sco­tia to at­tract skilled labour is but the lat­est ex­am­ple of such laud­able ef­forts.

At the same time, our fed­eral thresh­old for ad­mis­sion re­mains low – sec­tor-iden­ti­fied skills or deep fi­nan­cial pock­ets must ac­com­pany any­one ap­ply­ing for per­ma­nent res­i­dency or cit­i­zen­ship. All else, need not ap­ply. The con­cern of ad­mit­ting net-neg­a­tive con­trib­u­tors to our econ­omy is so high that our tol­er­ance for risk – our will­ing­ness to ac­cept in­di­vid­u­als with­out proven track records – is low.

Avoid­ing un­nec­es­sary pres­sure on our wel­fare sys­tem is pru­dent; how­ever, we must be will­ing to take a chance on lesser known quan­ti­ties. As it stands, our own reg­u­la­tory bu­reau­cracy is so strin­gent that many im­mi­grants ad­mit­ted with pro­fes­sional skills are left per­form­ing re­me­dial tasks. While liv­ing in Toronto, I met many a for­eign-trained doc­tor driv­ing a cab.

If the young Dou­glas Gib­son who came to Canada in 1967 tried to en­ter to­day, he would al­most cer­tainly be de­nied long-term stay. Yet, that young man grew up to be a Cana­dian great, pres­i­dent of a ma­jor pub­lish­ing firm and the launcher of many great Cana­dian au­thors’ ca­reers. His net con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy has cer­tainly been pos­i­tive.

I know of sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als in our county who are cur­rently seek­ing per­ma­nent sta­tus in Canada, specif­i­cally, so they can live and work here in Cape Bre­ton. There are no guar­an­tees of their fu­ture worth, but I see bright, hon­est work­ing in­di­vid­u­als, each with fires in their bel­lies. More­over, they are good hu­man be­ings with pos­i­tive, car­ing at­ti­tudes. Qual­i­ta­tive, not just quan­ti­ta­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics, must be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion when build­ing the fu­ture we want.

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