Canadians are routinely told how fortunate they are to have the great advantage of a national consensus on immigration. While other countries find themselves in convulsions over borders, walls and other ugly flashpoints, in our happy land it’s widely accepted that immigrants provide a substantial net benefit to Canada’s economy and society, diversity is our strength and more immigration is always preferable to less.
As with most conventional wisdom, there’s some truth to this. Significant support for immigration and immigrants can be found across all provinces, regions and major political parties. A few recent policy shifts in Quebec and the new People’s Party of Canada’s views notwithstanding, most Canadians consider immigration to be of great benefit. And while the federal Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have tried mightily to “own” the immigration file, they have plenty of company. Earlier this year, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made a point of narrowing any perceived gap between his party and the Liberals when he used a major policy speech to emphasize his support for “the long-standing consensus that immigration is indeed a positive thing for this country.” Got that? It’s a national bi-partisan consensus.
But if we do enjoy widespread national agreement on such a globally-fraught topic as immigration, it ought to be something everyone feels free to talk about and ruminate over. So what explains the curious coda Scheer felt compelled to add to his pro-consensus immigration speech? The opposition leader went on to note that “we should be able to have an immigration debate in this country without the government calling [its critics] racists and bigots.” Scheer, of course, has faced months of hammering from political opponents, media commentators and left-wing groups for allegedly being not tough enough on purported “white supremacy”. But he’s not the only one concerned about the ability to have a reasoned discussion on immigration in this country.
Cast your mind back to Canada’s much smaller version of France’s “Yellow Vest” protest movement at the beginning of this year. Most of the protesters engaged in the rallies and cross-country convoys were characterized by the media as being predominately Alberta-based, rural, blue-collar workers focused on back-pocket issues like jobs, taxes and pipelines. But during one high-profile rally held in Ottawa this past February, Guy Annable of the group “Yellow Vests Eastern Ontario” gave the Canadian Press a more expansive list of concerns. It began, naturally enough, with getting Canadian oil to tidewater and then moved on to the federal Liberals’ carbon tax.
As Annable continued talking, he patiently explained that his group was also seeking a reasonable and respectful dialogue on immigration. Specifically, he wanted to be able to discuss the implications of the grandly-named United Nations’ Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration without being instantly tarred by a variety of terrible insults. “We are being called racist for wanting secure borders,” Annable complained. “We are not racists, we are not white nationalists. We are hard-working Canadians who want secure borders and one immigration queue for all.”
Scheer has also expressed concerns about the UN Migration Compact. When the matter came up in the House of Commons last December, Scheer said he “strongly oppose[s] Canada signing” the document and that, if elected prime minister, he would withdraw from the agreement. He immediately found himself smeared by many, including National Post columnist Andrew Coyne, who accused Scheer of engaging in “far-right fear-mongering.”
People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier was inundated with similar responses when he recently vowed to reduce immigration levels, and again when billboards sporting his face appeared urging viewers to “Say NO to mass immigration”. They triggered immediate claims of hate speech and were quickly pulled down. Bernier too felt compelled to complain about the price paid for taboo-breaking in this country. “As soon as you raise a concern about the level of immigration, someone will accuse you of harbouring anti-immigration views and being racist and xenophobic,” he said at a speech in Mississauga in July.
That it is necessary for Annable, Scheer and Bernier to request permission to talk about Canada’s immigration policy without enduring ugly accusations of racism tells you all you need to know about the quality and nature of “debate” on immigration in Canada these days. If even the leaders of Canada’s federal opposition parties aren’t free to speak their mind, one can only guess how many ordinary Canadians have been cowed into silence. So is it really a national consensus? Or a rigidly-enforced dogma?
Anyone concerned about this calcification of discourse should be equally concerned about the UN Migration Compact. While the subject of a brief flurry of interest at the end of last year when the Liberals eagerly ratified it, it deserves far deeper consideration and exploration. Its explicit goal is to stimulate a dramatic increase in the global movement of people from the most troubled parts of the world into the laps of the developed world.
To accomplish this, it seeks to create a new and privileged class of self-directed “migrants” distinctly different from rules-following immigrants and recognized refugees. The UN Migration Compact promotes the vision of an essentially borderless world in which these migrants can relocate as they please.
As unlikely as that may be in the near term – perhaps in part for that reason – the UN Migration Compact also seeks to restrict and, thereby, control the words and ideas used to describe immigration. Its goal is to make it difficult if not impossible for anyone to properly express countervailing thoughts. It is an attempt, in other words, to create an international consensus around immigration even stricter than what we already have in Canada – and enforced by an even tighter web of taboos, threats, insults and sanctions aimed at anyone engaged in heterodox thinking on the subject.
Unrestricted migration, unclose-able borders and unspeakable truths. With a federal election imminent, it’s urgent we have a real talk about the UN Migration Compact and how it might affect not only Canada’s immigration policy, but how we talk about immigration – if indeed we are to remain able to discuss it freely at all.
Canada’s “border” remains a real one – for now
Despite the conviction of its promoters and the frequency of its invocation, the actual strength of Canada’s national consensus on immigration may be waning somewhat. Recent polling suggests the famous Canadian support for always-high and often growing immigration levels has eroded, finding that a majority now supports a firm overall cap and a reduction from current levels. Quebec’s Coalition Avenir government is reducing the number of immigrants it accepts this year by 20 percent to 40,000.
Yet the idea that there ought to be no upper bound to immigration – and that it is always and everywhere a good thing – continues to be rigorously enforced by a phalanx of media voices, pundits, academics and political operatives who brook no sign of dissent. In standard Liberal terminology, any expressions of concern about immigration levels, illegal refugees or even UN agreements are instantly condemned as “not Canadian” – to use Somalia-born federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s favoured terminology. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has similarly accused political opponents of “playing the fear card” whenever they raise immigration issues – even as Trudeau and his ministers run around claiming that “white supremacy” is a threat to the very existence of Canada’s liberal democracy.
Canada admits about 300,000 new permanent residents across various categories every year, with Liberal projections calling for an increase to 350,000 by 2021. This represents a substantial hike from 2000-2015, when intake averaged around 250,000 per year. When Bernier recently suggested an annual cap of 150,000, he was predictably pilloried by all the usual dogma-enforcers. “Dangerous rhetoric,” claimed federal Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains in familiar Liberal style. “He is stoking the politics of division and fear.” Yet the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien admitted just 174,000 immigrants back in 1998. Was that similarly harmful to Canadian sensibilities?
Despite their recent boost to the immigration intake as well as their often vicious attacks on immigration critics, the federal Liberals have moved to curtail certain types of arrivals. Earlier this year, Trudeau dramatically restricted the flow of irregular refugee claimants arriving in Canada from the U.S., primarily via rural border areas of Quebec and Manitoba. People who cross the border openly at an official checkpoint are not allowed to claim refugee status; people who are already in Canada can do so. This creates an obvious incentive to cross illegally in unpatrolled areas. An estimated 40,000 got in this way from early 2017 through early this year.
Trudeau’s new measures, as outlined in the 2019 federal budget, include enhanced enforcement at the border and a streamlined deportation process for certain claimants. Further, Ottawa is negotiating with the U.S. to close a loophole in the bilateral immigration agreement that has allowed travellers from Africa and the Caribbean to pass through the U.S. with visitor’s visas on their way to claiming refugee status in Canada. By clamping down in this way, Trudeau hopes to dissuade illegal border-crossers. Judging by the early returns, these tough measures have been largely successful.
Examples of people who qualified under these terms are displaced postwar Europeans, Chinese refugees in Hong Kong after the Communist takeover in 1949 and Algerians who fled to Morocco and Tunisia beginning in 1954. The convulsions in post-colonial Africa and the Indian Subcontinent created millions more refugees, often flowing into poor neighbouring countries who could scarcely help. Millions more fled communist North Vietnam, mainly for its enemy South Vietnam during their decades-long conflict, with hundreds of thousands of “boat people” later trying to escape to developed countries such as Canada after the North’s conquest of South Vietnam.
Refugees remain a major international concern. According to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees’ (UNHCR) latest annual report, over 16 million people were forcibly displaced at some point in 2017 – a rate of 44,000 per day. While some eventually returned home and still others gained legal status in new countries, the cumulative total of displaced people around the world exceeded 68 million in 2017. While that seems like a staggering number − representing almost twice Canada’s population − the majority of these people are “internally displaced,” or somehow still living in their own countries.
The focus for most refugee-receiving countries, such as Canada, is on the narrower category of those not internally displaced. Refugees outside their home country totalled 25.4 million at the end of 2017 – still an enormous number. (The UN recently passed an entirely separate and little noticed new compact just for refugees.) And mainly for reasons of geography and history, poorer countries bear the brunt of hosting these refugees. According to the UNHCR, 16.9 million of these refugees are currently housed in less-developed countries. The UN Migration Compact began as an effort to get richer countries to bear a greater share of this burden.
Genesis of the UN Migration Compact
The tale really begins in 2016 when then-U.S. President Barack Obama hosted a high-profile refugee summit in New York City. It came amidst the Syrian refugee crisis, which Obama termed among “the most urgent tests of our time” and “a test of our common humanity.” He even name-checked Canada and Trudeau for having “gone above and beyond in providing support for refugees”. Thus mobilized, the UN handed responsibility for creating some way to avoid − or at least ameliorate − future refugee crises on the Syrian scale to former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour. Appointed as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2004 following five years on Canada’s top court, Arbour was named the UN’s special representative for international migration in 2017.
From its inception, the UN Migration Compact was supported by assorted human rights groups and international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Labour Congress and League of Arab States. As such it incorporates many of the usual quirks (or pathologies) of UN-style multilateralism: ever-expanding goals, a dreamy disregard for current political reality and the barely-concealed desire that one day the world will be run by proper-thinking bureaucrats who know better what must be done for the betterment of humanity than parochial or elected politicians.
A new class of protected person: the “migrant”
While allegedly sparked by Obama and others’ concern for the Syrian refugee crisis, those issues were shunted into the new refugee compact and, in what seemed rather like a bait-and-switch manoeuvre, the UN poured its main effort into the new and separate topic of migration. The UN Migration Compact’s most significant achievement thus lies in creating a suite of asserted rights for an entirely different type of border crosser. Distinct from refugees and legally-sanctioned immigrants, the document seeks special status for “migrants”.
Who is a migrant? Anyone who might want to leave his or her home country for whatever reason and make their way through one or several other countries to a destination country they’ve selected. The UN Migration Compact’s website puts the current number of such people at 258 million worldwide – more than 10 times the number of refugees currently outside their home countries.
The UN Migration Compact states that it “intends to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities migrants face at different stages of migration by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their human rights and providing them with care and assistance.” Unlike refugees, migrants have no credible fear of persecution, property confiscation, torture or death. Their motivation may simply be a personal factor like a lack of jobs or social and political pluralism in their home country – as evidence gathered from actual migrants in Europe over the past several years strongly indicates. And, to date at least, their movement is not formally recognized by any receiving country as would be the case with legally-sanctioned immigrants. Indeed, “migration” remains technically illegal in most countries.
Regardless, while the UN Migration Compact acknowledges refugees and migrants are “distinct groups governed by separate legal frameworks,” under the agreement migrants are to be accepted and aided as they follow their chosen path. In this way, the Compact seeks to revolutionize the world’s understanding of the flow of people across borders and loosen member nations’ ability to control the process. It is a mission not merely more expansive than, but dramatically at odds with, preventing another Syrian refugee crisis – the alleged point of Obama’s 2016 New York summit.
While the specific category known as “refugee” was created to ensure a particularly vulnerable type of person, whose condition was created by special circumstances typically involving war, received special attention for compelling humanitarian reasons, the new concept seeks to universalize this treatment. Under the UN Migration Compact’s criteria, almost anyone in any country qualifies, even if they haven’t yet set off on their journey. It encompasses, in other words, the majority of people not already living in a wealthy OECD-member country – a vast pool potentially numbering in the billions.
By reducing those “risks and vulnerabilities migrants face”, the UN Migration Compact would make it easier and more tempting to leave home in hopes of finding something better. This in turn could be expected dramatically to increase the number of people moving about the globe. And they are not only to be aided as they follow the impetus of their migration, they are to be welcomed by the country they have chosen, without the voters of their new host having much to say about it.
This is to be a unique form of “migration” indeed: one that flows in only one direction.
End of Part I
In Part II, we discuss what the UN Migration Compact aims to achieve and how it intends to get there; how some countries are resisting or rejecting the agreement and its goals; and, most dangerous of all, the UN’s demand that countries police public speech, news media and even academic research to shut down the debate about immigration.
Watch for Part II, coming soon.
Lloyd W. Robertson is a retired government employee living in Burlington, Ontario, with a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto, who taught for many years at the post-secondary level.