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Politicians insult Canadians on refugee, citizenship issues

Tuesday August 28, 2018
Chris Seeley

The Liberals have absolutely no claim to the moral purity they regularly ooze out on Twitter

It was an eventful weekend for the political guardians and critics of Canadian citizenship. To kick things off, on Friday night, this newspaper brought remarkable news that our Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship thinks Canada’s capacity to deal with inland refugee claimants is “not sustainable.”

“Without changes to improve efficiency and productivity of the asylum process, wait times and backlogs will only continue to grow,” Ahmed Hussen wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to the Canadian Bar Association. “This situation is not sustainable, nor is it fair to the people who need Canada’s protection.”

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Fact check: true! As of the end of June, the backlog of claimants was more than 55,000 — five times larger than when Justin Trudeau took office. The timeline for adjudicating the average claim is stretching toward a ludicrous three years. The extra resources the government has dedicated to the surge of “irregular” crossings, chiefly along the New York-Quebec border, are plainly insufficient.
The funny thing, though, is that Hussen and his government have tolerated no criticism on this file. Heaven help anyone who calls it a “crisis,” lest he be deemed intolerant or demagogic or worse. Far smaller countries in Europe are dealing perfectly well with far larger numbers of asylum-seekers, we are often told — correctly. How odd, then, to see the minister admit that he’s made a hash of it.

“Well, well, well,” tweeted Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel. Well she might. Except her party has focused much less on sustaining the system that greets new arrivals than on pretending they can be stopped. Her party suggests everyone who crosses the border illegally be sent back — but we can’t deport people to a country that won’t agree to take them. Fact: no approach to this issue will succeed without the government spending far more money than it wants to get claims adjudicated much, much faster. It speaks both poorly and accurately of the quality of the national discussion that you so rarely hear that said.

On Saturday, in Halifax, at the Conservative Party convention, another debate suddenly flared up: delegates passed a non-binding resolution “encourag(ing) the government to enact legislation which will fully eliminate birthright citizenship in Canada unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.”

That’s the norm in all of continental Europe, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, in Australia and New Zealand — in every country other than the United States, to which Canada routinely compares itself. Liberal immigration minister Lucienne Robillard proposed it 20 years ago. It is not crazy. Surely it is more difficult to explain why the Canadian-born child of failed asylum seekers, or of a “birth tourist” from China, should be granted citizenship than why he shouldn’t.

Nevertheless, partisans blew their stacks. “The Conservatives did something remarkable in Halifax,” intoned Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary. “They committed to give the government the power to strip people born in Canada of Canadian citizenship.”

The party committed to nothing, and they recommended no power to “strip” citizenship. At time of writing the tweet has 2,737 retweets and likes combined.


“The NDP unequivocally condemns the division and hate being peddled by @AndrewScheer & the CPC,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh huffed.


It’s understandable real people might be concerned about where the Tories are headed. A better-written motion would have ruled out rendering people stateless. If Conservatives want us to think them intolerant of intolerance, they might not have made a martyr out of a heckler at a Justin Trudeau rally … after they found out she was an unapologetic racist. Conservatives as senior as former cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre were seen in Halifax wearing “Hamish said hi to me” buttons — a spectacularly ill-advised joke about campaign chair Hamish Marshall’s ties to Ezra Levant and his irredeemably insane, conspiracy-mongering Rebel Media.

But let’s be clear: you can run a generous and welcoming immigration system without granting birthright citizenship; and you can run an ugly and draconian immigration system while granting it. God knows the Liberals have absolutely no claim to the moral purity they regularly ooze out on Twitter. They fought tooth and nail against granting citizenship to Abdoul Abdi, a Somali child refugee-cum-felon whose guardians at Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services somehow forgot to apply for his citizenship after seizing him from his parents. They seem to have no problem with remarkably restrictive measures introduced by the Conservatives that limit the parent-to-child transfer of citizenship to one generation born abroad: Wayne Gretzky’s existing and future grandchildren have no claim to Canadian citizenship through their American-born Gretzky parents. Needless to say, this affects many people of far more limited means.

And while Justin Trudeau didn’t create the cross-border refugee issue with his misguided “welcome to Canada” tweet, he’s still the Prime Minister who promised “Canadians will welcome … those fleeing persecution, terror and war,” yet whose government has rejected more than half as many refugee claims so far this year as it accepted. In short, if you’re allowing politicians to influence your opinions on these matters, you can and should do far better.

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