The 2019 federal election campaign is now behind us. I personally traveled 5,800 kilometres during our Fall Election Tour to Regina, Winnipeg, Waterloo, and Montreal, talking about CPJ’s refugee policy work.
Of course, one of the key moments during the campaign was the digging up of pictures of a younger, but adult, Justin Trudeau wearing blackface and brownface. The photos were seen as racist and an insulting display of white privilege. And it must have evoked the daily lived experiences of racism among refugees in Canada. Another moment was when Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, said a fence should be built between Canada and USA to keep out refugees. That statement displayed an ignorance of Canadian and international law pertaining to refugees.
The 2015 Liberal majority government came to Ottawa with some significant commitments to refugees. They promised to bring into Canada 25,000 Syrian refugees and did so successfully. To date, Canada has resettled more than 60,000 Syrian refugees. However, most of the Syrians were sponsored by Canadian citizens through Sponsorship Agreement Holders, Groups of Five, and Community Sponsors and not by the government. The Liberals also fulfilled their commitment to give the United Nations $100 million for Syrian refugee relief. In April 2016, as promised during the last campaign, the government fully restored the cuts that had been made by the previous government to the Interim Federal Health Program.
Around the time President Trump issued executive orders barring refugees from certain countries, Prime Minister Trudeau declared that Canada welcomes all refugees fleeing persecution. Since then, more than 40,000 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada from the United States. But earlier this year, the Canadian government rolled back its welcome and shifted its focus on what it called reinforcing border security. It introduced a new ground of ineligibility for refugee claimants who ha ve p reviously made refugee claims and been rejected in the United States, with which Canada has the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).
Among the major parties, there is no resistance to raising Canada’s immigration levels. The Liberals pledged to steadily increase the number of newcomers from the current 300,000 to 350,000 a year by 2021. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stated that those immigration levels are “consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests.” The NDP did not set an immigration target, and the Greens simply said they would increase immigration overall.
The Bloc Québécois said that Quebec should be the one to decide how many immigra nts and refugees the provinc e accepts and not the federal government. Prime Minister Trudeau is open to working with Quebec to increase the province’s control over immigration. However, Quebec also wants to be exempted from the Multiculturalism Act to, perhaps, accommodate their new Bill 21 that bars public servants from wearing religious garments. Quebec’s Bill 21 is a step backward because it enshrines religious discrimination into law and is a barrier to the integration of newcomers. It is an additional tool of social exclusion, which I call Canada’s “border wall.”
The Liberals campaigned on a promise to “modernize” the STCA between Canada and the United States. The agreement allows would-be refugees to make claims at unofficial points of entry. Trudeau is looking to close the so-called “loophole.” Professor Sharry Aiken of Queen’s University suggests that any attempt to amend the STCA will fail because it would require President Trump to agree to keep more immigrants and asylum seekers in the U.S. which he is unlikely to do. Another reason why this promise may not succeed is because the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, and the Greens have all called for the STCA to be suspended until the Americans can prove that their asylum system is fair to refugee claimants.
Now with a new minority parliament, Prime Minister Trudeau must balance the perspectives put forward by all of Canada’s major political parties, as articulated through the election campaign. We need a government that is transparent, that listens and cares, and that is cooperative with other parties. Fortunately, every party in the House of Commons agrees on the value of raising immigration levels. But they will have to come up with the best way forward for the STCA and generally ensure that refugee rights are protected.
Over the next few years, CPJ will continue championing refugee rights by working with government, opposition MPs, and civil society to push for effective anti-racism strategies and measures to ensure that refugees and all other immigrants are fully integrated into Canadian society for the common good.
Photo credit: Takver/Flickr