This Monday, November 5 2012, Ontario revealed a “bold” new strategy for immigration, which endows the province with five times more power to select immigrants (called ‘provincial nominees,’ up from 1000 to 5,000 per year by 2014), and raises the ratio of economic immigrants. According to Immigration Minister Charles Sousa, this plan will “attract a better-skilled workforce…[and the] highly skilled immigrants and investors that we need to fuel economic growth and help build stronger communities.” While an influx of skilled newcomers will address both our lagging economy and looming skilled labor shortages, will this new immigration strategy really “build stronger communities?” And what about the percentage of refugees and reuniting families members – parents, grandparents – that these changes will quietly exclude? These changes place enormous power in Jason Kenney’s hands and further dampen Canada’s reputation; both developments seem equal parts deeply unfortunate and inextricably linked.
The same day Ontario’s “bold” new immigration strategy was released, Citizenship and Immigration Canada quietly announced a new reduction in the number of immigrants accepted into Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The government has also instituted a five-year bar on applying under humanitarian and compassionate grounds for so-called “irregular arrivals” who arrive in Canada en masse by boat or plane, or from countries Minister Jason Kenney has deemed “safe,” producing a two-tiered system of refugee protection based not on individual life circumstances but on refugee country of origin.
A similar two-tiered system formed around Canadian refugee health care in June, when, under Bill C-31, all healthcare for refugees was completely stripped, and health care professionals ordered to refuse refugees from “safe” countries or facing deportation orders. In just half a year, countless refugees have suffered under the health care cuts, overfilling volunteer clinics, and seeking care for vital and urgent health care needs including insulin, anti-epileptics, and psychiatric medications (though, naturally, exceptions are made for conditions posing immediate threats to public safety). Individuals seeking refuge in Canada flee danger in their home countries, and these ongoing changes to Ontario’s immigration policy all add to a crystallizing atmosphere of mistrust and hard-heartedness, further marginalizing refugees, framing them as freeloaders or frauds, sensationalizing them through ongoing media coverage – look no further than here (link to the Nigerian students article). Refugee advocates are turning to social media channels to speak directly to Jason Kenney and address these stigmas – yesterday, for example, Eka Cooperative Director Kara Ardan Tweeted: @kenneyjason: my UN #refugee Neighbour works 6 days a wk to ESL 4 nights & church choir and YOU denied under H&C his wife & daughter.
According to Kenney, a new, grim-sounding family reunification program “limit[ing] intake to a level that is fiscally sustainable” is on the horizon. While family reunification might not be an ‘obvious’ economic benefit to Canada, don’t these skilled workers Ontario yearns to attract have families they would like in Canada too? Furthermore, adds NDP critic Jinny Sims, family reunification also “represents the economic advantage of additional caregivers and greater stability for many families.” While the Conservative government might emphasize the “family unit” and envision “stronger” communities, their idealizations of both ignore those suffering under intersecting systemic oppressions. Again: what kind of communities do we want to build?
So if you’ve got something to say about how immigration policy, refugee care, or family reunification are reflected in your community or your family, speak up and let @kenneyjason know. The #cdnimm, #refugee, #diversity, #newcdns are all excellent hashtags for these messages.