In recent months, an unprecedented number of asylum seekers have entered the province of Quebec. These immigrants, the majority of whom are of Haitian origin, cross the U.S.-Canada border without documentation and subsequently approach a border patrol agent to declare asylum, a legal request for protection by the Canadian government. This recent influx is in part due to the U.S. government’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to Haitian asylum seekers in the United States following the earthquake in 2010. According to Canadian law enforcement, roughly 7,000 people have entered the country this way since June 1.
The recent influx of asylum seekers has sparked xenophobic rhetoric in Quebec and across the country—far-right groups organized protests in Montreal and Quebec City in August, which were met by counter-protests in solidarity with refugees. Many right-wing political parties have also engaged in dehumanizing rhetoric which describes asylum seekers as burdens to the Canadian government and people. In reality, Canada has both the capacity and the ethical imperative to welcome them, many of whom have risked death to escape unstable conditions. The Canadian government should also make reparations for their role in bringing down the democratically elected Aristide government in the 2000s, as well as for the increase in deportations after the lifting of the deportation ban in 2016, which has resulted in the deportation of more than 5,000 Haitian refugees in the first half of 2017 alone.
In the majority of cases, asylum seekers are not made aware of the reality of the Canadian immigration process, and are instead led to believe that Canada is a welcoming haven for immigrants. This misconception is exacerbated by Justin Trudeau’s public image and lip service to refugees. By opportunistically posing with refugees and echoing empty ideas about the importance of diversity, Trudeau maintains a position of liberal superiority without actually pushing legislation that facilitates immigration into Canada. The proposed immigration policies outlined on the Liberal party’s website state that the government intends to open its borders only to 25,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria—less than 0.5 per cent of the more than 5 million refugees who have left Syria alone. Policy proposals reuniting families favour refugees who receive financial sponsorship from family members already partially immigrated to Canada. Family or spouse sponsorships bear the brunt of the socioeconomic cost of settling in a new country. Immigration Canada uses a point based system largely based on economic merit, rather than acknowledging an ethical duty that Canada has to open its borders.
For many Haitian asylum seekers leaving the U.S. at this time, entrance into Canada can in fact prove to be even more detrimental to their circumstances, given that the Canadian government is deporting Haitian refugees back to Haiti, as opposed to the U.S., where they still have status until January 22, 2018. Canadians must become aware of the way their country treats asylum seekers. They need to speak out and advocate for more ethical and compassionate immigration laws, and hold politicians accountable to their claims. Most importantly, they need to actively support asylum seekers by showing up to rallies, donating money and clothing where appropriate, and creating safe spaces for undocumented people. Last spring, for example, Concordia undergraduate students voted to make the university an official sanctuary campus, formally adopting a policy of non-cooperation. This includes, but is not limited to, refusing to share “any information on its current and past staff, faculty and students, or allowing the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) on its premises, in order to protect undocumented community members from threat of deportation.” More must be done to put this into practice, as Concordia’s security personnel still collaborate with the CBSA, but the vote was a good start. It’s time for SSMU to do the same by pressuring McGill into adopting a similar policy.