Ottawa is backsliding on refugees. We cannot return to the contemptible policies of our past

Canada’s nakedly racist immigration policies are not ancient history. It was only in the 1970s that they were finally wound down as policy, though the color blindness of some immigration officials was never believable. The department is currently under investigation for allegations of years of systemic racism.

Canada had a racist screening system that was thinly veiled as “geographic” quotas only 50 years ago. Our quotas in those days permitted 1,000 immigrants per year from Asia — and one hundred times that from Europe. In recent years, we have won a global reputation for the openness and fairness of both our immigration and refugee screening processes. We have the most successful record in the world at immigration integration. But, occasionally some of the old impulses appear to push to the surface again.

The Trudeau government pledged that we would admit 40,000 Afghan refugees after the fall of Kabul last August. In the months since, we have welcomed less than 20 per cent of that pledge. Various bureaucracies have erected their usual obstacles when they are determined to slow walk a policy to failure. First they claimed they could not admit more of the desperate because they did not have screening facilities in Kabul. The EU removed that excuse by offering to share theirs.

The Department of Justice threw sand in the gears, as government lawyers do, saying, “Here’s why you can’t do that legally, minister!” Incredibly, they cited the prohibition on aiding “terrorism” if assistance were given to refugee claimants. It is absurdly transparent nonsense that several more expert Canadian lawyers have laughed at. Global Affairs and Public Safety, two ministries one would have thought had an important role, have been nudged aside by the intransigent foot draggers.

Of course we should open our doors to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees as quickly as possible. However, where non-Muslim European refugees are concerned there appear to be different rules.

Ukrainians are being waved through because it is claimed they are “unlikely to stay.” Perhaps. But they will be welcomed into our vast Ukrainian Canadian community, and many may decide to stay. Many will bring skills and experience in high demand by employers. Few will need integration support, except perhaps in acquiring fluency in English or French.

But the stunning difference in political signaling by this government to one refugee community versus another is somewhat stomach turning. There have been half a dozen ministerial visits to Europe to ensure our aid flows in and their refugees can flow out.

The number of Canadian ministers who have gone to Pakistan to help speed up the transport and certification of Afghan refugees since the election? No prizes for guessing — none. The latest excuse for the tragic delay in getting Afghans who put their lives on the line to support Canadian soldiers, diplomats and journalists: “backlog.”

For decades, immigration departments have used the excuse that the years-long wait for refugees and immigrants to be processed is due to backlog. What would the response of a government be if, for example, the CRA said they could not get Canadians their tax reimbursement checks out in less than 18 months because of backlog?

They would fix it: hire staff, whip the bureaucracy, and demand results or heads on a block. So why do we allow backlog to be the “dog ate my homework” excuse from immigration bureaucrats? Perhaps it’s because governments actually prefer their ability to choke the number of refugees — unless, of course, they’re from a country where millions of Canadian voters have roots and are demanding action.

So let us return to the days when ministers greeted refugees from war-torn hells at the airport, no matter which war had torn their lives apart. Let there not be even a scintilla of suspicion that we are sliding back to the contemptible refugee policy that we are so proud of having erased two generations ago.

Or we will wake up one morning to the news that the Taliban have murdered yet another Canada-bound refugee — one whose luck ran out after months of waiting for the silence from the immigration bureaucracy to finally end.

Robin V. Sears was an NDP strategist for 20 years and later served as a communications adviser to businesses and governments on three continents. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robinvsears


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