Immigrant lives matter, Mr. Harper!

Are potential immigrants and foreigners resident in Canada entitled to treatment that is just, reasonable, equitable and consistent with the basic human rights which are the cornerstone of our democratic society?

That is clearly not the view of the current Conservative federal government in Ottawa. The Conservatives have a quite different understanding of the extent to which immigrant lives matter and, especially, the extent to which immigrant lives should matter.

Accordingly, in their definition of the national interest as it applies to immigration policy, the first criterion for eligibility to live and work in Canada is whether the applicant can contribute to an area of need and the second consideration is that that person’s labor should not entitle him or her to wages and benefits that are comparable with those enjoyed by Canadian citizens.

Consequently, over the last few years, the “Harper Government” has been imposing harsher and costlier options with longer qualification times on applicants for permanent residence and citizenship; foreign caregivers; foreign farm workers and other temporary foreign workers; parents and grandparents; and, especially, applicants for refugee status.

Some of the most disgraceful examples of their thinking include the “cancellation” of hundreds of thousands of unprocessed applications for permanent residence, the denial of medical benefits for refugees (it is true to say this is a provincial matter but that is an inadequate response) and the denial of permission to remain and to apply for permanent residence that will soon apply to persons who have been and are still legally employed in the country for several years.

In that context, both the immigration professionals in private practice and the non-government agencies that look after the interests of immigrants and foreign workers have been shouting on the rooftops that the recent changes in immigration policy are illegal, inhumane and so unethical as to be “un-Canadian”.

They cite the equality of rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights. They also refer to the well-known provision of the latter legal document that refers to “the dignity and worth of the human person and the position of the family.”

What is the government’s reaction to those protestations? The rationale provided by the federal department Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is that the number of applications for the wide range of options open to foreigners far exceeds Canada’s needs and the CIC’s processing capacity, particularly in the context of a tendency on the part of many applicants to abuse the system.

While those considerations do have some merit, the consequences have been that the government has resorted to “solutions” that amount to inhumane overkill and throwing out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

Moreover, one needs to go beyond the government’s failure to monitor and control the possibility of employers abusing the system and beyond “allegations” that some employers were specially favored by official sins of bias and of neglectful oversight: one suspects that there are also some significant political issues involved.

It is undeniable that the Harper government’s concept of the role of immigration and of the rights and responsibilities of immigrants is ideologically opposed to the spirit of the Canada’s legal and constitutional values as they relate to equal rights, equity, and dignity for all.

It is also suggested that the current trend in federal immigration policy is being not being driven by statesmen and stateswomen with a long-term vision of Canada’s broader socio-economic needs. Rather, there is a view that the short-sighted immigration policy is being defined by partisan politicians whose focus is limited to narrow economic sectors and to vested business interests that support the government.

One clear example of such ideological bias that leaves no room for meaningful consultation and consideration of the views of other sectors of the society is the excessive emphasis on the importance of the economy, of commercial productivity and of competitiveness.

The federal government has completely lost sight of the role of immigration in building Canadian society, not just the Canadian economy, through socio-economic growth and development that is sustainable and equitably shared among citizens, residents and foreign workers.

Starkly put, the needs of Canadian society in the context of immigration go far beyond the international sourcing of workers at all levels. The needs of Canadian society also extend to providing for the social wellbeing of those workers and their families.

Immigrant lives matter!