Its Friday morning May 4th 2012 in a large lecture hall at a top Canadian University. The hall is packed to capacity and the students are all in a fast-track program called “Canadian Immigration and Refugee Studies.” Today is the first day of this program and there is a tense expectation.
Lues a young, respected professor will be leading the students through this program. He raises his hand for silence, waits for a moment and then says, “I would like to introduce this program with a public event that is current and is getting media attention. Does anyone know about a vigil that is occurring tomorrow night that is related to the Canadian refugee reforms?”
Hillary an intense student with short black hair tied in pony tails raises her hand and says, “Yes, Queer refugee activists will be holding a candlelight vigil Saturday May 5 in Cawthra Park to denounce the Conservative government’s proposed reforms to the refugee process.”
Toby, a cheerful student wearing a bright orange shirt stands up and says, “The claim is that the reforms will harm queers seeking refuge in Canada.”
Anja, a thoughtful student with brown skin and wearing a designer sports jacket added his contribution, “The Bill is called Bill C-31 and it is referenced as Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.”
The professor, Lues continues, “Excellent! For us to really understand what is happening in the present day, it is very important that we look back at history so that we fully grasp the concepts. I’m going to lead you through a short history of the Canadian Immigration policy since 1867.” He puts up another slide on the large screen in the front of the lecture hall.
“The slide is fairly self explanatory as it shows the beginning of Immigration Policy in Canada. So to move on, in 1869 the federal government passed the first Immigration Act. This was more or less an open door policy, providing very few restrictions on who could immigrate to Canada.”
Lues changes the slide on the screen
and points to the new slide, “However those who were blind, deaf, insane, or infirm were recorded as such by the ships transporting them. For immigrants that were deemed destitute or poor, the ship’s captain was required to pay a sum of money equal to the travel and initial living expenses for those immigrants.
OK the next subject is the Dominion Land Act.” He changes the slide on the screen.
There are a few minutes of thoughtful silence as everyone absorbs the new material.
Huan-yue an oriental student raises her hand as a signal to ask a question, “Professor, on your slide you speak of discriminatory practices, would you be covering the Chinese workers contribution to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). This is a good example of blatant human rig…”
“Actually Huan-yue your timing is immaculate. That is going to be by next topic.” The Professor presses the Next button on his remote . The new slide appears with reference to the Chinese and the CPR.
The Professor continues,“Following the completion of the CPR, the federal government moved to restrict any further Chinese immigration by imposing a large tax on each individual immigrant, in addition to denying them Canadian citizenship. Restrictions on Chinese immigrants were enforced until 1947. No other ethnic group was ever targeted this way in Canadian history.”
“We will now move on to the War Measures Act in 1914.” Lues changes to the next slide.
“These enemy aliens were required to register with the government and carry identification cards, and were prohibited from joining any associations or movement deemed unlawful by the federal government. Many were also placed in internment camps or involuntarily deported from Canada. In 1917, the federal government further introduced the Wartime Elections Act, removing the right to vote from any enemy alien who had received citizenship after 1902. We will next discuss why the change in attitude from a somewhat open policy to one that became even more selective and discriminatory. Any volunteers for some of these reasons?”
Hilary speaks up with out hesitation, ” Following the First World War there was the political and economic issue of Communism.”
Toby adjusting the collar of his colourful shirt with a bright smile says, “There were also organized labor movements that presented a major political issue.”
Anja, the brown student, now joins into the conversation, “There was also the mainstream thinking of protecting Canadian workers from losing their jobs to cheap foreign labour. Very similar to how history has repeated itself in present day.”
Lues walks to the middle of the room close to Anja puts emphasis in his voice and says, ”Very good point Anja. You have struck a good chord in the conversation today as when I started off today I indicated about the importance of understanding history in order to put present day events in perspective. You can’t depend on the poor journalism and hysteria of mass media. I would now like to jump to the 1940s’ as attitudes towards immigration began to change. Would anyone like to offer some theories about why this happened?”
Again Hilary bouncing with enthusaism speaks up, ” I believe that following the Second World War, Canada experienced unprecedented economic growth.”
Toby with the second button opened on his shirt and combing his fingers through his hair volunteers his opinion, “This growth alleviated concerns over Canadian workers losing their jobs to cheap foreign labour.”
Brown Anja brushing a speck of dust off his designer jacket speaks up clearly, “This growth fostered greater toleration of different ethnic groups and also raised concerns over racial and religious discrimination.”
Even though Lues is a short person his wisdom seems to tower over the audience. He continues his conversation, “I will now show you a slide
that demonstrates that even though there was economic growth at this time and popular thinking was becoming less discriminatory, the polices of the Government did not match this mindset. It should be also noted that the Act further discriminated against Asian immigrants without immediate relatives in Canada, gay persons, and persons with mental disabilities.
I will now move on the the White Paper of 1966.”
Lues proceeds to put up the slide. He continues, “the slide shows the Points System. Does anyone know how this worked?”
Hilary rushes to be first to answer and there is excitement in her voice, ” These included whether they knew English or French and had arranged for employment in Canada.”
Toby playing with his top shirt button expresses, “It was also based if they had a relative or family member in Canada and had proper education or training.”
Brown Anja also adds, “Points were given if they were immigrating to an area of Canada with high employment.”
The Professor now walks to the back of the lecture hall, takes a deep breath as if this is a critical point in the lesson and says, “We have traced Immigration history to this point and there has been no mention of Refugees as this is how we started off the lesson today. Now I will introduce you to
when Refugees became part of the immigration discussion. This is shown on the next slide. You will note that it was only until 1978 that this became a formalized process. So it’s quite young in the history of Immigration to Canada. Also around the same time the different classes such as Independent, Family, Humanitarian, Assisted Relative classes were introduced. The Business Class came a bit later.”
Huan-yue’s eyes are sparkling and she raises her hand for attention and speaks, “Under the business class and between 1983 and 1996, approximately 700,000 Chinese business people, mainly from Hong Kong, immigrated to Canada, bringing billions in investment funds.”
Lues smiles and nods at Huan-yue, “Yes that is certainly correct. But this brings us to 2010 when the Balanced Refugee Reform Act was presented and introduced the concepts of Safe and Unsafe countries. And then recently unto Bill C-31 that struggles with moulding an economic and political system and amalgamating it with one that is humanitarian. As can be seen throughout the history of the immigration process , the goals were always economic and political. However refugees and queers open up another dimension for the discussion, as it dives into the subject of humanity. One cannot readily fit existing economic and political theories into solving the human condition. These large systems are actually the cause of many of the world’s problems that we face today. This is the reason why the issues of refugees and queers will always present rough waters for the politicians, and if rethinking of the human condition is not applied, then these waters can become a mighty titanic force that pulls everything into the abyss.”
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