David Suzuki and the rise of New Xenophobia

Commentary, Environment, Marco Navarro-Genie


When David Suzuki hanged a big no-vacancy neon sign outside the entry gate for immigrants to Canada, he was giving birth to a new kind of xenophobia. In case you missed it, here is an English translation of what he said to the French weekly L’Express:

“I think that Canada is full too! Even if it’s the second biggest country in the world, our usable land is reduced. Our immigration policy is enough to make you sick: we pillage the countries of the south by depriving them of their future professionals and we want to increase our population to help our economy grow. It’s crazy!”

People reject newcomers for a variety of reasons. In fact, immigrants themselves sometimes express a desire to limit Canadian immigration. The desire is not uncommon. Whether it springs from a wish to preserve an exclusive social status or to keep economic gains by attempting to prevent greater competition from entering the field, it is a rational attitude in response to a perceived scarcity.

But Suzuki is not motivated by a fear of economic scarcity. His statement, that Canada is already full and that the country’s immigration policy is disgusting, exemplifies rather two notions:

1)    the more people in Canada, the more the environment will be harmed and,

2)     immigration inevitably translate into an irreplaceable loss of skill to the countries of origin.

By holding such beliefs, Suzuki is, instead, patronizingly assuming that he is a better judge than immigrants themselves as to what is in their own best interests. At best, Suzuki seems to be saying, if you leave your native country you are depriving it of your presumed ingenuity which cannot be replaced by any of your former countrymen. It is a ridiculous assumption.

At worst, his prescription removes both our freedom of mobility and our inherent right to seek our fortune in places other than where we were born. Suzuki’s implied conclusion is that people aspiring to better life should stay where they were born. In other words, Suzuki’s views are anti-freedom, anti-competition and anti-markets.

In the end, however, Suzuki’s fears are not the old-fashioned xenophobia we are all familiar with.

The typical xenophobic sentiment against immigration is moved by a fear that newcomers will ruin a romanticised status quo, which may be understood as racial (outsiders pollute blood lines), cultural (outsiders water down our language and culture) or economic (outsiders steal our jobs). Such beliefs assume that newcomers will damage the idyllic good that has been achieved from the sacrifice of those already there or will stop progress, which, in turn, leads to deterioration. Suzuki says he favours multiculturalism, but it would seem more in the abstraction than in the practice.

Suzuki places himself above such mundane issues as race, the diluting of culture and economic degradation, while decrying the arrival of others to this country for the assumed harm they will cause to an “already wounded” natural environment. He sees his motives as noble and altruistic, manifesting concern with the “exploitation” of immigrants by their new country and the loss their leaving “inflicts” on their developing home countries.

In other words, Suzuki’s rejection of immigration is a new type of xenophobia, one we have never seen before. It is not motivated by self-interested fear. He wants to keep immigrants out of Canada for their own good and with the messianic goal of saving the planet from impending doom. It may be appropriate to call it altru-ecoplanetary-xenophobia, but such a bastardised and unpronounceable mouthful of compacted Latin into Greek will never stick.

Neo-xenophobia seems less of a tongue-twister.