Economic Migrants

Commentary, Immigration, Brian Giesbrecht

Europe is tearing itself apart over the issue of immigration. The essence of the problem is that there are just too many applicants for too few spots.

Many of the people seeking to come to Europe are from war-torn countries like Syria, or from failed states in Africa, such as Somalia and Libya. Some are genuine asylum seekers, who would be in great danger if sent back to their home countries. However, the vast majority of these people are economic migrants – people seeking better opportunities.

It is a sad fact of life that most of the people on this planet do not live in wealthy and stable countries. Millions of people – maybe billions – would be willing to make great sacrifices to move their families to rich countries like Germany, the United States and Canada. It is also a reality that the wealthy countries could not survive an influx of all of the people that want to be here. Numbers must be limited, and immigration must be carefully controlled.

Western Europe now recognizes that it made a great mistake in 2015, during the time of the great Syrian exodus, by simply throwing open its borders to anyone who wanted in. Europe is not the only part of the world that is struggling with this difficult problem. One of Donald Trump’s highly successful campaign promises was to temporarily ban immigration from certain Muslim countries “until we can figure it out” – the problem to be “figured out” was violent Islamic extremism. Eastern Europe is also taking this approach. It is virtually impossible for Muslim families to make their homes in Poland or Hungary. But even more tolerant countries like Italy, which faces the very real prospect of a potential influx of up to a million economic migrants from a dysfunctional Libya, are struggling to find a solution that is humane, but realistic.

Canada too is having problems with the economic migrant issue. At the present time, tens of thousands of migrants have entered the country illegally by circumventing the official border crossings – they know that if they tried to enter at the official crossings they would be turned back into the United States from whence they came. These people are not to be blamed for trying to improve their lot in life by taking advantage of Canada’s faulty system, but clearly there is a problem here.

Which model should Canada look at to solve the problem? I suggest that it should look to none of the above.

First, the Trumpian and Eastern European model of refusing to allow Muslim immigrants into the country is a xenophobic and bigoted response that has no place in our country. Canada currently has a Muslim population that, on the whole, is at least as productive, hard working and peaceful as any other demographic group. Violent Islamic jihadism is certainly a very real problem that immigration screening must address. However, there is no reason to suppose that newcomers to the country, who have passed all the requirements, will not be productive and peaceful citizens. Tight border control and proper screening will address these issues.

But uncontrolled immigration- and that is what is happening in Western Europe, and here in Canada – is also not the way to go.

The model I suggest that Canada should follow is that of a country that is like us in many ways – Australia. Although economic migrants find Australia just as attractive as they do Canada, or any other wealthy country, Australia has virtually no problem with uncontrolled migration.


Quite simply, Australia puts out the word that undocumented economic migrants – queue jumpers – will not be admitted to their country. This is the exact opposite of our Prime Minister’s irresponsible tweet last year that everyone wanting to illegally cross into Canada was welcome. Migrants steer clear of Australia because they know that they will be turned back if they try to enter. The federal government should copy this approach. We should remember that there are many potential immigrants who have done all their paperwork, and who are waiting patiently in difficult circumstances for permission to come to our country. Queue jumping is very unfair to these people.

Australia also plans to require new immigrants to accept basic values such as acknowledging that domestic assault, female genital mutilation, and “honour” killing are wrong. Backward, harmful customs such as these are wrong regardless of which culture or religion appears to justify them. Canada currently does this as well, but it has no application for illegal migrants who manage to bypass the system by disappearing into the mainstream. The policy should be made to all people wanting to make Canada their home.

Finally, Australia expeditiously deals with asylum claims, and insists that immigrants must have skills that will enable them to support themselves and their families in their new country. Canada has such requirements for people legally immigrating to Canada, but those requirements fall by the wayside for those entering the country illegally. Many illegal migrants simply disappear into the Canadian mainstream while they are supposedly waiting for a hearing or deportation, and the skills requirement is made irrelevant. Canada must insist that immigrants do not become a burden on the public purse, while finding a way to process all newcomers expeditiously, in a fair and humane manner, so illegal immigrants cannot thwart the process. If this means declaring that the entire border is an official crossing, holding immediate oral hearings before special immigration hearing officers, or using the Notwithstanding clause if those measures are found to be unconstitutional, then so be it.

Because fairness is essential if the integrity of the system is to be restored. Here is how former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard puts it:

“My long experience in Australian politics has been that whenever a government is seen to have immigration flows under control, public support for immigration increases, when the reverse occurs hostility to immigration rises.”

The chief legal impediment to Canada adopting a system like Australia’s is the Singh decision, decided by our Supreme Court in the very early days of the newly minted Constitution, in 1982. Basically, it insists that everyone coming into the country is entitled to an oral hearing. The way the case has been interpreted, an illegal immigrant is given a hearing date far into the future. The hearing is conducted by politically appointed people, who too often have little or no immigration experience. It is very unfortunate that the federal government did not choose veteran immigration experts to perform this important task. Experienced people do a much better job of expeditiously screening applicants – they are much better at telling the difference between an economic migrant and a person fleeing persecution. Canada’s illegal migrant problem would not be nearly as entrenched if skilled, experienced people conducted the hearings, as opposed to inexperienced political appointees.

Because of the lengthy delays in our inefficient system, the person making the claim too often simply disappears into an ethnic enclave within the country, and forgets about hearing dates, or his or her circumstances change drastically in the interval between entry into the country and hearing date. Or, a skilled immigration lawyer is able to drag out proceedings, thwarting the process. In the result, people who enter illegally too often succeed in staying in the country at the expense of potential immigrants to Canada who wait in other countries, having complied with all requirements. There is great unfairness here – meanwhile security threats remain in the country undetected.

The Singh case stands in the way of a fair and reasonable solution to the very real problem of illegal immigration. It must be reconsidered, and a system that includes immediate hearings conducted by specially appointed and experienced immigration hearing officers, with the power to separate legitimate asylum seekers from economic migrants, substituted for the inferior system we have now. The hearing officers must have the power to prevent people determined to be economic migrants – especially those who are security threats – from entering the country.

By removing the unfairness and mischief that has resulted from the wrongly decided Singh decision, Canada would be able to adopt a better system, along the lines of the Australian model.

Everyone in Canada is an immigrant – whether he or she arrived here hundreds of years ago from Europe, last year from Africa or the the Far East, or thousands of years ago from Siberia. Immigrants of all nationalities, ethnicities and religions have made this country the safe and prosperous country it has become. Controlled borders, and fair – but robust – immigration policies, will keep it that way.