Canada's immigration laws have sacrificed fairness on the altar of efficiency. The reality is that in many ways, we have returned to the same exclusionary times as the Komagata Maru, the Chinese Head tax and the MS St. Louis.
The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged to each Chinese person entering Canada from 1885 to 1923. The amount imposed was significant.. The Canadian Pacific Railway aided by the government bean counters of the day needed Chinese labourers to build the railway and paid them 1/3 or 1/2 less than their co-workers. They wanted cheap foreign labourers, but racist government officials in line with the prevailing sentiments of the day, also had to discourage the Chinese from settling here or bringing their family here. This head tax prevented these Chinese men from bringing their women and children here to join them. The Chinese community thus became a "bachelor society".
Fast forward to 2013. We have a legion of temporary foreign workers in Canada today. Over 210,000 TFW were admitted last year, 190,000 the year prior, 180,000 prior to that. Of these, tens of thousands are so called low skilled workers are admitted each year.
Just like the Chinese railway labourers of a century prior, there is no path for permanent residency for them and it is difficult if not impossible for them to bring their spouses and children here to join them. The parallels between the Chinese Head Tax and low skilled temporary foreign workers are clear. These individuals are economic integers to the government bean counters. Private industry will use them for their useful labour and then will discard them . The fact that they have feelings or aspirations to remain here permanently to better their lives and the lives of their wives, husbands or children is irrelevant.
99 years ago the Komagata Maru set sail from India to Canada. It carried over 300 Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims -- all British subjects -- seeking a better life in Canada. The ship and was held in the Vancouver harbor for 2 months. There were protests and sensational headlines in the newspapers. The ship was ultimately forced to return to India where 20 of the passengers were shot and killed by the British forces. The passengers were prevented from landing because of exclusionary laws that targeted their country of origin - an arbitrary, perverse and capricious distinction. Remember, at the time, we were welcoming 400,000 immigrants from European countries, a number still unmatched today.
Fast forward to present day. We have exclusionary laws against refugees based on a person's country of origin.
The changes to Canada's refugee laws means that some claimants are denied work permits, health care and other benefits prior to a determination on the merits of their refugee claim. These restrictions are based on the country of origin. That means a Roma family from Hungary is denied all of the above; a Roma family from Romania is not. But both could end up getting status in Canada.
74 years ago in 1939 The MS St Louis set sail from Europe carrying over 900 Jews fleeing discrimination and persecution. It was turned back from the US and from Canada. We didn't give them safe harbour. The ship had to return to Europe where 1/4 of its passengers later died at the hands of the Nazis.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Even though skin head thugs are responsible for beatings and murders of Roma and Roma children, our government has designated Hungary as a "safe" country. That means its nationals will have expedited hearings with less procedural safeguards against a false negative decision. Our foreign policy seems to be dictated by economics and not human rights. The government needed to lift the visa requirement against Hungary (for trade purposes) and so it was politically expedient to call Hungary safe.
The foremost right wing commentator in Canada, Mr. Ezra Levant had this to say about the Roma:
"These are gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers. The phrase gypsy and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb: he gypped me. Well the gypsies have gypped us. Too many have come here as false refugees. And they come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries...They're gypsies. And one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging"
Those sentiments (expressed by someone who apparently graduated with a post-secondary credential) are not from 1939, but from 2013.
The reality is that -- and this is from a Canadian Federal Court Judge - "The history of the Romani people's past, even their recent past, is rife with ostracism, exclusion, marginalization, discrimination and, in some cases, persecution because of their race".
Once again, we will not give a persecuted minority safe harbour.
The pendulum has swung too far. A recent Harvard Law School study paints a scathing portrait of Canada as a country that's increasingly slamming its doors on asylum seekers and unwittingly contributing to human smuggling. Ottawa has made it so difficult for refugees to claim asylum that its pushing people to attempt to swim across the Niagara (some have drowned) and one man lost both legs while trying to cross a railway bridge into Canada. The author of the Harvard Law School study states that "Canada's reneging on its commitment to asylum-seekers and undermining its history of refugee protection". It's time for a sober second thought and review of many of our immigration laws and policies.
Raj Sharma JD LLM