Oh, Canada. The land we often associate with tolerance, diversity and acceptance––especially when it comes to immigration and refugees. We’ve sold ourselves as a nation that loves rather than hates, while simultaneously comparing ourselves to the U.S. in order to highlight our exceptionalism. Sure, we’re better in the sense that our leader doesn’t expend his energy and time promoting hatred and ignorance. And yes, we haven’t been in the headlines because of a recent government shutdown over the construction of a wall. But we’re way over our heads if we really believe that we’re a standing example of what a great country should be. Take immigration and refugees for example. It seems like Canada has always been leading by a few points when it comes to accepting others. But is that really true?
Recently, Canada granted asylum to an 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman named Rahaf Mohammed, who used social media to highlight the abuse she allegedly suffered from her family. She fled her home and is now in Toronto, considering herself one of the “lucky ones” according to CTV News. We at The Concordian celebrate this success for Mohammed and are proud of Canada for accepting her. Yet, we can’t help but notice the various media headlines that are emphasizing how great Canada is, and how we’re the world-heroes of accepting refugees and immigrants.
To be frank, that’s just not true. Canadians are really divisive when it comes to the issue of immigration. A 2018 Angus Reid survey found that half of Canadians want to see the number of immigrants arriving to Canada decrease, according to CBC News. Not only are Canadian citizens tough on immigration issues, but the actual government isn’t that open-hearted either. Immigrants who choose Canada have to wait for months or years before Canada lets them in, and over the past 20 years, only about 5 million immigrants have entered Canada, according to The Atlantic.
And while we’re berating the United States for their desire to build a wall, we need to remember that Canada has border walls too. Not only are there physical borders, but there’s the big, bureaucratic one: the government. According to The Atlantic, in 2012, Canada rejected 18 per cent of the more than one million foreigners who applied for a visitor’s visa. By 2017, that number had risen to 26 per cent, and in the first three months of 2018, it’s risen to 30 per cent.
According to a World Economic Forum survey, Canada is one of the worst countries for its restrictiveness of visitor visa requirements––it is placed 120th out of 136 countries. And according to Maclean’s, Canada quietly deports “many Haitians to the most impoverished country in the Americas, where more than one in five residents suffer hunger and chronic malnutrition.” In fact, Canada seems to have a problem with its transparency when it comes to immigration and refugee processes. Specifically, it has been criticized in the past for their lack of transparency over immigration detention. According to the Toronto Star, Canada’s practices of detaining vulnerable groups, like children and those with mental health conditions, is problematic. A report by the Global Detention Project highlighted that 371 children were detained over the last two years. There have been many deaths of migrants in these detention facilities, and at least 16 people have died in immigration detention since 2000. Does this treatment sound familiar?
We can’t forget about Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States either. Dating from 2004, the agreement claims that refugees who enter the U.S. or Canada first, must apply for refugee status in that country first. Essentially, a country can reject a refugee’s application if they’ve already been given protection by another country. We still have this agreement, even though it’s been made clear that the U.S. isn’t that safe of a country for those fleeing persecution.
A quick search on Google can prove to us that Canada isn’t the knight in shining armour we sometimes think it is. It isn’t the home of the free, and it certainly isn’t waiting with open arms for whoever chooses this country as their new home. It stings to see headlines celebrating Canada as a great nation, because it isn’t true. Our sense of exceptionalism is dangerous; it’s dangerous because it promotes false hope, false ideas and false expectations. We’re glad Rahaf Mohammed has a new home in Canada; we just can’t help but wonder about those who weren’t as lucky.
Graphic by Ana Bilokin