Immigration Crisis In France Is A Warning To Canada (By James Bissett in The Ottawa Citizen)

November 18, 2005: Immigration Crisis In France Is A Warning To Canada (By James Bissett in The Ottawa Citizen)

Immigration crisis in France is a warning to Canada
By James Bissett

The Ottawa Citizen-Special
Friday, November 18, 2005

The recent outbreak of violence and arson in France by disaffected Muslim youths has drawn attention to the problems inherent in mass migration.

When the volume of newcomers reaches levels that make it unlikely they can be integrated into their new country, there is discord. When the migrants do not share the culture or value system of the receiving country, the problem of integration becomes even more serious.

In the past, Canada has been able to profit greatly from immigration and we have been successful in avoiding the kind of problems faced in France, in Britain and in a number of other European countries. But we must not be complacent.

We have been successful for a number of reasons. The first is that, for the most part, we have selected our immigrants on the basis of their skills, education and training. Soon after their arrival they have been able to establish themselves into the labour force and adjust to life in Canada.

Secondly, we have until lately restricted the number of family members the original immigrants could sponsor to join them in Canada. Relatives were restricted to spouses, dependent children and parents over the age of 60 — in other words, dependent relatives who were not going to enter the labour force.

Finally, the flow of migrants entering in any one year was related to our economy and the ability of our labour force to absorb newcomers. In times of economic buoyancy and strong demand for labour, we accepted more immigrants. When there was a downturn in the economy and rising unemployment, we turned the immigration tap off and admitted fewer people.

This system worked well and was advantageous to both our country and the immigrants. Those who came were reasonably sure of finding employment and were not disappointed by having to remain unemployed or forced to accept financial support from government.

In bad economic times, the numbers were low and the immigrants who had entered previously were allowed to adjust and integrate more quickly into Canadian society. Fewer numbers also put less strain on the infrastructure of the three main cities of destination — Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Housing, schooling and social services were better able to cope with a lower volume of newcomers.

In the mid 1980s the system changed and numbers became the important objective. Governments had discovered that immigrants translated into potential votes and therefore the more the merrier. Immigration was no longer primarily related to labour-force demand and the family class was broadened to include parents and grandparents of any age.

In the past 10 years, more than two million immigrants entered Canada. The vast majority of them have settled in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Studies have shown that the newcomers are not doing as well as those who came under the previous system. In fact, 50 per cent of those who have come since the 1980s are living below the poverty line. Since immigrants are no longer selected because they have occupations that are in demand, many are unable to find employment. This breeds discontent and disaffection.

The government believes we should accept one per cent of our population as immigrants on an annual basis. There has never been a rational explanation for this target and, on a per-capita basis, no other country in the world comes near to this number. There is now a backlog of more than 750,000 applications and most of these are parents and grandparents who certainly will not be making a contribution to our labour force. Yet our immigration minister has just announced he intends to increase next year's intake by an additional 40 per cent. Why?

The explanation Joe Volpe gives is that they are required to fill desperately needed shortages in our labour force, but he is unable to cite any reputable labour-force studies to back up his statement. We are also told that we need immigrants to help with our aging problem, but there is not a reputable demographer in Canada who accepts that argument.

It is unlikely our government will see the events in France as a warning signal. Immigration has become one of those subjects that ordinary Canadians are not allowed to speak about. To do so runs the risk of being branded as anti-immigrant or even racist. Our House of Commons immigration committee studiously avoids asking any economists or demographers to appear before it, fearing that to do so might expose the committee to some of the facts about immigration.

When immigration becomes a numbers game with little or no consideration for the welfare of the individual immigrant, then we can expect trouble in our cities.

If we continue to pursue a policy that aims to bring more than 300,000 immigrants into three or four of our major urban centres each year, then it will only be a question of time before Canada experiences problems similar to those now being faced by Europe.

Immigration has been good for Canada. Let's not ruin it by forgetting that immigrants are people, not numbers.

James Bissett is a former ambassador and was head of Canada's Immigration Service from 1985 to 1990.

The Ottawa Citizen 2005