Immigration model needs new approach
OTTAWA—Ever since Sir Clifford Sifton welcomed Ukrainian immigration to Canada at the end of the 19th Century by praising “a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat … and a stout wife and a half-dozen children” as “a good quality,” Canada has welcomed non-British, non-French immigrants.
The Canadian story is one of adaptation and change, as successive waves of immigrants have come, settled, been absorbed and simultaneously helped transform their new country.
“Immigration flows end up defining the structure and character of the country,” economist John Helliwell told an Institute for Research on Public Policy conference on migration and security 10 days ago. “There is no surprise that Canada is more inclined to a global outlook — as it should be.”
But that is only a partial story, told by those who stayed. It doesn’t take into account those who came and moved back, or moved on. Or those who remain engaged in the struggles in their countries of origin, living with more than one national identity.
Immigration has changed. Many come to Canada now with a sense that they are part of a new, mobile generation, moving back and forth with ease, and sometimes, when conditions change, returning home. This is another side of globalization.
Sometimes, they take back a positive experience.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia, studied at the University of Toronto, got her doctorate at McGill and taught psychology at the Université de Montréal before going back to the former Soviet Republic. She was re-elected last June for a second term, and has spoken warmly about how she has been shaped by her experience in Canada.
But others have been less impressed.
In February, at a journalists’ workshop on federalism in Batticaloa, a Tamil city in Sri Lanka, I was taken aback by the first question. “Given how Quebec oppresses the Mohawks, why should we have any interest in the Canadian experience?” a Tamil journalist asked.
Who knew that Tamils in Sri Lanka were following the activities of the Warriors in Kanesatake and Kahnawake?
It turned out that he had been living in Montreal during the Oka crisis of 1990. Clearly, he had returned to Sri Lanka with a grim view of how those values of pluralism and tolerance that Canadians talk so much about were actually practised.
Crises, by their nature, turn a spotlight on people where light had previously not been shone. One of the side effects of the terrorist attacks of 2001 and their aftermath has been the illumination of whole areas of how we live, illustrating how little we know ourselves.
One discovery has been the degree to which the old model of immigration no longer necessarily applies. Many people do not immigrate so much as migrate, shifting their base and continuing an intimate link with their country of origin, a relationship that is all the more intense because of the potent mixture of cherished grievance, long memory, satellite television and the Internet.
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade recognized this shift in its report on Canada’s relations with the Muslim world, tabled in the House of Commons before the Easter break.
“Even before the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, the nature of international relations was undergoing important changes,” the MPs wrote, pointing out that there was a growing recognition of the importance of multiple identities.
They cited a phrase by Carleton University Professor Karim Karim, who talked about what he called “the implications of transnational diasporas and contemporary cosmopolitanism.”
As Karim pointed out, governments view people as “subjects of specific jurisdictions” while those living in diasporas “increasingly view themselves as cosmopolitan citizens.”
Multiple identities represent a new challenge for Canadian policy-makers.
Traditionally, politicians have learned a few phrases in the languages spoken in their ridings, and cheerfully signed up members of minority communities before nomination meetings.
Now, those cosmopolitans return home with Canadian passports, and Canadian rights. The government is now intervening regularly on behalf of Canadian passport-holders in prison abroad, pressuring for due process and the rule of law.
Paul Martin has been talking about making “institution-building” a particular role for Canada in the world’s conflict zones. But easing tensions elsewhere can begin here, where those conflicts are often not only followed, but fostered, fanned and financed.
There are precedents for this. A key element in the Northern Ireland peace process was when the U.S. cracked down on Irish-American funding of the Irish Republican Army — while, at the same time, President Bill Clinton met with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
This means treating diaspora communities as more than just sources of partisan political support in Canada, but rather as a focus for Canadian policy. Foreign policy, like charity, begins at home.