In Europe, the United States and Canada, immigration is shaping up to be the hottest political issue of 2017. Across the pond, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is calling for the banning of all religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, Jewish kippas and Sikh turbans. In the United States, President Donald Trump yesterday issued his revised executive order banning travel from six majority Muslim countries for 90 days, supposedly in the interests of national security.
And in Canada, Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is fleshing out her policies on “immigrant screening”, through the release of a new video and a new email message.
I’ll give Leitch this much: She identified the issue early, staked her claim and has been mining it for support ever since. Never mind the fact that most of the other candidates are treating her like radioactive waste, or that her original campaign video plays like a campaign video parody.
WATCH: Kellie Leitch’s awkward campaign video goes viral
That spot has over 100,000 views on YouTube alone, and over 500,000 views in total, according to her campaign. And viewers aren’t all tuning in to laugh at the bizarre production values: Like it or not, there is an appetite for anti-immigrant rhetoric in Canada — among Conservative supporters more than others.
Leitch, of course, denies that she is anti-immigrant. She says she just wants to make sure we get the right ones, who uphold “Canadian values.” Her email sets out the questions she thinks immigrants should be asked in this regard:
- Are men and women equal, and entitled to equal protection under the law?
- Is it ever OK to coerce or use violence against an individual or a group who disagrees with your views?
- Do you recognize that to have a good life in Canada you will need to work hard for yourself and your family, and that you can’t expect to have things you want given to you?
Leitch says that every single potential immigrant should have a face-to-face interview and be challenged on their answers. “For instance,” she writes, “they would be asked to explain why they might have made previous statements or social media postings that indicate the contrary.” This would overcome the most obvious problem with her proposal — that no matter what they believe, prospective newcomers will simply say what they think immigration officials want to hear.
WATCH: Kellie Leitch appears on FOX News, accuses ‘elites’ of pushing open-border agendas
Presumably, Leitch is talking about people like this Texas teacher, who was fired for tweeting “kill some Jews” and other anti-Semitic posts. Or this Canadian imam, who preached that women should not refuse the sexual advances of their husbands, no matter what.
But here’s the thing: It’s not just the people who hate Jews or believe in Sharia law who say nasty things, or would violate Leitch’s list of values. Based on her list, there presumably would be no room in this country for people like this American writer, who penned the screed, “Why Man and Woman are not Equal” for the Focus on the Family website. Or this HuffPo blogger in India who wrote, “Why we Need to Stop Telling Women They’re Equal to Men.” Or this Canadian political candidate (you remember him) who predicted “eternity in the lake of fire for gays and lesbians” in a 2011 blog post.
If the only way to be truly Canadian was to uphold every Canadian value, our country would be a paradise. There would be no gender discrimination, no homophobia, no assaults, no welfare fraud. Break the law and you wouldn’t go to jail: You’d lose your citizenship.
Whether you hate their views or not, Canadians are free to hold whatever opinions they want — as long as they do not violate hate speech or other provisions of the Criminal Code. Leitch might argue that, as citizens, Canadians’ rights under Canadian law are greater than those of people who have not yet been granted citizenship. But most sections of the Charter, apart from those granting the right to vote and “to enter, remain in and leave Canada,” apply to citizens and non-citizens alike. That includes freedom of belief and speech.
And how’s this for irony? President Trump recently complimented Canada on our “merit-based” immigration system — one which screens for people who want to do what Leitch says they should do: work hard and not seek to have things “given to them.”
Remember — the author whose work Leitch has cited in support of her screening proposal himself disagrees with Leitch’s proposal and says that screening for language and skills (our current method) is the better way to go.
There are changes we should make to our immigration system. After taking office, the Liberals softened the language requirements and started admitting fewer economic immigrants and more family-class immigrants. Addressing that would be a legitimate policy objective, one which Conservatives and most Canadians could support.
But sending the thought police after potential immigrants? No thanks. That’s just Leitch blowing the dog whistle again, struggling to break out of the pack.
Tasha Kheiriddin can be heard between noon and 2 p.m. on Toronto Talk Radio AM640. She’s also a columnist with Global News and iPolitics.ca, where this piece first appeared.