The treatment of migrant and refugee families south of the border has received international attention and strong criticism in recent days.
But how is Canada treating those coming to our country in search of a better life? And could a clampdown on immigration in the U.S. cause a rise in the numbers of people seeking refuge in Canada?
On this week’s episode of Global News’ original podcast, This is Why, host Niki Reitmayer unearths the stories from our nation’s ports of entry, with the help of Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer and policy analyst, and Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
“Canada will move heaven and earth to protect children,” Kurland explains.
“You don’t separate kids from mothers or fathers. Over half of these claimants are going to be determined as refugees, and the damage you inflict on that initial entry is going to cost you big time in social services, medical costs, and the economic capability of that person.”
Kurland says he expects Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada are monitoring developments in the U.S. and bracing for an increase in numbers arriving in Canada. He says American policies are likely to make immigration to that country less attractive.
“There may be the logical thought process that says, if this is what Trump is doing to children entering the U.S., what’s to prevent him separating children from parents who are already inland? That’s ‘our punishment’ for violating American law.
“That runs contrary to Canadian national policy which seeks to protect vulnerable minors, and that’s across the board: the CBSA, our immigration staff, and law enforcement. We do not ever do what Trump has been doing these past few days or months,” Kurland adds.
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U.S. policy may already be having an impact in Canada, according to numbers provided by Chris Friesen.
“We saw a substantial increase in new refugee claimants from 2016 to 2017, around 76 per cent. Close to 1,300 arrived in B.C. last year, the majority walking across the U.S. border. Those numbers are holding steady throughout the early part of 2018 and we’re still seeing anywhere from 80 to 140 refugee claimants per month.”
Friesen adds it’s hard to predict whether numbers generally will increase, but explains that in Quebec and Ontario, numbers of people arriving from Haiti and Nigeria have been unusually high.
Kurland says changing trends are likely to continue, driven in part by immigration policy in the U.S.
“It’s quite clear that when a country like the U.S. violates international law regarding the protection of children, you have a reasonable ground of suspicion that you’re not going to be dealt with fair and square by the American system.
“It’s akin to childbirth: those first two minutes during childbirth can seriously impact on that child’s health for the rest of their lifetime. It’s the same with entry to Canada or the U.S. for a vulnerable refugee. Those initial days can be absolutely traumatic and permanently scar them psychologically and seriously hamper the potential for economic contribution to society.
“On the other hand, if you don’t hit them with a hammer, they can work, and play, and integrate into society successfully,” Kurland concluded.
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Friesen says Canada takes a markedly different approach and the majority of refugee claimants that the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. speaks to are grateful, despite concerns about the length of time it can take to achieve permanent residency and reunification with family members initially based abroad.
“We’re fortunate in Canada that we have a great collaboration of government and NGOs who provide very effective, coordinated services,” Friesen says.
“Our challenge is meeting the spike in numbers, but we’ve undertaken lots of initiatives to address the ongoing, unprecedented levels of arrivals. They include multilingual videos on the asylum process, and pilot programs like newcomer.info, which is a two-way texting system to provide people with information no matter where they live, which avoids having people having to schedule in-person appointments,” he adds.
John O’Dowd is producer of This is Why and Alan Regan is a producer for Global News Radio 980 CKNW.