The longer someone lives in Canada, the more critical they may be of immigration: federal survey

The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The longer an individual or their family have lived in Canada, the more critical their views may be towards immigration.

However, roughly half of Canadians are still broadly in favour, regardless of whether they’re newcomers or more established.

That appears to be one of the indications from a survey conducted for federal immigration officials, tracking Canadians’ views on immigrants and ultimately helping shape federal policy on the matter. It asked 2,800 Canadians for their views on immigration in August and September 2018 via landline and cellphone, and claims a margin of error of +/- 1.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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The 2018-19 Annual Tracking Survey conducted for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada asked respondents a number of questions, including whether “in your opinion, do you feel that there are too many, too few or about the right amount of immigrants coming to Canada?”

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Twenty-seven per cent of immigrants in Canada for more than 20 years said they feel there are too many immigrants here.

That’s compared with 19 per cent of immigrants who have been here between five and 19 years, and 16 per cent of those here for less than five years.

Among those who identified as first, second or third-generation Canadian, there were also differences.

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Thirty-two per cent of those who identified as third-generation Canadians said there are too many immigrants.

That compares to 26 per cent of those who identified as second-generation and 22 per cent of those who identified as first-generation who said the same.

Roughly half of respondents across all of those categories said the immigration levels in Canada right now are “about the right number.”

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“It’s clearly a pattern that shows up pretty repeatedly, for a couple of fairly obvious reasons, but also some more subtle things. The obvious thing is the more salient the immigration experience is for you, the more sort of open to immigrants you will tend to be,”said Michael Donnelly, an assistant professor of political studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

“It’s also harder to stereotype immigrants if you are yourself a recent immigrant,” he continued, noting the effect of being more closely linked to immigration may also be reflected in the changes in views among those who said their families have been here longer.

“If your parents were immigrants, there’s at least some sort of family lore of that experience and it’s going to have some influence on you.”

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Donnelly noted that while studies done in other countries have yielded similar results, he has seen suggestions of a link between how long someone has lived in Canada and their views on immigration in only “one or two” studies in Canada over the years.

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Disapproval appeared to increase in all but one demographic category when respondents were asked specifically about their views on immigration in the context of the government’s plan to bring in 300,000 immigrants per year.

“Knowing Canada aims to admit over 300,000 immigrants each year, do you feel there are too many/too few immigrants coming to Canada?” the questionnaire conducted for the report asked.

The percentage of immigrants here more than 20 years who said they feel there are too many immigrants coming to Canada increased from 27 to 37 per cent when asked that question with reference to the specific number.

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The same was true for immigrants here between five and 19 years, with the number who responded in kind increasing from 19 per cent to 26 per cent.

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Among those born in Canada, disapproval of immigration levels rose roughly 10 per cent when asked about the specific plan.

Forty-one per cent of those who identified as third-generation Canadian and 35 per cent of second-generation Canadians said so, compared to 32 and 26 per cent when asked the same question without the reference to the number of immigrants planned.

Christina Clark-Kazak, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, and President of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, offered an explanation as to why that appears to be the case.

“I think that as an abstract idea, people are not necessarily against immigration,” she said, noting 300,000 is not a large amount of immigration given Canada’s size and existing population.

“But I think that people are concerned about ‘too many’ people coming in, so as soon as you get any kind of number, it becomes real, it becomes concrete, and then consequently there is a discussion of whether or not it is too many.”

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The survey also asked respondents for their views on the influx of irregular border crossers coming into Canada from the United States.

Clark-Kazak said she was surprised by the results.

“There’s been actually a lot of negative press and political pressure around the Safe Third Country Agreement and irregular border crossers and that doesn’t seem to be born out in the public opinion that’s expressed, at least in this,” she said.

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The survey asked respondents to rate on a 10-point scale whether they agree or disagree with the following statements: first, that they are confident in the government’s handling of irregular migration; and second, that it is not the responsibility of Canada to accept asylum claims from those coming from the U.S.

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But neither question yielded any marked differences among respondents.

A slightly higher percentage said they strongly disagreed with the first statement than strongly agreed (16 per cent versus 11 per cent).

The same was true for the second statement, with 19 per cent overall saying they strongly agree and 16 per cent saying they strongly disagreed.

The vast majority of respondents from all backgrounds fell in between.

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Donnelly said that isn’t surprising given the way the question was asked.

“There’s a real temptation to self-moderate and put yourself in the middle unless you have a real sort of goal,” he said.

“We don’t often see huge numbers at either extreme on longer scales unless the scales are sort of concrete.”

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Roughly 35,000 migrants have crossed the border from the United States into Canada at irregular points of entry since early 2017.

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Under the terms of the Safe Third Country Agreement, asylum seekers who arrive in either country must make their claim in the first country they first arrived.

That means migrants who arrive in the United States but do not make their claim will be turned around at the border if they try to do so in Canada.

But that only applies if they try crossing the border at an official checkpoint.

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Those that cross at unofficial points of entry along the border can make their claim due to a loophole in the agreement.

That has led to calls from the Conservatives over recent years for the government to close the loophole and reduce the incentive for people to cross the border irregularly. Federal immigration officials have also acknowledged that the Safe Third Country Agreement is “no longer working as intended.”

Patti Lenard, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa focusing on immigration and immigration policies, said she doesn’t think the data shows strong feelings or differences in opinion about immigration among any particular subsets of the Canadian population.

Specifically, she questioned whether the average Canadian is as caught up in concerns about irregular migration as politicians have been in recent years.

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“These numbers don’t suggest people are very exercised about irregular migrants coming in or irregular asylum seekers coming in through the United States. Mostly, it suggests people don’t really care about it at all,” she said.

“If I were the government, I would think that this is a sign that unless the Conservatives decide to go after them, they wouldn’t have to worry about a population that was going to turn against them on immigration.”

Lenard says while she recognizes immigration is expected to form a significant part of the Conservative campaign in the fall election, she is skeptical that it will bring the results Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer may be chasing.

“I don’t expect him to get a lot of purchase on it.”

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