I have often heard it said that if you saw how hot dogs were made you would probably never eat another one again.
That’s why sausage manufacturers are not prone to inviting the public to witness the inner workings of their meat processing plants. The business, I am told, can be a bit ... unappetizing.
Same goes with the formulation of immigration policy, especially in a country like Canada.
Like religion and politics, immigration is a hot-button topic sure to inflame passions and expose deep prejudices. There are powerful emotions that can easily, and inadvertently, be unleashed with even a hint of a minor policy change.
There are plenty of examples: Should we permit strippers to stay in Canada while they are being sponsored by their husbands (à la Strippergate)? Approve greater numbers of refugees, or fewer? Welcome the boats off of Vancouver’s shores, or turn them back? Attract more French-speaking immigrants to Quebec, or more engineers to Alberta? Force immigrants to populate our small towns, or let them settle in our crowded cities? Deport permanent residents who have grown up here, or dump them elsewhere because we can? Bring low-skilled workers to work our farms, or recruit professionals who may end up behind the wheel of a cab? Sponsor our aging parents and grandparents, or make room for entrepreneurs and investors? Deport illegals en masse, or grant them amnesty?
With such tough questions, it is no wonder that governments, like our own, shy away from comprehensive and principled immigration reform in favour of band-aid solutions hastily formed in response to some perceived immigration crisis.
When forced to act, our elected officials would rather serve up a plate of immigration policy long after it has been conceived, drafted, and packaged for market than involve the public and experts at the formative stages. In fact, our politicians, Liberal and Conservative alike, are so reluctant to undertake immigration reform that when they do, they take cover behind the civil servants charged with the responsibility of delivering the policy message to the public.
If the proposed amendments reach our Parliament’s standing committee, they are already virtually cast in stone, and little time or opportunity for comment is given to those who can analyse the offerings critically. Rarely are meaningful amendments entertained or made.
If governments who are thinking of pursuing a particular immigration policy were to hold advance public hearings, town hall meetings, and meaningful consultations to discuss their proposals they might discover good reason to depart from the original plan that they rallied their troops around. This can be somewhat politically embarrassing for them. Furthermore, a government who is forced to take a stand on any public controversy is certain to lose the votes of up to half of those who are invested in the debate.
Governments of the day do not want the public involved in the formation of immigration policy. Governments simply don’t like to think out loud. They want all of the debating done behind closed doors and out of the public eye. They don’t want the downside of their policy objectives to attract attention and possibly become the focus of an effective body of opposition. They don’t want to risk the public exposure of misjudgement.
And so, for the past few decades, the bulk of the official immigration debate has pretty much disappeared from the public eye.
More recently, in 2002, when our current legislation was presented to Parliament, it contained virtually no details of what was to be Canada’s selection criteria. The draft legislation stated that the authority to set immigration standards was effectively being taken off of the debating floor of Parliament and being transferred to the private meeting rooms of our federal cabinet. This effectively ended our federal government’s obligation to publicly debate proposed immigration policy changes.
In June 2008 it got even worse. Unprecedented legislative changes allowed the immigration minister of the day to change government policy on immigration by unilaterally issuing “ministerial instructions” to his officials. The possibility of meaningful public debate on immigration was now not only dead but buried.
The lack of an effective forum for the debate of immigration policy is the reason why I welcomed the news of the recent formation of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform even though it has been dubbed an “anti-immigrant” group. Members of the organizations advisory board claim that they have “a great deal of knowledge about the subject” and are not "irrational" or "emotional” about immigration. They are simply trying to acquaint Canadians with the facts. It seems that they will be trying to do so without anyone in their organization who seems to think that more immigration is a good idea.
I deeply believe that immigration has been good for Canada and that the controversy that would be generated by a public debate between “pro” and “anti-immigrant” groups can only serve to educate the public about the work that is need to be done to improve our national immigration plans.
I have no doubt, that the majority of Canadians will agree with what I believe; namely, that the Canadian landscape, our cities, our economy, our culture, our national identity and our international reputation would be a shadow of themselves without the immeasurable and tangible contributions made by our immigrant communities.
I am dying for an opportunity to share a stage with those at the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform who believe that Canada’s current immigration levels should be curtailed. Without necessarily agreeing with everything about our current laws and policies, I have no doubt that the case for a generous immigration program far outweighs the argument in favour of the thickening of our borders.
In fact, as soon as I am done writing this column I will send a copy of it to my differently minded counterparts at the Centre in the hopes that they will take up the challenge to debate the benefits of a generous Canadian immigration policy. I am anxious to finally get the long-overdue public immigration debate restarted.
Believe me... it will be good for all of us.
Guidy Mamann, J.D. practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org