Thursday, July 5, 2018

In a commentary in the National Post, JD student Karen Chen, with co-authors Hugh Segal and Maureen Silcoff, argue that Canada needs higher immigration levels and an end to the Safe Third Country Agreement to stay competitive ("Canada's future prosperity depends on opening — not closing — our borders," July 4, 2018).

Read the full commentary on the National Post website, or below.

Canada's future prosperity depends on opening — not closing — our borders

By Hugh Segal, Maureen Silcoff and Karen Chen

July 4, 2018

Canadian immigration policy and Canadian sovereignty have a shared purpose, and that purpose has a front door.

Growing the size of our population, across the second largest land mass in the world, has always been a priority. Economic prosperity, national security, development and opportunity require a growing population. Trading and, when necessary, competing with our southern neighbour, and the rest of the world, with a population smaller than California’s is difficult.

The front door for that policy has and will always include our formal border crossings, and will include refugee claims.

Processing refugee claims through the front door concurs with our international duties under the 1951 Refugee Convention, when, following the Second World War, we committed to do our part and accept refugee claimants, and not treat them as illegal while their cases are being processed.

The number of refugee claimants who cross our southern border irregularly rose dramatically after President Donald Trump took office — some 9,481 so far this year.

Many have taken the unsanctioned path of Roxham Road, the street between Champlain, N.Y., and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., thus avoiding official ports of entry. They do this because the U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) requires refugee claimants to seek protection in the first “safe” country they enter, with narrow exceptions. The agreement applies only at official ports of entry, so by entering somewhere other than the front door, they can access Canada’s refugee system.

Critics say irregular arrivals have the effect of bringing the administration of our borders into disrepute. People have questioned how we can allow such crossings under the rule of law, for it questions the notion of “order” found in the “peace, order and good government” clause of our constitution.

Once we relegate people to irregular means of arrival, which the STCA has done, we risk seeing them as an undesirable element that bypasses the front door. We speak of them in numbers, using words like surge and flood. We respond by bemoaning our lack of capacity, assuming ill intentions, accusing them of cutting the queue and breaking the rules.

There is a solution.

The STCA was Canada’s idea. Bordered by the Arctic, two oceans and the United States, Canada sought to further limit the number of refugees able to claim protection here.

That makes sense, if you believe that limiting the number of refugees is a benefit to Canada. While the selection of immigrants and the determination of refugee status are subject to different criteria, overall, the country needs more people.

Most of Canada, well beneath the more climactically difficult extreme parts north, is empty. We have room for new cities, expanding communities in every province. Bangladesh received the same number of asylum-seekers in one day as the total number who entered Canada last year.

Moreover, whatever our views on America’s present immigration policy, the STCA no longer serves the purposes of Canada’s overall immigration policy. Canada needs population growth at a much faster rate. From Diefenbaker in the 1950s, through the Pearson, Trudeau, Mulroney, Chrétien, Martin, Harper and Trudeau governments, Ottawa has raised the annual immigration levels, not enough, but consistently under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

A distinguished group of Canadians launched an organization in 2016 called the “Century Initiative” aimed at growing our population to one hundred million by the next century. Experts in investment, finance, economics and planning argued this number was essential to building prosperity and opportunity. Barring an increase in the birth rate, immigration policy is key to accomplishing this goal. Our economic capacity to compete with our American allies, and not be intimidated by capricious, illegal and unjustified tariffs, would be enhanced by a population 300 per cent larger.

Canada has a tradition of responding to groups of people who require protection. Since the 1950s, Canada has responded with an open heart and an open front door to waves of Hungarian, Vietnamese, Syrian and other refugees. Each inflow has made us economically and socially stronger.

Our need for growth and our humanitarian commitment have led to a coherent policy championed by parties of all political stripes. As Barbara McDougall, a former Immigration and foreign minister in the Mulroney cabinet, once said when confronted by an unexpected landing of Tamil asylum seekers on the East Coast, “we don’t turn back boats filled with people.”

Opening the front door has another benefit. It removes the stigma and spectacle of families pushing strollers and pulling suitcases down Roxham Road; it removes the risk of people losing fingers, toes and even their lives to cross clandestinely in harsh weather; and it removes the pressure on Quebec.

We should return to our long-held immigration, growth and humanitarian principles, for they remain intertwined. Suspend the STCA and open the front door.