Why There’s No Cut and Dry Answer
In the recent months, there have been some stories reported in the media that Canada may have put itself in a vulnerable position by subjecting itself to so-called illegal border crossings by thousands of refugee claimants. There’s a misconceived notion that too many legitimate candidates for immigration into Canada are being bumped for asylum seekers causing Canada to lose control of the border.
Canada’s immigration history has been different from that of the United States or many European countries, mainly because of climate and geography. Surrounded by cold ocean water and sharing a border with the U.S. has meant that for a long time, Canada was insulated from the mass influxes of immigrants and refugees. However, refugees cross borders throughout the world every single day, fleeing persecution, risk and mistreatment. The recent phenomenon in Canada is not unusual if placed in and informed by a global perspective.
Canada has in recent history accepted large numbers of immigrants with mostly positive results. Since Canada was founded in 1867, foreign-born Canadians have accounted for between 15 and 20 percent of the country’s total population.
While some argue that Canada accepts and welcomes immigrants, others argue that this narrative is fragile and vulnerable to shifting public opinion. Public support for immigration is predicated on a fair and organized immigration system. If the public fears that the system is being taken advantage of, and that asylum seekers are jumping the queue, support may falter.
However, in reality, this is not an accurate reflection of what is actually happening. Refugee claimants crossing the border are not “illegal” in any sense of the word. They are seeking asylum by crossing into Canada at the port of entry, which is entirely permissible under Canadian refugee law. These claimants are not automatically accepted in any case, and they are by no means jumping the queue. They still have to go through the refugee claim process and demonstrate that they meet the relevant criteria under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. If they are not successful in that process, their case will be refused, and they will be asked to leave Canada. If they are successful, then they will be recognized as legitimate convention refugees. It is therefore entirely inaccurate to label such asylum seekers “illegal” given that the law clearly governs their entry into Canada and their ability to file an asylum claim.
If Canada wishes to maintain its status as one of the most inclusive and accepting countries in the world, the government will need to continue its efforts to educate the public on the legal underpinnings of our refugee system so that communities and the population at large can differentiate between inaccurate labelling and our legitimate refugee claim process. Unfortunately, this is a difficult task given the amount of misinformation in some of the media articles on this topic. Ultimately, however, it is the obligation of every individual in Canada to inform themselves of the law and put the issues reported in the media in its proper legal context.