How Has Canada’s Attitude Changed Towards Refugees?

From a Warm Welcome to Cold Contempt

Three years ago, Canadians opened their arms and warmly welcomed Syrian refugees seeking asylum from their war-torn homeland. At the time, the general consensus among Canadians was that these people were in need and had been forced to flee their homes due to violence. All the same, there were voices opposed to welcoming refugees.

But in the time since, it appears that the kind, open-minded and accepting approach shared by Canadians is giving way to feelings of concern, confusion and frustration with the government as the number of asylum seekers continue to rise, giving rise to increasing delays in processing refugee claims.

The extensive media coverage of this issue has created the perception that Canada’s refugee system is now in crisis mode. Common opinion appears to have shifted: many Canadians believe that refugees pose some kind of a threat to our communities and that the federal government must provide greater refugee screening in addition to extensive border security.

Perpetuating Stigma

In many cases, it seems that high-profile stories in the media have swayed Canadian opinion. With or without sensationalism, asylum seekers and refugees have been at the forefront of public thought in the years since 2015, and Canadian acceptance seems to have soured.

This is, in part, the result of several unique cases and anomalies that received extensive media coverage. But these stories have misrepresented the severity of the refugee situation in Canada. While presented as commonplace, these serious issues are in fact rare occurrences, few and far between. As a result, those people for and against refugees in Canada engage in often-vitriolic debates.

Viral sharing and social media are facilitating this disconnect, pushing it towards an increasingly negative space. Both sides are being propelled by social engagement, sensationalized media coverage, and hot-topic issues.

“When the media keeps hammering ‘illegal, illegal, illegal,’ what do you expect? People have a vision of being invaded by illegals,” said refugee advocate Rivka Augenfeld.

“If people hear the words ‘flood’ and ‘influx’ and ‘crisis’ often enough, you start believing in that.”

As negative opinions are continuously shared on the matter, the more probable it is that the attitude will be openly negative.

Polls Reveal Average Canadian Opinion

This summer a poll was conducted by the Angus Reid Institute which revealed a large number of Canadians had issues with our immigration policy and were concerned about the number of refugees entering the country.

Results of data extracted from polls:

  • 67% of Canadians are labelling the current refugee situation as a “crisis.”
  • 33% of Canadians declare that the situation is not a crisis and that it is being perpetuated by the media and politicians.
  • 65% have the opinion that Canada has let in too many “irregular” crossings and that the country’s security is not fit to handle the influx in asylum seekers.

These findings show that the majority is not on board with the federal government’s approach. More than half the population from the survey want Canada to cut back on allowing asylum seekers to enter the country. This opinion is likely due to the predisposition on the issue caused by media and politics.

The nation needs to support the government’s commitments to our international responsibilities in helping asylum seekers, rather than shifting attitudes towards Canada’s refugee response based on exaggerated and unfounded perceptions that we are facing a refugee crisis.