Visas no substitute for policy

There’s bleak humour in Jean Chretien joining the Queen’s honour roll just as asylum seekers again tug at the nation’s sleeve. Giving problems time to solve themselves was among the former prime minister’s favoured, and often successful, tactics. A chronically dysfunctional refugee review system is one result.

There’s bleak humour in Jean Chretien joining the Queen’s honour roll just as asylum seekers again tug at the nation’s sleeve. Giving problems time to solve themselves was among the former prime minister’s favoured, and often successful, tactics. A chronically dysfunctional refugee review system is one result.

Three majority governments and more than a decade in power were not enough to deconstruct a conundrum that pits this country’s kindest intentions against the desperate tactics of poor people searching for a better life. In that contest, victory belongs to those able to abuse Canadian generosity.

Understanding the problem requires being clear about who those people are and, more significantly, what they are not. They are economic migrants hoping to improve their prospects, not political refugees fearing for their lives. By slipping through border policy fissures, they jump long queues waiting in the world’s worst places. Once landed, they clog a layered bureaucracy with false claims and take advantage of not-today-maybe-tomorrow deportation practices to stay, sometimes forever.

It’s also important, and only fair to Chretien, to grasp the dilemma’s complexity. Canada’s self-image, along with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, demand openness and access to due process, even if one strains hospitality and the other is too often exploited.

Failure to square that circle is the root cause of this week’s mini-crisis. For want of a better remedy, in the absence of overdue reform, Ottawa is insulting friends and damaging tourism, business and Canada’s international reputation by arbitrarily decreeing that Mexican and Czech visitors must have visas.

Hasty measures are always dubious. What’s certain is Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s decision will discourage legitimate travel; it won’t deter determined migrants.

A glance south reveals the futility of trying to hold back a human tide. Despite high walls, barbed wire and patrols along the Rio Grande, the number of Mexicans now living illegally in the U.S. is roughly equal to the total population of Ontario.

Opportunity is a powerful magnet. It draws to the U.S. Mexicans who do work Americans won’t. It attracts to Canada fugitives from global poverty who can live in relative comfort here waiting for appeals and, ultimately, a knock on the door that may never come.

Kenney is right to recognize that the process is a large part of the problem. Canada is known as a soft touch and a tougher line is useful in changing that message.

Still, Conservatives don’t seem any closer to a fix after three-plus years in office than Liberals were after 13. Kenney’s advice to “stay tuned” for policy changes isn’t reassuring. Giving immigration officials more power to immediately reject claims, a response the British adopted in 2004, or limiting appeals will surely lead to controversy and lengthy Charter challenges.

Equally troubling is the confusion over how the new requirements fit with Canadian foreign policy. Imposing visa restrictions on Mexicans is inconsistent with NAFTA and counter to Ottawa’s strategy of strengthening relations with the Americas. Upsetting the Czechs is an odd way to advance European Union trade talks already strained by hard feelings over the seal ban.

Visas are no better a long-term solution than procrastination. Needed now is a strategy that welcomes legitimate refugees and encourages open borders while demonstrating that those who take advantage of Canada’s warm heart quickly get the cold shoulder.

James Travers is a syndicated Toronto Star political columnist.

Just Posted

Red Deer’s crisis line workers are busy dealing with multiple emergencies

Callers need everything from mental health counselling to their basic needs met

Restaurant Brands International announces executive changes and raises dividend

TORONTO — Restaurant Brands International Inc. raised its dividend as it announced… Continue reading

Puck and player tracking gets TV test at All-Star Weekend

Twenty-three years after Fox’s glowing puck made its debut, the NHL’s next… Continue reading

Some Alberta minor hockey players getting heat for Indigenous locker room dance

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association has apologized… Continue reading

Not a fly-over province: Trudeau making frequent stops in Saskatchewan

LA LOCHE, Sask. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to visit… Continue reading

2-for-1: Total lunar eclipse comes with supermoon bonus

On Sunday night, the moon, Earth and sun lined up to create the eclipse, which was visible throughout North and South America

Arrest made in case of incapacitated woman who gave birth

A 36-year-old nurse has been arrested and charged with sexual assault

Edmonton Oilers fire general manager Peter Chiarelli: reports

EDMONTON — Peter Chiarelli has been fired as general manager of the… Continue reading

Canadian Milos Raonic has Australian Open run end in quarterfinals

MELBOURNE, Australia — Canadian Milos Raonic is done at the Australian Open… Continue reading

$20K pay gap between women, men in Canadian tech jobs

The report defines tech workers as people either producing or making extensive use of technology, regardless of industry

Two Quebec short-film directors mark first Oscar nominations together

TORONTO — Two Quebec filmmakers celebrated in solidarity on Tuesday after learning… Continue reading

Toronto illustrator teams up with Paul McCartney on children’s book

Toronto-based illustrator Kathryn Durst says she’s found a true collaborator in Paul… Continue reading

Catholic student says he didn’t disrespect Native American

Many saw the white teenagers, who had travelled to Washington for an anti-abortion rally, appearing to mock the Native Americans

Backlund scores OT winner for Calgary Flames in 3-2 win over Carolina Hurricanes

Flames 3, Hurricanes 2 (OT) CALGARY — Mikael Backlund scored 15 seconds… Continue reading

Most Read