Maytree Review of Immigration Reform

The Maytree Foundation has just released a report by Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl, Shaping the future: Canada’s rapidly changing immigration policies. The report reviews the immigration reforms between 2008-2012, the pace and scope of which are unprecedented in Canada, according to the authors.

The vast majority of these changes impact Canada negatively, the authors claim. Some of the most problematic changes include:

  • conditional permanent residence for spouses and entrepreneurs
  • treating refugees differently based on country of origin
  • more difficult citizenship procedures
  • a focus on short-term labour market needs, rather than long-term nation building
  • inconsistent policies which lack predictability in rules and procedures
  • less emphasis on evidence-based policy development
  • limited public consultation, which weakens the democratic process
  • strained provincial-federal relations
  • general reduced commitment to citizenship
  • less welcoming environment for immigrants
  • damage to Canada’s reputation as a preferred destination for the highly skilled and mobile

Most of these changes were not made with the appropriate investigation and insight, and would damage the reputation of Canada internationally. The reason for the changes are the 2008 Budget Bill and the 2012 Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-38), and the amended the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which provide far greater discretion to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Major changes in immigration policy have historically been achieved through legislation and regulations, which would normally involve public consultation, task forces, discussion papers, committee hearings, and parliamentary debate, as well as consultation of regulations before approval by Cabinet.

The authors also highlight procedural concerns emerging from the reforms:

Lack of respect for legal process
New policies affecting refugee claimants and refugees have led to concerns about the lack of respect for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international agreements to which Canada is signatory. Examples include a lack of due process because of short timelines to present one’s case to the Immigration and Refugee Board, detaining 16- year-old children, or treating refugees differently on the basis of national origin and how they entered the country. There is also concern that some of the government’s policies are inconsistent with Supreme Court precedents, for example those provisions which allow the government to apply rules retroactively

The paper’s analysis of changes ends on July 1, 2012, and the government has also introduced regulatory changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program which would prefer younger applicants, create new minimum language standards, reduce points of international work experience, and require third-party credential assessments.

A recent controversy involving a couple who run an anti-immigration website and were to make submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has given rise to criticism by opposition groups over the ties between the Federal government and far-right racist groups.

The Federal government also announced last Friday changes to immigration policies for Irish citizens. When contrasted with concurrent restrictions to several Asian countries, some suggest these policies echo the selective immigration policies in place prior to the Trudeau reforms.

Rachel Decoste has a wonderful overview of the evolution of Canada’s immigration policies from their decidedly racist inception towards the multicultural ideals we’ve embraced in the Charter era. Visible minority communities do have cause for concern given historic statements about immigration reform made by the current Prime Minister regarding multiculturalism before he was in office.

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