Justin Trudeau’s government has received a great deal of praise for its pledge to swiftly resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees within just a few months of taking office. Indeed, this bold humanitarian gesture is precisely the type of commitment Canadians champion and support. We are an open and tolerant bunch, and Canadians take pride in welcoming newcomers from around the world with open arms.
My new book, Losing True North: Justin Trudeau’s Assault on Canadian Citizenship, released in May 2016, offers a contrarian perspective and a critique of the Trudeau government’s immigration policies during its first six months in office. The critique has two major elements: first, a practical examination of Trudeau’s government-sponsored Syrian refugee resettlement program, and second, an examination of the government’s proposed changes to our citizenship laws under Bill C-6. The book posits that, under the spell of cultural relativism and state-led multiculturalism, Justin Trudeau is haphazardly taking Canada down the path of failed immigration and integration that is plaguing Western Europe.
Despite the grandstanding of Canada’s Syrian refugee pledge, problems arise when our commitments exceed our capacity. On the campaign trail, Trudeau insisted that Canada could vastly increase its refugee intake. It was simply a matter of political will, he argued. But after winning the election, and then implementing his refugee pledge, Trudeau has demonstrated the limits of political will. The execution of his Syrian refugee policy — particularly on a local level — has left much to be desired. (See Policy Options’ special feature on refugee integration for some of the challenges Canada faces.)
Our front-line refugee resettlement workers have been overwhelmed and unsupported, to the point where several agencies across Canada have asked the Trudeau government for a “pause” in admitting refugees. Syrian newcomers were arriving with acute illnesses. According to a leaked memo from an Edmonton resettlement group, the system was “paralyzed,” and many refugees were not getting the care they needed. We heard horror stories about Syrian families being crammed into budget motel rooms with no communication from the federal government or their resettlement caseworkers. We read about Syrian refugees trying to move back to the UNHCR camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Apparently, life was better in the camps.
And that was just the beginning. Schools welcoming Syrian children had no Arabic translators and no way of communicating. We learned about year-long queues for language-training courses in some communities, and a pandemic of Syrians consuming all the resources of local food banks.
And while the government’s policy focused heavily on its own government-assisted refugee (GAR) program, it all but ignored the requests and efforts of the parallel volunteer-led program, the private sponsorship of refugees (PSR). Thanks to the government’s preference to use its own system and its own contractors, many Canadian community groups have wasted thousands of dollars, paying rent on empty apartments while waiting for the Syrian families they have sponsored, who are attempting to navigate the bureaucratic bottlenecks preventing them from coming to Canada.
All these problems reflect an easily foreseeable shortfall in planning, coordination and resources. Despite Trudeau’s rhetoric, a responsible refugee resettlement program – the type of program Canada once proudly provided – requires a lot more than simply saying yes to more refugees. It demands coordinated efforts across the country among various levels of government and local communities. Setting a grand political goal and implementing it on an artificial timeline is not a good strategy for refugee resettlement. The outcome has already been disappointing, and we are only in the very early stages of a public policy debacle that will be playing out over decades. We will reap the consequences of the government’s failure to address the employment, education, language-training and integration needs of these vulnerable newcomers plucked from a sectarian warzone.
Amidst the various missteps and mismanagement on the Syrian refugee file, the government also unveiled comprehensive changes to theCitizenship Act. Bill C-6, described by Immigration Minister John McCallum as bringing “radical changes” to the way citizenship is given in Canada, is currently making its way through Parliament. As Trudeau said during the 2015 election campaign, the bill would eliminate the government’s ability to strip citizenship from those convicted of terrorism. It would also restore citizenship to Jordanian terrorist Zakaria Amara — the ringleader of the Toronto 18 radical Islamist terrorist cell. Curiously, the bill does not prohibit the government from stripping citizenship away from those who lied on their application papers and those who covered up war crimes.
Bill C-6 eliminates the language requirement and the citizenship test for any applicants over the age of 54, something that did not come up in the 2015 Liberal platform. Following several years of consultations and study, the previous (Conservative) government amended the age requirements and asked all newcomers under the age of 65 to write these important tests. The Trudeau government, after just a few weeks in office and without studying the issue, decided to reverse these changes, without articulating a compelling reason to do so.
Bill C-6 also reduces the amount of time a newcomer must spend in Canada before being eligible for citizenship, from four years down to just three years of part-time residency in Canada. Again, the government has failed to make the case as to why Canada needs to reduce these reasonable requirements for citizenship. As the world around us becomes increasingly less stable and more dangerous, why are we making it easier for people to become citizens before they show a meaningful commitment to Canada?
Critics of my book may argue that the changes proposed by the Trudeau government in Bill C-6 are not significant. These critics are simply wrong. By signalling that middle-aged newcomers shouldn’t bother learning English or French, or saying that you don’t need to live or work in Canada to become a citizen, you send a message to all potential new Canadians that our citizenship is easily obtainable. Canada consequently becomes a soft target for fraudsters, criminal networks and even jihadists.
It is also important to note the significant economic impact of Trudeau’s approach to immigration. For example, multiple studies have shown that refugees who come to Canada under the PSR program have an easier time integrating and are more successful than those brought in through the GAR program. Statistics from Immigration and Citizenship Canada show that privately sponsored refugees perform much better economically than their government-sponsored counterparts. During their first year in Canada, privately sponsored refugees report unemployment levels that are lower than the Canadian average. And after five years in Canada, only 15 percent of PSRs relied on social assistance, compared with 30 percent of GARs.
The problem is not necessarily the number of Syrian refugees Trudeau will admit (50,000 in 14 months). The problem is the arbitrary timelines, fast-tracked for political purposes, and the process. Rather than allowing refugees to be sponsored by volunteers and matched with community-led efforts, Trudeau has chosen a government-led, top-down method that delivers inferior results. This will have a profound impact on Syrian communities in Canada for decades to come. To put it in statistical terms, this policy decision will mean that 7,500 more Syrian families in Canada will live in poverty than would have been the case had the government called upon communities and volunteers to lead its refugee effort.
Had these types of changes been implemented under the previous administration, many would have called them crass and political. In 2016, there is an absence of cynicism when it comes to the citizenship and immigration changes being engineered by this Liberal government. My book shines a light on the ways in which the Trudeau Liberals are compromising our citizenship and undermining Canadian values in order to win favour with activists and special interest groups.
Canada has always forged its own path in welcoming newcomers. Historically, we have taken a successful and deliberate approach to integration and resettlement. By throwing our doors open to even those who take advantage of our generosity by defrauding our social services or creating radical Islamic networks here, and by making it easier for anyone — even someone who has no stated intention to reside in Canada — to become a citizen, we are weakening the value of Canadian citizenship. Trudeau is letting us all down. Canadians deserve better.