Canada shouldn’t be smug looking at anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit: Regg Cohn

Good piece by Regg Cohn on Canadian smugness:

People who prey on people’s fears and phobias about “the other” are nothing new in European or North American history. And Canada is not inoculated against that virus, however well we have resisted it of late.

Yes, we are good at both welcoming and integrating newcomers. We have resisted calls to decrease intakes of both immigrants and refugees. We make a virtue of diversity rather than rueing differences.

But we are only human. If Canadians persist in casting themselves as better than the rest of the world, ugly reality will soon set in. Remember the burqa debate in our last federal election campaign?

The splendid isolation we enjoy from our geographic perch far from poverty and conflict zones will not forever protect us from the upheavals that lie ahead. As we have seen in the Middle East, across Africa, and much of Asia, migrant movements are ever more volatile and overwhelming in an interconnected world.

If today our behaviour is better than that of our southern neighbours, whose presidential discourse demonizes Mexican migrants, it is largely because of where we sit — a safe distance from the frontier with Mexico, buffered by thousands of kilometres of American territory.

If our well-publicized impulse to resettle Syrian refugees is more orderly and dignified than what has beset Southern Europe’s barbed wire borders, it is because our roads and railways are not overrun by migrants clamouring for processing on our doorstep.

While it is tempting to disapprove of the debate in Britain, it is perhaps more prudent to ask why the anti-immigrant message was so well received in the first place.

The quick answer would be that it is human nature to fear the other. A more considered response might be that political leaders must be mindful of the limits of tolerance amid the changing rhythms of migration.

Who knows how Canadians would behave if geography did not insulate us from the human tide along the shores of the Mediterranean, or the porous border between Mexico and the U.S.

Consider a couple of recent Canadian responses:

When Mexicans surged to first place among refugee claimants to Canada a few years ago, the government of the day imposed visa restrictions to stem the flow. That 2009 decision is only now rescinded with the visit of Mexican President Henrique Pena Nieto to Canada this week.

And while we deride Trump for his anti-Mexico ravings, another populist politician by the name of Rob Ford campaigned against the boatloads of Tamil migrants turning up off the coast of B.C. a few years ago: “Take care of the (Canadian) people now before we start bringing in more.”

Ford’s brand of xenophobia was borne out by an Angus Reid poll showing 55 per cent of Ontarians would deport the Tamils even if their refugee claims proved legitimate — and he was elected mayor a few weeks later. Torontonians may dismiss Trump, but don’t forget Ford Nation.

Mindful of our well-documented history of ethnic intolerance and internment, let alone our recent inconstancy, Canadians dare not be smug. And our leaders cannot be complacent.

While appealing to our better natures, politicians must also be mindful of our worse natures, and practical realities, lest they get out too far ahead of themselves. The immigration and refugee challenges of today are only a taste of what lies ahead for Canada.

There but for the grace of demography go we. And geography.

Source: Canada shouldn’t be smug looking at anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit: Cohn | Toronto Star

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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