COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

Data on departures less accurate than arrivals. But a decline in permanent residents of 41,000 in 2020 compared to 2019 using labour force data is much smaller than the drop in new permanent residents, which fell by 156,000, so I think the significance is over-stated:

The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted some recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and family connections.

The number of permanent residents who have been in Canada for less than five years declined by four per cent to 1,019,000 by the end of 2020 from 1,060,000 the year before, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada’s labour force survey that measures the number of workers between 15 and 65 years old by their immigration status.

The number had grown three per cent a year, on average, in the previous 10 years.

The data show that the number of permanent residents who have been in Canada for five to 10 years also dropped from 1,170,000 in 2019 to 1,146,000 in 2020.

“It’s actually not uncommon to have immigrants go back to their home country during the recessionary periods,” said Robert Falconer, a researcher at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

“If they’ve lost their job, they can go and live with their family and not pay rent. They can maybe find some social connections and work back home.”

He said the number of new immigrants fell by about three per cent between 2008 and 2009 during the financial crisis and the recession that followed.

He said many of those who have left in the past year might not come back if the economy doesn’t recover quickly.

“The longer they stay at home in their home countries, the less likely they are to come back to Canada.”

A study by Statistics Canada released in August showed that in the early months of the pandemic, recent immigrants to Canada were more likely than Canadian-born workers to lose their jobs, mainly because they had held them for less time and, as a whole, are overrepresented in lower-wage employment. That includes in service-sector jobs.

Julien Bérard-Chagnon, an analyst with Statistics Canada, said the agency doesn’t keep a monthly count of immigrants who leave the country but a group of its analysts are now working on a paper to examine the issue during COVID-19 pandemic.

“The literature signals that immigrants, especially recent immigrants, are more likely to emigrate than the Canadian-born population,” he said.

While the pandemic has also driven down immigration to Canada by about 40 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, the Liberal government announced in October that Canada is seeking to admit upwards of 1.2 million new permanent residents in the next three years, including 401,000 this year.

But this number seems optimistic as travel restrictions and the sharp economic downtown remain.

“I doubt they will hit their target this year,” Falconer said.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government is very confident it will meet it immigration targets in the next three years.

“In January 2021, we welcomed more new permanent residents than in January 2020, when there was no pandemic,” Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

“We’re already ahead of schedule, welcoming new permanent residents at a rate 37 per cent higher than our projections.”

Falconer said the government is focusing on transitioning temporary residents in Canada to permanent status.

“It’s the best thing to do for people who are living here,” he said. “But in terms of this population growth, it’s a wash, meaning that we’re not actually increasing our population.”

He said this policy is necessary but not sufficient to help the government meet its high immigration target this year.

“Not every temporary resident wants to become a Canadian permanent resident or Canadian citizen. Some of them are here to work, to study and they are perfectly happy to go back home.”

He said the incentive for the government is still to try to increase immigration numbers, especially in jobs related to health care and technology because having fewer immigrants will harm these two sectors more than others.

Andrew Griffith, a former director of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department, says immigrants who arrive during an economic downturns tend to suffer economically, at least in the short term, more than those who arrive when the economy is growing.

He said maintaining high levels of immigration at a time when the economy is weak and sectors such as hospitality, retail and tourism are devastated has an element of irresponsibility.

Griffith said immigrants leaving Canada can reflect a failure of Canadian integration policies.

He said the government needs to put more focus on immigrants who are already here as we face structural change in sectors including hospitality, travel and service industries that will affect mostly women, visible minorities and recent immigrants.

“We may be in a fairly structural shift that will eliminate some jobs or dramatically reduce some jobs, and then what kind of retraining programs or other programs we need to support people as they transition.”

Cohen said the government has invested in settlement services during the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing funding to help boost wages by 15 per cent. It has helped buy personal protective equipment to keep staff safe, as well as cellphones and laptops to ensure services, including language training and job-search help, can be offered remotely.

Falconer said the government should address problems with licensing and professional development that many newcomers face in Canada.

“We make it very, very difficult for somebody who worked in a profession in their home country to come here and work in the same profession.”

“Immigrants come here with aspirations or hopes of being able to work and earn a much better living here in Canada than they did in their home country and they discover that they’re actually going to be working in an unpaid, underemployed job.”

Source: COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

Saunders: How Canada learned what’s wrong with its immigration system – by slamming its borders shut

Usual thought provoking column by Doug Saunders, even if I am more sceptical regarding the government’s approach:

How do you find 401,000 immigrants to become new Canadians when nobody’s even allowed to enter the country? That was the puzzle Ottawa faced at the beginning of the year, after the federal government set admirably high annual immigration targets in 2020 that will bring in 1.2 million people over the next three years in a bold effort to build economic growth through population expansion.

Air and land borders have been shut tight because of the coronavirus pandemic, and neither immigrants nor refugees have been arriving – 2020′s immigration intake was the lowest since the 1990s. The new targets, representing more than 1 per cent of Canada’s population per year, would produce immigration rates Canada hasn’t seen since the 1960s – but begin during a border-closing pandemic. Opposition and business critics said our immigration bureaucrats could never meet that target.

Two weeks ago, those bureaucrats announced a solution that was surprising and potentially ingenious. But it also revealed some of the deep flaws in an outdated and overcomplicated immigration system that was designed for restriction rather than growth, and that leaves hundreds of thousands of families in Canada unable to participate fully in its economy.

In essence, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino recognized that most of those 401,000 immigrants are already living and working in Canada, and often have been for years – they just don’t have the right kind of visa, or haven’t accumulated right number of points along our Byzantine immigration pathway, to qualify for permanent-residency status and eventual citizenship.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, as it does every few weeks, the Immigration Department sent out invitations for selected temporary immigrants, all of whom have worked in Canada for at least a year, to apply for permanent-resident status. Instead of the usual 3,000 to 5,000 invitations, though, it sent out more than 27,000, and hinted that this high rate would continue for some time. In order to find enough current residents to invite, the number of points needed was lowered dramatically. (Canada’s long-established points system, properly known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, awards points toward permanent status for such things as work experience, education and language skills.)

Immigrants who expected to have to wait months or years longer, and to jump through dozens more bureaucratic hoops, suddenly learned they were on a pathway to become Canadians. Immigration lawyers, who found themselves deluged with clients last week, said the supply of qualified high-quality people was always here; it just took a crisis for the government to see it.

“Yes, they can hit the 400,000 target because there are half a million temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada right now,” says Raj Sharma, a Calgary-based immigration lawyer. “I think they’re going to meet the target, and it’s going to have repercussions on the way they do things – they always should have prioritized people already living in Canada.”

Drawing on immigrants with lower point scores is not a case of “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” as Mr. Sharma notes, because the great majority of those in Canada on a temporary basis (with only a few possible exceptions, such as seasonal agricultural workers) are able to be here, for study or work, precisely because they have skills and are fluent in a Canadian language. What has denied most of these people and their families access to citizenship is not a lack of actual skills or experience, but a complex and often self-contradictory set of rules and classifications.

For example, a temporary worker employed for a year as an accounts-receivable clerk does not earn enough points to qualify under normal rules; the same worker employed as a bookkeeper does. In some provinces, an immigrant employed caring for elderly and disabled people in their own homes is ineligible to apply for permanent residency, while an immigrant doing the same work in a long-term care facility is.

At root are two decades-old assumptions behind our immigration system, both of which have been challenged by the pandemic. The first is that highly skilled, educated and fluent immigrants are a comparative rarity and a lengthy weeding-out process is needed to find them. The second is that immigrants divide neatly into two groups of very different people: temporary and low-skilled, and permanent and high-skilled.

That hasn’t been true for decades. Not only are most “temporary” immigrants to Canada people who are educated and considered middle-class in their countries of origin, but temporary low-wage work is most often used as a stepping-stone to permanent work in professions or skilled trades, or to small-business ownership. A high proportion of temporary-immigrant women employed as live-in caregivers and nannies, for example, have postsecondary diplomas and degrees from their home countries.

These assumptions have exacted a high cost on Canada’s economic prospects, by leaving large numbers of newcomers in a limbo state, unable to invest in their communities, start legal businesses or set down family roots because they’re not eligible to become Canadians – even though they’re here because the economy needs them. In the early 2000s, under prime minister Stephen Harper’s earlier policies, a majority of immigrants in Canada were temporary foreign workers without access to permanent residency.

The later Harper years and early Trudeau years saw pathways to permanent residency created for most classes of temporary workers and students. In the prepandemic years, several thousand people per month were making this transition, though few of them were lower-wage immigrants from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who face difficult bureaucratic hurdles regardless of their skill or education level.

The pandemic shone a light on this problem. The jobs deemed “essential” – and thus the jobs that expose employees to the greatest coronavirus risk – are very often the ones held by immigrants who have the least possibility of becoming Canadians.

“I do think that COVID-19 provides an opportunity to rethink our immigration policy, given what we have seen in terms of essential workers, traditionally undervalued and underpaid,” says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department. He doesn’t believe it will be necessary for the government to permanently lower its points-score requirements for permanent residency, especially during a pandemic recession. Even though there are many labour shortages in low-skill fields, much of that demand is filled not by primary immigrants but by their relatives – the family members who accompany them, and who they later sponsor.

This crisis may have come along at just the right time. If Canada wants to reach a level of population density that provides the most ecological, economic and cultural benefits – especially in a world whose borders and markets are becoming less open – it doesn’t have much time. As recent academic analyses have pointed out, Canada’s projected peak population this century (double its current level) may be difficult to reach because many of our chief countries of immigration are watching their own population growth levels collapse and are trying to hold onto their own populations.

What the pandemic has shown us is that newcomers are not guaranteed to be available when we need them, and might not always be willing to jump through all our hoops – not when other wealthy countries, including warmer ones, may be willing to make better offers.

An immigration policy designed for a growing, educated population needs to do three things.

First, it needs to keep families intact – an immigration system built on unaccompanied individuals is bad for immigrants and bad for Canada, as it leaves out the long-term population benefits of immigration.

Second, it needs to avoid leaving people stuck in Canada for a long time without a clear pathway to citizenship. This is true for both refugee applicants and immigrants – it is a huge wasted opportunity to have hundreds of thousands of ambiguous-status individuals knocking around the country, unsure if they should invest in this country or some other one, or when they’ll know for sure.

We wrongly think of our “points system” as assessing the intrinsic worth of an individual, but in fact most immigrants build up points during the time they spend in Canada. Might it make more sense to allow them to accumulate those points not before but after they earn permanent-resident status? That way, the earnings and savings they build up during that time will be used to build a stake in Canada’s society and economy.

But the flip side of a generous and large-scale controlled-immigration system is that removal of non-qualified people should be quick and decisive – ideally through economic incentives rather than far more expensive deportation. Immigration and citizenship should be valued and treated as precious accomplishments, and that means making decisions quickly and fairly.

And finally, the system should allow rapid movement between categories and classes of immigration – ideally without changing anything. Someone in Canada as a temporary medical-industry worker should be able to become a university student, or a permanent-residency applicant, without having to pay lawyers and questionable immigration agents to navigate a labyrinth of applications, waiting lists, lotteries and restrictions. The number of immigration categories, and steps, could easily be cut in half without any detriment to the system.

Canada will never be an open-borders country, and it will never need to return to the era of mass immigration, as we experienced a bit more than a century ago. We can double or triple our population this century within current immigration rates, and without lowering our standards – but we need to start taking advantage of the immigration assets we already have. If nothing else, the pandemic’s border closings have taught us that we need to do things differently.


Why the Canadian government must review its immigration policy

My latest:

Immigration can be a politically charged topic but the beauty of economics is that there is no arguing with the numbers. Canada’s birth rate has not kept up with an ageing population and so its future prosperity depends significantly on attracting migrants to fill jobs and pay pension contributions.

Immigration is less emotionally charged in Canada compared to most countries, with public debate and discussion focussed more on the specifics of selection criteria and priorities than on fundamental questioning of immigration.

The Canadian government continues to prioritise skills that don’t fully reflect the reality of the country’s needs – which has been laid bare by COVID-19.

Last October, when hopes were high of a flattened curve, the government published an immigration plan for the coming years. The target was to admit 401,000 migrants in 2021 to catch up on the 50% drop in immigration in 2020, with an overall emphasis on skilled economic immigrants.

Yet, this pandemic – which has proven to be far more of a long-term crisis than anticipated – has shown which workers Canadian society actually depends on. Low-paid grocery staff, truck drivers and healthcare support workers were deemed essential, even though they are not prioritised in immigration plans or rewarded monetarily.

The pandemic bottleneck

Between April and December last year, permanent residencyapplications and admissions were down by about 60% compared with the previous year (from 275,000 to 115,000 admissions).

During the same period, the total number of temporary workers residing in Canada fell by 6.3% (from 272,000 to 254,000), except in the agriculture sector where it dropped by 1.5 % (from 45,000 to 44,000). In this period, only 149,000 foreign students applied for study permits – a 59% decrease compared with 364,000 the previous year.

Newcomers are still subject to travel restrictions that are likely to remain in place until this summer, given the ongoing waves of infections and the fact that most people won’t be vaccinated until early autumn. So all of this will create a bottleneck for welcoming in workers that the country urgently needs.

COVID has shown which workers Canada depends on. Low-paid grocery staff, truck drivers and healthcare support workers were deemed essential, even though they are not prioritised in immigration plans or rewarded monetarily.

The reality is that the government’s immigration target levels set last year are no longer realistic for this year and possibly won’t be for next year either.

In fact, maintaining these target levels is questionable as to do so may undermine the credibility of the government’s whole immigration plan.

“Immigrants with higher education levels benefit most from services designed to support economic integration – putting the lower educated at further disadvantage.”

While selection criteria and settlement programming can be adjusted to improve economic outcomes, or at least attenuate the impact of the pandemic-induced downturn, this will be harder to achieve given that the downturn is likely to continue well into the year.

In 2018, the government department Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada evaluated the settlement programme and highlighted several areas for improvement. These included the labour market and the services that support immigrants’ economic integration. The evaluation showed that immigrants with higher education levels or more work experience were benefitting most from these services – further deepening the disadvantage that the lower educated face.

Shouldn’t such programmes serve the essential workers who need this support more? And shouldn’t settlement agencies better support those who are, as John Shield explained, “less digitally adept, lacking in technology and with more limited official language abilities?”

Immigration policies are selective by design: who can obtain permanent residency; who can only stay on a temporary basis; and what are the criteria they have to meet (e.g. language knowledge, education, age, professional qualifications).

Policy steeped in inequality

These criteria invariably raise equality issues between permanent and temporary residents. This can be seen most clearly in the realisation that lower-skilled workers are deemed ‘essential’. These frontline workers are more exposed to COVID-19 than those able to work remotely yet are poorer.

Personal support and healthcare workers – mostly women and visible minorities – are vital to an increasingly ageing population yet remain under-appreciated. Many of these workers come from migrant backgrounds but aren’t supported in immigration policies.

Other inequalities exist in the ability to obtain permanent residency – it’s an easier process for those considered to be higher skilled and less so for those considered lower skilled.

Agricultural workers, given their crowded living conditions, should be prioritised for permanent residency. Some of this work is clearly seasonal, but many jobs, such as meat-packing, are not. This is where a more direct path to permanent residency would be appropriate.

One approach to improve equality in this area would be to draw from the live-in caregivers experience, whereby two years’ full-time work as a temporary resident provided a pathway to permanent residency in Canada. Why not apply this approach to any immigrant who has worked two years full-time?

Recession hits migrants hardest

The Canadian government has essentially adopted a Keynesian approach: more immigration means more demand and thus economic growth.

This approach considers growth only in terms of a country’s GDP, ignoring the more important GDP per capita that shows the total value of all the goods and services produced in a year, divided by the number of people living there. In this way it ignores the importance of equality among all, immigrants and citizens alike.

Yet it’s been proven from prior recessions that recent immigrants suffer the most in a downturn and some remain impacted in the long term.

This is why an increase in migration at this time could likely contribute to an increase in inequality over time, given poorer economic integration for those arriving during this downturn. The Canadian government has yet to adjust its policy though to address these important issues.


Express entry economic immigration timelines a ‘joke,’ say lawyers as processing times increase

Further to the IRCC departmental results report and its failure to meet its service standards (see :

Canada’s “express entry” approach to key economic immigration programs isn’t working, immigration lawyers say, following a recent report showing that none of them are meeting the six-month service standard.

That failed grade was among 17 missed performance targets the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reported for the 2019-20 fiscal year, or 31 per cent of the 54 total targets. It said none of the government’s business lines for permanent residents adhere to service standards during a time period that had yet to feel the pandemic’s full impact. 

Launched in 2015, the express entry process is described by Canada as its “flagship” system for various federal skilled worker programs, and a portion of the provincial nominee program, as a pathway to permanent residence for skilled workers in Canada and overseas. IRCC has said it plans to increase permanent-resident admissions, setting a target of 341,000 for 2020 and 350,000 for 2021, with most of the uptick expected from economic immigration streams.

Evelyn Ackah, founder of Ackah Business Immigration Law in Calgary, laughed when she repeated the program’s name.

“Express entry, that’s a joke. When they first launched that program a few years ago, it was incredible. It was three months, four months,” she said, but now she warns clients it can take more than a year.

She said it’s disappointing the government hasn’t been able to keep up with the high volume of applications. To her, it’s a clear resourcing and staffing problem that doesn’t line up with Canada’s stated goals to increase immigration levels. 

“It’s not working as an express process, absolutely not. It’s the same as the old process, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s lost its credibility with people,” she said. “The trend is getting slower and slower.”

Over the last three years, and before COVID-19 interruptions, processing times have increased, and in some cases, doubled the time it takes to deal with 80 per cent of applicants. The federal skills trade stream jumped from six months in 2017 to one year for the majority of applicants, while the federal-skilled worker and provincial-nominee programs increased from six to nine months in that same time frame. The Canadian Experience Class increased from four to seven months. Across all programs, only 60 per cent of the applications met the standard by the end of 2019.

According to the department’s latest plan, its overall spending is set to increase from $1.92-billion in 2017-18 to the peak last fiscal year at $3.46-billion, before going back down this fiscal year to $2.84-billion, $2.6-billion in 2021-22, and $2.56-billion in 2022-23.

The stretching timelines reflect an increase in applications to express entry, with the 332,331 submissions in 2019 amounting to a 20 per cent jump from the number of applications in 2018. Among the 2019 profiles submitted in 2019, 72 per cent were eligible for at least one of the business programs, according to the program’s year-end report.

Still, the government promises to those searching for information online about the express entry system that it “will result in fast processing times of six months or less.

“I can’t even bring up that number [to clients],” said B.C.-based  immigration lawyer Will Tao of Heron Law, saying more transparency is needed. 

It’s “misleading” and can “give the wrong impression” to applicants, he said, especially now with the pandemic posing even more of a challenge to processing times.

“I think they pretty much internally abandoned it, so from my perspective, if you’ve done that, then you probably should … let clients know,” he said, calling for better transparency so that people can get more certainty about their situations. 

Even though it’s supposed to be an automated system, based on points, both lawyers said the process gets bogged down during the authentication stage, as officials check over and verify the many documents submitted. Eligible candidates in the pool are given a score based on their skills and experience, with top-ranking candidates invited to submit an application for permanent residence. As of June 2017, IRCC added extra points to candidates with strong French-speaking skills.

Both Mr. Tao and Ms. Ackah acknowledged it can be a complicated process, but Ms. Ackah said that’s all the more reason to match up resourcing.

In IRCC’s report on performance targets, the department said “substantial efforts” have been made to reduce applications that took longer than six months to process in the express entry system.

“While service standards are being met for a higher number of applications compared to previous years, this was offset by an increase in applications and the processing of older applications,” the report said.

The department noted early results show “progression towards higher admission targets” and efforts to increase the intake are having an impact on service standards, in this case, the promise to have the majority completed within six months. The department doesn’t control intake for provincial nominee program’s paper applications and Quebec-selected skilled workers.

By email, IRCC spokesperson Lauren Sankey said the government remains committed to reducing application processing times and improving the department’s service delivery. 

IRCC misses a third of 2019-20 targets

In 2019-20, the department met 37 of 54 performance targets, and missed 17, or 31 per cent. The express-entry delay was the worst among several performance targets the department didn’t reach. Canada’s backlogged asylum system again failed to make the cut, with the department reporting only 32 per cent of asylum claims were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada within service standards, compared to target of 97 per cent.

A couple of targets found language-development delays for people settling in Canada. In one case, only 37 per cent of IRCC’s settlement clients reported improved official language skills compared to the target of 60 per cent, while 19 per cent of people reported receiving language-training services compared to target of 25 per cent.

Ms. Sankey said every newcomer’s experience is unique, including their participation in settlement services, which is managed by IRCC and delivered by more than 500 service provider organizations across the country, outside of Quebec. Federally funded language training is “a key component” said Ms. Sankey, who noted there’s been a proportionate increase in newcomers with limited knowledge of English or French over the past few years.

In 2019-20, IRCC also reported 2.82 per cent of permanent residents outside Quebec identified as French speaking, compared to the target of 4.4 per cent. Ms. Sankey said under the Francophone Immigration Strategy, IRCC is “pursuing year-round targeted promotion and recruitment” to attract more qualified French-speaking candidates, and noted under the express entry program, the government increased invitations to French-tested candidates from 4.5 per cent in 2018 to 5.6 per cent in 2019.

These results suggest issues with respect to service standards, language training, and refugee claims, said Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who was once a director general at the department’s Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch.

While many reflect perennial problems and backlogs, given these markers IRCC seems to be “systematically” missing the standards it sets to monitor how well it’s delivering its services, he said.

“So if they’re consistently their targets it says there’s either a management problem, an operational problem, a resource problem, or some combination of those,” he said. 

Even so, he noted a contrasting target the department met: a 91 per cent satisfaction rate from visitor, international students, and temporary worker applicants who reported they were satisfied overall with the services they received. While he doesn’t advocate for lowering targets, Mr. Griffith questioned why the government reports on aspirational or unrealistic goals. 

“Personally, I favour realistic standards for public departmental reports, with aspirational more appropriate for internal use,” he said. 

IRCC’s targets are based on factors like historic trends, program objectives, resourcing levels, client service goals, and evolving influences such as the impact of increasing temporary resident and permanent resident immigration levels, said Ms. Sankey.

“Targets are reviewed regularly, and in some cases, the department establishes ambitious targets that serve to stretch program vision and encourage innovation. In other cases, they are based on baselines and historic trends where achievement is more certain,” said Ms. Sankey, noting following a 2020 departmental review how IRCC tracks performance will change.

Distilling service performance down into two tracks—one for permanent residents (PR) and one for temporary residents (TR)—is not a true representation of the department’s performance, she said, given the disparate programs under the two umbrellas. Instead, IRCC will report on the service standard for each individual program, which Mr. Griffith called a “significant change” given the “overly simple” approach before.

“This change will capture more accurate service standard performance for the many lines of business which make up the temporary and permanent resident programs,” Ms. Sankey said. 


The impact of COVID may make it difficult to attract immigrants compared to other G7 countries, making it difficult to meet the targets set for 2024.

Howard Ramos, Dan Hiebert and I have been looking at COVID-19 impact on immigration (my last monthly update can be found here:

One of the research questions we have is whether or not a country’s ability to manage or control COVID-19 will impact on its relative impact to potential immigrants. Out initial analysis is below, published in Policy Options (the updated slides can be found in the previous post):

Statistics tracking infections and deaths during the COVID pandemic show that Canada is faring better than all its G7 allies, save for Japan. Yet, it is doing far worse than the top five immigration source countries that it draws newcomers from. Canada cannot assume that it looks as attractive as it once did to newcomers, suggesting that it may be time to act proactively to meet ambitious immigration targets.

In October, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino made an ambitious announcement to bring 1.2 million newcomers to the Canada over the next three years. If it the country has a shot at meeting those targets, it cannot not sit back and simply expect those numbers to happen.

Immigration is driven by a complex set of push and pull factors that incentivises migration. Put simply, source countries have attributes that make life look more attractive abroad and host countries have features that attract newcomers. For instance, a weak economy or poorer quality of life at home compared to good jobs and good health abroad.

The lingering impact of the COVID-induced downturn is flipping traditional push and pull factors on their head. In past economic downturns and recessions, for example, recent immigrants suffer the most and this means we need to consider the inequalities that might get triggered by returning to recent levels (340,000 in 2019) too quickly, which the federal government’s plan largely ignores. This is not to mention how Canada’s health care system looks compared to other countries in addressing the pandemic.

The statistics may weaken the perceptions of potential immigrants of Western public health, social welfare programs and quality of life advantages. Take for instance COVID-19 infections-per-million from July to January 2021 as an example. If you look at the top-five immigrant-source countries to Canada (India, China, Philippines, Nigeria and Pakistan) all have far lower rates of infection than the G7 which are among the countries that compete with Canada for newcomers.

Although there may be undercounting of COVID infections and deaths in non-Western countries, rates would have to be five or more times higher to change the trends we report here. We do not believe such issues are significant enough to change the overall picture that rates in G7 countries are among the highest in the world.

Rates of infection can be taken as a proxy of a number of factors. They reflect the strength of a country’s social welfare system, its healthcare system and the quality of life it can offer newcomers. Polling of immigrants to Canada time and time again show that quality of life is a reason people move to the country and it is also seen in polling on specific regions, such as Nova Scotia. Rates of infection put this all into question.

The situation is even more stark when looking at deaths-per-million over the same period in 2020. Again Canada’s top immigrant source countries all have lower rates of death compared to the G7. On this front, again, Canada tends to look better than its G7 allies. But when regions of the country are examined in more depth, Quebec has worse outcomes than other immigrant destinations and has some of the highest death rates in the world.

The degree to which Canada is to vaccinate may also become a factor, given its sluggish start compared to the UK and U.S. but higher than immigration source countries. Such statistics put into question whether traditional immigration destinations can offer the quality-of-life immigrants seek and this may change mix of the push and pull factors that drove migration before the pandemic.

The statistics put into question the ability of the West to offer strong public health and social welfare safety nets. Dampened perceptions of the West’s advantage will likely impact the speed at which countries recover from the pandemic, the pace at which they can get their economies back to speed and thus their relative attractiveness to immigrants.

In this context, the federal and provincial governments may well need to revise immigration targets downward, at least in 2021. The mix may also need to be revisited given that the economic immigration streams prioritize the higher skilled where one lesson from the pandemic is the essential nature of lower-skilled service jobs. At the same time, Canada’s attractiveness compared to the U.S. will likely decline under the Biden administration, which is of particular importance to the tech sector.

The government cannot take for granted that the push and pull factors that drove migration before COVID will remain the same in the new normal. Instead, Canada needs to act boldly and proactively if it has a chance to returning to being a key player in attracting newcomers.


‘It’s long overdue’: unions, FBEC weigh in on top leadership’s push for greater diversity, inclusion in federal public service

Some reactions (including mine):

Liberal MP Greg Fergus says he thinks the government’s launch of new priorities to increase diversity and inclusion within the federal bureaucracy ‘will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians.’

Union leaders and a Federal Black Employee Caucus representative say the steps are “long overdue,” following Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart’s recent “call to action” to senior bureaucrats to diversify the leadership ranks in the federal public service, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos’ recent announcement to increase diversity and inclusion within the larger bureaucracy and address glaring gaps in staffing of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. 

But both Mr. Shugart’s call to “encourage and support the voices that have been long marginalized in our organizations” as well as Mr. Duclos’ recognition that “too many public servants continue to face obstacles” and it’s “time to close the gaps and eliminate the barriers that remain,” preceded an internal audit conducted by the Public Service Commission showing three equity groups—Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities—aren’t proportionally represented in public service hiring processes.

On Jan. 26, Mr. Duclos and Liberal MP Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board, announced a number of key initiatives surrounding diversity and inclusion in the public service, including a focus on disaggregated data, increasing the diversity of the bureaucracy’s senior leadership, a review of the Employment Equity Act as well as possible amendments to the Public Service Employment Act.

“As I’ve said before, I’m committed to achieving this ambitious change, and I know that co-developing our policies and programs with our partners will lead to more innovation, more experimentation, and new way to address the challenges ahead,” said Mr. Duclos in a press release. “In time, we will build a public service that is the true reflection of our pluralism and diversity.”

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Fergus said that the release of these new priorities “have been in the works for a while” and that it’s “great to see it come to fruition.”

“I think this will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians,” said the Liberal MP.

“I think the overall aim is bang on, and the way to do that of course is through disaggregated data—you can’t change what you don’t measure—and we want to make sure that you have the right people in place, there will be more mentorship and sponsorship of people with talent throughout the system and making sure that they’re able to accede to leadership roles, there will be a centre for diversity within the public service to continue working on that,” said Mr. Fergus.

“I think Canadians truly appreciate how much the machinery of government is important for collective action—for our health, for income support, for making sure that people are getting what they need,” said Mr. Fergus.

‘These issues aren’t anything new for us’ 

“I think it’s great, I think it’s long overdue,” said Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team when asked about the government’s Jan. 26 announcement.

“These issues aren’t anything new for us, working in this area for a couple of years,” said Ms. Ater. “But it’s a good first step—I think the action comes afterwards, but as an instructive or signaling piece from a central agency, I think it’s a good piece of work.”

Focusing on disaggregated data is a major priority for FBEC.

“What we’re seeing, particularly with these releases and announcements, is that the data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work, particularly in this era of big data and how data is used to drive policy decisions,” she said. “It’s of the utmost importance, and we applaud the direction that the federal government is taking, that they’re taking this seriously, and also sharing the information.”

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team. Ms. Ater said ‘data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work.’ Photograph courtesy of Atong Ater

The annual Public Service Employee Survey was conducted from Nov. 30, 2020 through to Jan. 29, 2021, and measures employees’ opinions about engagements, leadership, workforce, workplace well-being, compensation, diversity and inclusion, as well as the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Results of the survey are expected later this year.

Clerk of the Privy Council issues ‘call to action’ 

Mr. Shugart, Canada’s top civil servant, issued a call to action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service on Jan. 22.

“The past several months have precipitated deep reflection on the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society,” wrote Mr. Shugart. “As public servants come forward and courageously share their lived experiences, the urgency of removing systemic racism from our institutions and from our culture becomes more evident.”

In his note, Mr. Shugart called on leaders within the public service to appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the government’s executive group, sponsor high-potential employees within these groups to prepare them for leadership roles, support the participation of these employees in leadership development programs, and recruit highly-qualified candidates from across all regions in Canada.

“This call to action represents specific and meaningful actions. My expectation is that progress will be measured and lessons shared. While senior leaders are accountable, this set of actions demands our collective responsibility—at all levels—and a recognition that the existing equity work underway must continue,” wrote Mr. Shugart.

‘Much work remains to be done’ 

On Jan. 28, the Public Service Commission released an audit report that reviewed the representation of employment equity groups throughout five stages of the recruitment process: job application, automated screening, organizational screening, assessment, and appointment, and found that Black candidates experienced a greater drop in representation than members of other visible minority groups both at the organizational screening stage as well as at the assessment stage.

The report also found that the representation rate of persons with disabilities decreased at the assessment and appointment stages, that the representation rate of visible minority groups declined at the organizational screening and assessment stages, and that Indigenous candidates’ representation rate decreased at the assessment stage.

“While progress has been achieved in making the federal public service more representative, much work remains to be done. This audit is a call to action. All Canadians applying to public service jobs should have an equal opportunity to highlight their unique talents,” according to a joint statement from PSC president Patrick Borbey and commissioners Fiona Spencer and Daniel Tucker.

The events of the last two weeks follows the release late last year of a proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades.

Staffing one of the most common issues raised by PSAC members, according to union president  

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) president Chris Aylward told The Hill Times that his union welcomes the review—and that staffing is one of the most common issues raised by PSAC’s members.

“An overhaul of the federal government staffing system is long overdue to address the systemic barriers that impact our members, especially our members from equity groups,” said Mr. Aylward.

“We hear countless stories from our members who experience racism, sexism, ableism and discrimination during the hiring process, and the recourse mechanisms that are in place are truly insufficient. They are without any enforcement, they are without any teeth.”

But Mr. Aylward said any legislative changes to the Employment Act can’t be made without meaningful consultation with PSAC and with other bargaining agents.

“A lot of it is stemming from several years ago when the Public Service Commission basically delegated the authority to individual departments and managers, and now it’s simply viewed that managers can hire whoever they want,” said Mr. Aylward. “So we think it’s the right step forward, it’s long overdue, these issues are long-standing within the public service.”

Mr. Aylward told The Hill Times that he and other bargaining agent representatives met with the Treasury Board and with the PSC on Jan. 28, where he said he hoped that this was the beginning of an inclusive, consultative, and collaborative approach to staffing issues.

Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) National Capital Region director Waheed Khan echoed Mr. Aylward’s comments.

“Things need to change, this is long, long overdue, and [the government needs] to take action,” said Mr. Khan. “This is not the first time we’re getting excited, I’m still very hopeful that this will lead to some real changes, but I always have to be cautious.”

Mr. Khan said he had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Shugart early in January ahead of his call to action.

“It seems that senior government leaders always want to put their own stamp on things, they want to start a new initiative, and they forget about anything else that has happened in the past,” said Mr. Khan. “Because in government, everything takes time, so by the time you gain momentum and start getting things done, you have new people who want to start new things, so I pointed out to Mr. Shugart: you need to own the work that has been done.”

‘They’ve already moved the bar a fair amount’

Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute keeps a close eye on public service data, and said the ongoing commitments made by the Treasury Board in that area is “a really good thing.”

“I think quite frankly that they’ve already moved the bar a fair amount by actually reporting data broken down by each visible minority group,” said Mr. Griffith. “There’s obviously more that can be done there—it’s always a good idea to have better data—but sometimes you do get to the problem where you have too much data and you wonder whether we have the capacity to analyze it, but better to have too much than not enough.”

Mr. Griffith said he didn’t believe the government is just virtue-signalling on these renewed commitments to greater diversity and inclusion, and that the events of the last week have been consistent with the government’s overall commitment—however it’s implemented—to greater diversity and inclusion in all institutions.


21 racialized Canadians who could help the Order of Canada look more like Canada

Did a quick diversity analysis: 10 Black, 5 Chinese, 2 South Asian, 1 Japanese, 1 Indigenous (surprising that Murray Sinclair has not already been awarded the Order), and no Arab/West Asian or Southeast Asian. 15 women, 5 men. Weighted towards activists:

Earlier this week, the BlackNorth Initiative made a point that seemingly too few people had realized: the 114 people named to the Order of Canada this year were overwhelmingly white and men.

The organization, led by the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, sent a letter to Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, whose office hands out the awards, calling for change. 

Only one Black Canadian, Denham Jolly, was listed when the honours were announced Nov. 27, along with a few Indigenous and Asian recipients. Outside of this year, the more than 4,000 Canadians appointed to the Order of Canada are mostly white. Since 2013, only 4.8 per cent of appointees have been visible minorities, while they account for 22.3 per cent of the population of Canada, based on research from Andrew Griffith, who focuses on diversity in politics, and reported by CBC News.

The Star asked community organizations, staff and members of the public which racialized Canadians they think could receive a nomination in the future.

Anyone can make a nomination and the nominees don’t have to be Canadian citizens, rather simply someone who has “enriched the lives of others and made our country a better place” over their lifetime. Elected officials and judges are ineligible while in office. 

These are some of the suggestions: 

M. NourbeSe Philip is an award-winning poet, writer and lawyer born in Tobago and based in Toronto. Philip’s work has helped build an understanding of the Caribbean experience in Canada. Before writing full-time, she was a practising lawyer for seven years. Her work includes “Harriet’s Daughter,” “Caribana: African Roots & Continuities” and “Zong!” In 1990, Philip was named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. 

Maryka Omatsu was the first Asian woman judge, appointed to the Ontario Court 1993. She is a member of the Order of Ontario as of 2015. Omatsu played a key role in achieving redress for Japanese Canadians interned during the Second World War and is the author of “Bittersweet Passage,” a book that documented the Japanese Canadian community’s campaign for an apology and an acknowledgment of the racism they endured during WWII.

Adelle Blackett is a law professor at McGill University. As a legal scholar, her work has focused on human rights and labour law. In 2009, Quebec’s national assembly appointed her to the province’s human rights commission. She’s received several awards and fellowships over the years, including from Barreau du Québec for her social commitment and her contributions to the advancement of women, and from the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers for her contributions to the legal community and community at large. She was also elected a fellow to the Royal Society of Canada in 2020 and was a 2016 fellow of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Gary Yee is a lawyer who has devoted his career and community activities to legal clinics, adjudicative tribunals, access to justice and anti-racism. Yee was the president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, where he spearheaded the redress campaign for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act. 

Paul Taylor has worked in food security and anti-poverty in both Toronto and Vancouver. He is currently the executive director of FoodShare Toronto. Taylor works to both feed and support communities while changing narratives and perceptions about the causes of food insecurity and advocating for workers’ rights. In 2020, Taylor was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

Dr. Alan Tai-Wai Li has been a physician with the Regent Park Community Health Centre since the 1980s. Li has worked in HIV/AIDS research through the Ontario HIV Treatment Network and the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment. His work has focused on many marginalized communities including newcomers and racialized communities living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ people, people struggling with mental health and addictions, and those experiencing poverty and homelessness.

Lynn Jones has spent her life campaigning for civil rights in Nova Scotia as an educator, and a community and labour organizer. She grew up at a time when her hometown of Truro, N.S., was segregated in a family of activists. She worked with Saint Mary’s University to create the Lynn Jones African-Canadian and Diaspora Heritage Collection, which documents her family’s activism and 50 years of Black Nova Scotian history. Jones was also a vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, where she pushed for an anti-racism report on unions and their communities in Canada in 1995.

Vivek Shraya is a Calgary artist who works across music, literature, visual art, theatre and film. Her bestselling book “I’m Afraid of Men” explores the role masculinity has played throughout her life as a trans woman. Shraya is founder of the publishing imprint VS and has taught creative writing at the University of Calgary. Her album with the Queer Songbook Orchestra, “Part-Time Woman,” was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.

Amy Go has been a social worker for over 30 years and worked to break down barriers for immigrants and racialized people. Go has worked to promote culturally appropriate long-term care through her work as executive director at the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care. She co-created the CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses in 2001, helping women around the globe pass registration exams to work in their profession. She is also the founding president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice.

Akua Benjamin has been involved in numerous community groups and initiatives advocating for change, and challenging racist policies and structures. Groups in which she has played leadership roles include the Black Action Defence Committee, National Action Committee on the Status of Women and the Congress of Black Women. In 2003, she became the first Black director at Ryerson University. She was a social work professor at Ryerson University for decades and is now head of the Akua Benjamin Project at Ryerson.

Winnie Ng is a long-time social justice and union activist. For more than three decades, Ng championed workers’ rights through her involvement in labour organizations and networks, including as acting executive director of the Labour Education Centre, the Canadian Labour Congress’s Ontario regional director and Ryerson’s CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy. 

Afua Cooper has made contributions to Black studies and art in Canada. Cooper is a sociology professor at Dalhousie University where she was the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies from 2011 to 2017. She founded the Black Canadian Studies Association and was Halifax’s seventh poet laureate. Her book “The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal” was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award.

Murray Sinclair served the justice system in Manitoba for decades. He was the first Indigenous judge appointed in Manitoba and the second in Canada. The senator was chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, conducting hearings across the country on the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people, culminating in a report on a way forward toward reconciliation. (Note: officials are ineligible while serving.) 

Baldev Mutta has been in social work for more than 40 years. He founded Punjabi Community Health Services, which started in Mississauga and expanded across Ontario. He has worked for the last 28 years developing a holistic model to address substance abuse, mental health and family violence in South Asian communities and increase access to services for these communities.

Debbie Douglas is the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She has highlighted issues of equity and inclusion including race, gender and sexual orientation within the immigration system and advocated for safe, welcoming spaces in settlement and integration. She has received several awards, including a Women of Distinction Award from YWCA Toronto, the Amino Malko Award from the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture and an Urban Alliance on Race Relations Racial Equity Award. 

Susan Eng is a lawyer and has been involved in community efforts, including as a founding board member of the Chinese Canadian National Council and as part of the campaign for redress for the Chinese Canadian head tax. Eng was a chair of the Toronto Police Services Board and a vice-president of Canadian Association of Retired Persons. 

Angela Marie MacDougall is the executive director of Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services. MacDougall has advocated for women’s empowerment and against violence against women, and worked on strategies to create gender equity. The City of Vancouver named her a Remarkable Woman in 2014.

OmiSoore Dryden is the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University. She has studied the experiences of Black Canadians in the health-care system. She led research into the barriers that gay, bisexual and trans men encounter when attempting to donate blood in Canada.

Grace-Edward Galabuzi is a Ryerson University professor researching experiences of recent immigrants and racialized groups in the Canadian labour market; race and poverty, and social exclusion. Galabuzi also worked in the Ontario government as a senior policy analyst on justice issues in the early ’90s.

Avvy Go is a lawyer and director of the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. Go has worked largely in legal clinics serving low-income individuals and families, immigrants and refugees. She has also served on several boards and councils including the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council and the Ontario Justice Education Network. Outside of her legal practice, Go organized in the community for causes related to poverty, racism and Chinese Canadians.

Ingrid Waldron is a sociologist and professor in the faculty of health at Dalhousie University. Her work has encompassed the impacts of racial inequities on health. Over the last eight years, through the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health (ENRICH) Project, she has studied the social and health effects of environmental racism in Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities.


U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

Will likely be more analysis and commentary once the results are known and how that affects or not the forthcoming immigration levels plan:

After four years of Canada positioning itself as a more welcoming destination than the U.S. for new immigrants, the upcoming presidential election could change that dynamic.

But as the Liberal government prepares to lay out its immigration targets for the coming year, the domestic discourse on the issue appears to be changing as well.

A new poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggests Canadians are feeling skittish about any planned increases to immigration next year, after months of low numbers of new arrivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fifty-two per cent of those polled this week say they want the levels to stay low for the next 12 months, a figure that can be pegged to the pandemic, said Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association for Canadian Studies.

“When health authorities are telling you that one of the principal causes of the virus is migration — they’re not saying international migration, just people moving in general — and they are telling you not to go abroad, you’re going to conclude to some degree that immigration carries a risk right now,” said Jedwab.

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because online surveys are not truly random.

Border closures, civil servants working from home, flight cancellations and vanished job opportunities have all had an impact on the immigration system: estimates suggest that as of August, immigration levels were down 43.5 per cent versus last year and the government’s plan to welcome 341,000 newcomers in 2020 is out the window.

While the Liberal government has maintained a pro-immigration stance throughout and has begun easing restrictions on who is allowed into Canada, what the Liberals think immigration overall could look like next year will be clearer later this week.

Despite some Americans’ “If Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada” line, the U.S. election might not affect the total numbers for new arrivals.

But it could affect the demographics of who arrives.

Upon assuming the presidency in 2017, Donald Trump immediately moved to impose restrictions on immigration, and Canada’s messaging immediately went in the other direction.

The most public response was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s #WelcomeRefugees tweet, posted after Trump’s first changes were announced.

Meanwhile, Trump’s travel bans on certain countries, crackdowns on temporary visas issued to citizens of others, and efforts to make it harder for highly skilled workers to get visas would go on to have a trickle-up-to-Canada effect.

How so became tragically clear earlier this year when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down just after taking off from Tehran.

Upwards of 130 people on the flight were headed to Canada. With Iran on the U.S. blacklist, the Iranian diaspora in Canada had swelled.

The tech sector as well began actively promoting Canada as a place to move as the U.S. made it harder for skilled workers to get visas.

A study earlier this year by the international real estate company CBRE concluded that Toronto had seen the biggest growth in technology jobs in the last five years, outpacing hot spots like Seattle and San Francisco.

Should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the election, it’s expected that U.S. immigration policy will shift, said Andrew Griffiths, a former director general of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department.

How far is hard to know: Trump made a lot of changes, he said.

“It’s going to take a major effort to go through them one by one and make changes and there may not be political will to reverse them all,” he said.

But there is one area where there could be a quick change.

Since 2017, nearly 60,000 people have crossed into Canada from the U.S. at unofficial border points to seek asylum in Canada.

The reason is the Safe Third Country Agreement, which doesn’t allow for asylum claims at land border points, on the grounds that both countries are safe, and someone must ask for refugee status in the first safe country he or she reaches.

Canada has been trying to renegotiate, and if there’s a change in power, the dynamics of those talks could shift as well.

On the other hand, points out Griffiths, it could also result in the number of people seeking to cross into Canada that way declining markedly. One “push factor” sending asylum-claimants north has been a U.S. crackdown on visa renewals by people from certain countries.

The political dynamic in the U.S. will always have a strong and vocal anti-immigrant component that doesn’t exist at the same level in Canada, Griffith said.

If Trump loses, the more “outrageous” aspects of his approach might disappear, he said.

“A Biden administration would reduce the strength of the Canadian advantage that we had in all our messaging, but it won’t completely eliminate it.”

Source: U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

Immigration virtue signalling in both directions

My latest:

As discussions about immigration levels and issues such as temporary foreign workers are likely to increase post-COVID, it is important to appreciate that these will occur at a number of levels, ranging from factual, to the underlying values that inform and shape narratives, and to how the arguments are presented.

Selection of facts often reflects conscious and unconscious decisions, which in turn are influenced by our values and beliefs. Understanding these influences is helpful to discussion, as it allows one to engage at a deeper level, appreciate the basis of different perspectives and, hopefully, find some common ground for discussion.

After all, meaningful discussion and debate cannot happen within a bubble of the like-minded, but we all need to engage different viewpoints and perspectives. My personal journey to this realization occurred during my time working under former then immigration minister Jason Kenney on citizenship and multiculturalism issues, where I was regularly challenged with respect to my values, biases and orientations, as recounted in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias.

Taking a look at a number of immigration issues, it can be useful to try to identify the underlying meanings of common and current immigration “catch phrases.” The following seeks to unpack some of the narratives used by both sides:

What are the narratives behind asylum seekers?

Characterizing asylum seekers as “illegal migrants” fits into a law and order narrative, emphasizing controlled or managed immigration and fairness in that there is one process for all. It implies possible fraud or misrepresentation in their claims. It is a narrative that can appeal to immigrants and non-immigrants alike. But the managed immigration narrative downplays the humanitarian aspects of people, many of whom would be at risk if returned to their homelands, who are worried about their future in the U.S., particularly under the Trump administration.

Characterizing them as “irregular arrivals” fits into the welcoming or inclusive narrative that accepts that how people arrive is less important than giving them the chance to make their case before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Similarly, it downplays the management aspect of immigration and that these claimants are essentially exploiting a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. As the technical arguments “illegal or irregular” are not simple to explain, this tends to resonate more with those who favour a more open and inclusive approach.

What are the narratives behind ‘old-stock Canadian’ or ‘a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian?’

While the former can be used in a neutral message to indicate Canadians of three generations or more, its use more often suggests a more exclusionary narrative implying a citizenship hierarchy based upon the period of immigration, with earlier largely white arrivals more “Canadian” compared to more recent visible minority arrivals. Moreover, it reinforces concerns that more recent immigrants are not adapting to Canadian values.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” on the other hand, signals inclusivity, that no matter the time of arrival or their ethnocultural identity, all are and should be treated equally. At its extreme, it justifies citizenship rights as divorced from residency and connections to Canada, as seen in debates over birth tourism, voting rights, and arguments in favour of citizenship transmission beyond the first generation.

What are the narratives behind ‘extreme multiculturalism’ or ‘diversity is our strength?’

“Extreme multiculturalism” signals that the values and practices of immigrants and visible minorities are different and divisive, thus undermining Canadian society and consensus. It implies that multiculturalism is based on an “anything goes” approach, one that leads to “unreasonable accommodation” demands to the disadvantage of “old-stock” Canadians.

“Diversity is our strength,” on the other hand, welcomes diversity as a good in itself. By stressing inclusivity and flexibility regarding accommodation requests, it expands the space of Canadian identities to incorporate other identities. On the other hand, it can lead to downplaying the constraints to accommodation, whether legal, economic or social.

What are the narratives behind ‘social cohesion’ or ‘social inclusion?’

Social cohesion stresses common values and standards that all are expected to understand and comply with. While differences exist, these are portrayed as more cultural (language, food, etc.) than fundamental values. People need to “fit in,” with explicit or implicit limits on societal accommodation. Back in 2009 (the Discover Canada Citizenship Guide) and, again in 2015 (a tip line), the previous Conservative government’s use of the term “barbaric cultural practices” for “honour killings” and female genital mutilation can be seen in this light.

Social inclusion, on the other hand, implies a greater openness to accommodating cultural, religious or other practices and identities. While subject to Charter protections and the need to balance rights, the emphasis is more on accommodation of difference and a reluctance to state limits or qualifications. It can lead to silence on issues within communities about such real concerns as extremism, spousal abuse and female genital mutilation, and the resulting impact on women and other vulnerable members.

What are the narratives behind ‘anti-Muslim hate’ or Islamophobia?

Anti-Muslim hate allows those uncomfortable with the term Islamophobia to situate issues of anti-Muslim bias, discrimination, and racism in the context of individual rather than group rights and those of a religion, Islam. The focus on individual rights maintains some space for legitimate criticism of the religion or its practices (e.g., role of women, LGBTQ, etc.) and more explicit recognition of balancing religious and other rights.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, emphasizes the religion itself, with a greater focus on systemic racism and the rights of the religion as such in contrast to individual rights. Criticism of specific religious practices becomes more difficult as it is can be viewed as criticism of the religion and its institutions rather than criticism of the impact on individual rights.

What are the narratives behind individual acts of racism or systemic racism?

By stressing individual acts of racism, the emphasis is on the individual, the “few bad apples” in any organization or community, with government interventions more focused on education and enforcement of anti-hate crimes legislation. In so doing, it largely sidesteps issues pertaining to societal and socioeconomic barriers.

Systemic racism, on the other hand, situates racism in the context of societal and socioeconomic barriers that result in inequalities, intended or unintended. Individual practices and policies of governments and organizations can inadvertently make it more difficult for individuals and groups to have comparable outcomes to more established groups, as seen with respect to the economy, education attainment, incarceration rates, health and political representation.

What are the narratives behind multiculturalism, interculturalism or pluralism?

All three are “plastic” terms to describe civic integration that range from more integrationist to more separatist. All three can be used positively or negatively. Multiculturalism has been decried by European leaders as having failed at integration in contrast to how it is generally positively viewed by Canadian political leaders and society. It is important to note that what Europeans understand as “multiculturalism” may not be how it is understood in Canada. Interculturalism, while substantively comparable to Canadian multiculturalism with a stronger reference point of Quebec as a French-speaking society, is largely used to emphasize Quebec as a distinct French-speaking and identity-based society. Pluralism is broader in that it includes all forms of diversity (ethnocultural, gender and other) but with more emphasis on tolerance than integration.

Conversation not confrontation

Consciously or not, we all use narratives to drive our arguments and positions. The narratives we use reflect a mix of interests and values. Narratives have elements of identity politics (policies targeted to narrow constituencies) and virtue signalling (superficial support for positions) designed to target and attract individuals and groups.

When listening to discussions and debates, one needs to be alert to the interests, values and signals behind stated positions to improve understanding of them. In formulating our own arguments, one similarly has to “know thyself” and be more mindful of how our interests and values are shaping our positions and narratives. Greater awareness should allow for deeper conversations that either clarify points of divergence or, ideally, commonalities that bridge differences or at least improve civility.

Source: Immigration virtue signalling in both directions

Canada’s federal security and intelligence establishment encouraging employees to self-identify

Further to the earlier Hill Times story. Having gone through some of the recent reports (still awaiting a few), my general observation is the lower the representation numbers, the longer the reports and the more words describing the various initiatives underway). That being said, their cultures are different from elsewhere in the public service and thus the challenges greater:

A number of organizations in Canada’s security and intelligence establishment, including the Communications Security Establishment, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Community, the Department of National Defence, and the Canada Border Services Agency have been conducting campaigns to encourage employees who belong to one of the four designated groups listed in the Employment Equity Act—women, Indigenous people, members of a visible minority, and people with a disability—to self-identify, as part of their efforts to improve data collection and hiring practices.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, composed of 11 MPs and Senators and chaired by Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.), focused on diversity and inclusion issues in the security and intelligence community in its most recent annual report.

The report notes that one of the challenges in the security and intelligence committee surrounds voluntary self-identification.

But the report also notes that “self-identification campaigns and internal communications are [a] way organizations try to increase awareness on these issues,” and that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), and the Department of National Defence (DND) have conducted campaigns to “demystify the self-identification process and encourage employees to self identify.”

The Hill Times reached out to the four organizations noted in the report for more information on how they have done that.

Communications Security Establishment

Diversity and inclusion is an important element in ensuring that the Canadian security and intelligence community can effectively protect Canada, said Ryan Foreman, a media relations representative with the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).

Mr. Foreman outlined a number of initiatives undertaken by the CSE to encourage self-identification, including a 2017 push to increase organizational awareness of the requirements of the Employment Equity Act, and to explain how a diverse workforce strengthens CSE’s ability to deliver on its mandate.

“This included providing data to managers, and developing strategies to attract job applicants from underrepresented groups,” said Mr. Foreman, who also noted that CSE launched a self-identification campaign called “Show us what CSE is made of,” which was designed to encourage employees to self-identify.

“The messaging for this campaign communicated the importance of employment equity data and its impact on other organizational initiatives, such as recruitment and training,” said Mr. Foreman. “Both the 2017 initiative and the self-identification campaign started in 2018 are on-going.”

Canadian Security and Intelligence Community

“As Canada’s security and intelligence service, it is critical that CSIS reflects the communities it protects, wrote CSIS spokesperson John Townsend in an email to The Hill Times. “To this end, CSIS has implemented an ongoing internal communications campaign to encourage employees who belong to one of the four designated groups listed in the Employment Equity Act to self-identify.”

“The campaign includes an annual Employment Equity questionnaire among other tools to advise employees on the importance of self-identification.”

Ninety per cent of CSIS employees have engaged with these tools, according to Mr. Townsend.

“The work of making CSIS more representative of Canada is never finished but our commitment is steadfast and our efforts continue,” wrote Mr. Townsend.

Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces

Staff at the Department of National Defence and members of Canadian Armed Forces have returned self-identification forms at a greater rate this year than in the past, thanks to organizational efforts to spread the word about the importance of self-identification, according to Major Smyth, spokesperson for DND.

The Employment Equity Act requires that every member be provided the opportunity to self-identify as a member of a designated group, but it remains voluntary to do so.

As such, employment equity representation rates are based on a voluntary process and may not represent the actual employment equity representation in CAF, according to Mr. Smyth.

“Overall, the CAF continues to improve upon its self-identification return rates,” said Mr. Smyth. “The first part of the self-identification form is a personal identification portion. For this portion, the regular force achieved its highest return rate yet with 97.5 per cent of [members] having had the opportunity to self-identify as a member of a designated employment equity group.”

“While the return rates are lower in the primary reserve units, the CAF saw an overall increase in self-identification as designated group members from both regular force and primary reserve members compared to 2017/18.”

“Current representation rates, as of July 2020, for the regular force and the primary reserves combined, were as follows: women, 16 per cent; visible minorities, 9.3 per cent; and Indigenous Peoples, 2.8 per cent.”

DND/CAF did not identify the representation of persons with disabilities as of July 2020 in their response to The Hill Times.

The CAF works closely with Statistics Canada to ensure that “labour market data they provide, and upon which the CAF sets its employment equity representation rate goals, is reflective of the unique occupations and employment criteria of the CAF.”

“DND/CAF is committed to reflecting the Canadian ideals of diversity, respect and inclusion. Both long and short term goals have been created, based on the labour market analysis provided by Statistics Canada. We review our progress regularly to ensure that we are always working towards increasing representation rates,” said Mr. Smyth.”

Canadian Border Services Agency

The Canada Border Services Agency’s campaign encouraging self-identification began in 2017 and was repeated in 2018, according to Jacqueline Callin, spokesperson with the agency.

“They stressed the importance of understanding our workforce composition and reinforced that employee information would be protected. Recognizing that the Agency’s manual process might be contributing to response rates of 61 per cent, an online form was piloted with success in 2019 and was set to be launched in March 2020 as part of our ‘Your Voice Matters’ campaign. It has been postponed due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and current efforts are focused on how best to virtually promote self-identification,” she said.

Employment Equity Act ‘has served Canada and the public service well,’ says expert

Andrew Griffith, who is the former director general for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad, told The Hill Times that the Employment Equity Act has served Canada and the public service well, and that the diversity of virtually every group has increased since the act was introduced.

“So the basic structure of the act, I think, has worked in the reporting structure and the data collection, and the publicity that comes with the results,” said Mr. Griffith, who is a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute.

“But if you re-open the act, I’m just not sure that it’s worth all that much effort, time, and invariable divisiveness and controversies that it will raise,” said Mr. Griffith. “I’m thinking that if you want to use government time wisely, it would be more effective, I would think, [to look] at specific anti-racism initiatives and look at some of the specific barriers rather than a wholesale of revision of the act, because I think the challenge is less with the act and more with some of the practical stuff.”

Source: Canada’s federal security and intelligence establishment encouraging employees to self-identify