We can have open, respectful debates on immigration

My latest in Policy Options:

How we debate immigration and related issues is as important as the issues themselves. Whether these be broad political or media debates, or more focused consultations or workshops, care needs to be taken to ensure respectful discussion.

Given the need for a diversity of views and the desire to protect free speech, are there criteria that should be used to assess who is likely to contribute to a constructive conversation and dialogue? Should these criteria be used to select speakers and panelists, or perhaps participants and audiences?

Canadian scholar Keith Banting’s one-third snapshot of the population — one-third favouring more immigration, one-third favouring less, and one-third in the middle — is a useful suggestion as to the possible groups that need to be engaged in this debate. But within these broad groupings, there is considerable variation. Moreover, this variation includes both “elite” and “populist” discourses.

Given the importance of immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism to Canada’s overall success as a country, it is essential that people be exposed to and discuss a variety of perspectives, that we get out of our bubbles, whatever viewpoint our “bubble” represents. This would also shed light on opinions that might not have been be aired, and it would encourage a more open conversation.

My goal in writing this article is to provide practical guidelines for organizers of workshops and consultations on the issue of immigration.

Except for the possibility of violence, threats or disruption, audiences should not be preselected. (However, asking panelists to suggest invitees can ensure the audience includes those interested in respectful dialogue.) In contrast, the selection of panelists must be done to at least ensure the dialogue is meaningful, and the exchange in the panel is respectful and polite. To guard freedom of speech there must be an atmosphere of decorum and mutual respect.

Respect also requires some exclusions: for example, of speakers who promote hatred or whose specialty is generating outrage. But within these limits, it should be possible to broaden discussions to help address some of the political and populist undercurrents in Canada that are not being openly expressed.

It may also be easier to have a constructive conversation and to air the deeper motives and values behind specific issues and concern when the focus is on practical issues rather than beliefs and values. But even practical issues can be controversial and divisive. For example, what should the number and mix of immigrants (economic, family, refugees)? What should the requirements of citizenship (language, knowledge, residency) look like? What is reasonable in reasonable accommodation (specific religious exemptions within the overall legal and constitutional framework)?

The objective should be not to convince one’s interlocutors but to increase mutual understanding of various positions and the perspectives, and the biases and values that underlie them. This must go beyond a discussion of mainstream views and engage more populist discourses.

Nevertheless, even conversations focused on practical issues should be guided by some “ground rules”; an agreed-upon etiquette. These include the need to

  • Listen and be open to hearing other perspectives
  • Be aware of conscious and unconscious biases that may inform assumptions and selection of evidence
  • Stick to the evidence, however imperfect, rather than anecdotes, and recognize that people may not interpret evidence in the same way
  • Be respectful in one’s language and tone to and avoid “demonizing” those with perspectives that are different from one’s own
  • Avoid personal criticism or labelling
  • Don’t assume that all members of specific groups have the same beliefs, values and perspectives.

But will a potential panelist want to follow these ground rules and actually enrich the discussion? It’s helpful to consider in advance the tone and language of an individual’s writings and public appearances. Do they focus on the substance of issues or do they engage in personal and/or group attacks? Does their written work appear in mainstream media, whether right- or left-of-centre, or rather in media that has a more extreme/xenophobic political agenda?

Partisanship, meanwhile, is not a reasonable reason for ruling out a potential panelist. Most people have partisan leanings and may approach issues from a specific political perspective.

In applying these guidelines, it is better to adopt a more inclusive approach to diverse views, including populist perspectives, to ensure greater understanding and dialogue. This means risking more uncomfortable conversations.

While these guidelines are written from the perspective of individual events, they are also broadly applicable to general conversations and dialogue. As such, hopefully they will contribute to more civil and informed discussion in general.

To date, Canada has not fallen prey to the world trend of declining support for immigration. Our history of accommodation, our relative geographic isolation, and the large number of immigrant voters mostly protect us from these trends. However, Canada always needs to be attentive to the potential for pressures toward anti-immigration populism and critics who say the country cannot manage its immigration. Greater engagement with diverse perspectives may help in dealing with these pressures.

via We can have open, respectful debates on immigration

ICYMI: Medical inadmissibility rules make Canada a laggard

Useful comparison with the policies of other countries (most of which have overall more restrictive immigration), buried in the advocacy:

Last year, between 900 and 1,000 individuals and their families were deemed medically inadmissible to Canada because of the “excessive demand” provision in section 38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These are people who have been working hard for years in Canada, who are paying their taxes in Canada, who have a network of support or an extended family in Canada. And when they apply for permanent residency, they are told, after years of navigating a cumbersome administrative process, that, for instance, their child with a disability “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.”

In December 2017, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (known as CIMM) recommended the repeal of the excessive demand provision. The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, had acknowledged before the committee a few weeks earlier that this provision, after being enforced for several decades, is not compatible with our Canadian values. He left open all policy options, ranging from incremental changes to a full repeal, and promised to act within months. But the minor revisions he announced on April 16 to “[bring] medical inadmissibility policy in line with inclusivity for persons with disabilities” fall short.

The provision has affected people such as Karen Talosig, who came to Canada in 2007. In 2010 she applied for permanent residency for herself and her deaf daughter, Jazmine, who had stayed in the Philippines. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada informed Talosig in 2014 that her daughter was medically inadmissible to Canada because of the possibility of “excessive demand.” Letters of support from a school board and a school for the deaf emphasized that Jazmine would not require any additional education costs. One of Talosig’s four employers lamented that “the mother has to either give up her rights to the child or leave Canada. Neither of which is a good option.” The administrative decision was reversed, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and Karen and Jazmine were eventually reunited in Canada.

The medical inadmissibility provision is 40 years old, though similar provisions have been in place in Canada for at least 150 years. When administrators conclude that applicants’ medical conditions or disabilities could cause excessive demand on services, the ruling can create a range of challenges for families and individuals, from lengthy and complex paperwork all the way to deportation. The Warkentin family, with a daughter with special needs, faced a deportation order, but they were eventually allowed to renew their permanent residency; the Montoya family, whose son has Down syndrome, had to leave Canada before the administrative decision was overturned.

As one witness before the committee said, if Terry Fox and Rick Hansen were applying for permanent residency in Canada, both of them would be denied under the excessive demand provision.

Others affected by the application of section 38(1)(c) have been persons under HIV treatment, and persons living and working in Canada who have suffered an accident that physically or mentally impaired them. Chris Mason, a permanent resident who became paraplegic while working, was deported. As one witness before the CIMM said, if Terry Fox and Rick Hansen were applying for permanent residency in Canada, both of them would be denied under the excessive demand provision. What would Canada look like without them?

The flawed logic behind this provision is that excessive demand would put pressure on “existing waiting lists and would increase the rate of mortality and morbidity in Canada.” The data available are only approximate and utterly unconvincing: these people may cost the system between 0.01 and 0.1 percent of Canada’s total annual health care and social costs. Moreover, while section 38(1)(c) applies only to the economic immigration category, the two other categories (family and refugee) have not been subjected to it for years, and Canada’s health care and social systems have not been bankrupted by families and refugees.

There are financial and psychological costs for these families, and Canadian taxpayers end up paying a substantial bill for the government to defend the provision in court.

Those who can afford an immigration consultant or a lawyer may challenge these administrative decisions in court. To convince judges that they will not cause excessive demand in Canada, these families generally either argue that the federal government did not apply the assessment rules correctly to individual cases (Hilewitz v. Canada) or propose mitigation plans to demonstrate that they can afford out-of-pocket health care and social costs (Hassan Chaudry v. Canada). There are financial and psychological costs for these families, and Canadian taxpayers end up paying a substantial bill for the government to defend the provision in court. Families who cannot afford to go to court are able neither to challenge the assessments nor to propose mitigation plans. Scott Macdonald, a Toronto immigration consultant, recently argued that the excessive demand provision is “anti-poor.”

Taking a broader view, numerous scholars, lawyers and advocates argue that section 38(1)(c) is not compatible with several international treaties that are binding on Canada, such as key United Nations human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Childand the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, told the CIMM, “Article 18 of the [CRPD] specifically calls on states parties to ‘recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to liberty and movement, to freedom to choose their residence, and to a nationality.’ The excessive demand regime clearly violates this convention.” Tomlinson also noted, “What is ironic is that we ratified the [CPRD] at the start of the Vancouver Paralympic Games, when we welcomed the world of disabled individuals to Canada. You could play here; you just couldn’t stay here. That’s the message that was sent.”

Our country, renowned for its international role and eager to get a seat at the UN Security Council in 2021-22, has been breaching these treaties for decades. If Canada is serious about this bid, the excessive demand provision should be removed, because voting nations inspect meticulously the candidates’ public track record in international law.

Moreover, on this score, Canada is lagging behind many developed countries that do not have an excessive demand provision and whose health and social services are functioning effectively: for instance, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. The United Kingdom, which had the provision before us, got rid of its own a few years ago.

Minister Hussen’s decision to make only minor adjustments to the provision, while the federal government keeps working with provinces and territories toward a full repeal, is a missed opportunity. Instead of maintaining a disgraceful ableist approach to our immigration policy, we should embrace a respectful, engaging and inclusive model, as disability rights organizations have suggested for years.

Canadians will look back one day and wonder why nothing was done in 2018 to put an end to an unfair, costly and ineffective policy. All provinces and territories except Saskatchewansupport the repeal of the excessive demand provision. The CIMM heard an overwhelming call for repeal from representative organizations and individuals.

In 2018, this government had the opportunity to end nearly 150 years of discrimination against people with disabilities in Canadian immigration legislation and policies. Canada needs more people like Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, but when will we welcome them?

via Medical inadmissibility rules make Canada a laggard

What can Canada teach the US about immigration?

Conclusion to the article that Michael Adams and I wrote for Policy Options:

What might the United States learn from Canada? First, accept immigrants with skills and education that will benefit the American economy, but recognize that they need support to thrive and contribute. Allow immigrants to sponsor close relatives. Fund programs to help newcomers learn English and find employment. Encourage immigrants to become citizens, allow dual citizenship, and encourage new citizens to vote and become legislators who articulate the needs of their communities. One day, one of their children may become president of the great republic.

via What can Canada teach the US about immigration?

The growing diversity within federal ridings: Policy Options

My latest:

Increased political representation of visible minorities in Canada makes it virtually impossible for any major political party to take explicit anti-immigration positions.

via The growing diversity within federal ridings

For those interested, the full table of all 338 ridings can be found here: C16 – Visible Minority – Ridings

ICYMI: Is Canada’s population too small? My review of Doug Saunders’ Maximum Canada 

For those interested, my take in Policy Options on Doug Saunders’ Maximum Canada.

Source: Is Canada’s population too small?

How to debate immigration issues in Canada (Do’s and Don’ts) – Policy Options

My reflections and suggestions on how to have a more respectful and informed conversation on immigration and related issues.

In thinking through the issues, I developed the following guidelines:

  • Be explicit about assumptions. Be mindful of conscious and unconscious biases that may inform assumptions and selection of evidence;
  • Be curious and assess the best evidence available, recognize that it may be imperfect, and avoid relying on anecdote alone;
  • Resist the temptation to use round ‘catchy’ numbers for communication purposes without substantiation or appropriate qualification;
  • Do not assume that all non-immigrants, immigrants or members of specific groups have the same beliefs, values and perspectives;
  • Use language and tone carefully to ensure respectful discussion and dialogue and avoid “demonizing” those with a different perspective;
  • Criticize words and behaviours, not the person;
  • When choosing quotes, consider the overall context and not just the particular selection;
  • Do not overplay the “I am an immigrant/am married to an immigrant/am a child of immigrants” to justify one’s position; and,
  • Do not assume that being part of a “dominant” culture means one’s views should take precedence over others.

Hope you find these guidelines and the do’s and don’ts in the article helpful.

Source: How to debate immigration issues in Canada – Policy Options