Opinion

Trudeau should probably stop telling desperate refugees that everyone is welcome in Canada

Anyone with the smallest bit of knowledge about the immigration process knows that's not true

Trudeau Promises 20160211

Trudeau isn’t just blatantly spreading falsehoods by sending that message — he’s actually enticing people to uproot their lives. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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Are you one of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. afraid of being deported? Come to Canada! An asylum-seeker worried your refugee claim will be denied in America? Welcome to Canada! Paid a paltry wage in Mexico? Head on up to Canada!

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began broadcasting this heart-warming message in late January as a not-so-subtle subtweet about President Donald Trump's travel ban.

"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada" he tweeted on Jan. 28, followed by a picture of him greeting a refugee family.

The two tweets garnered over a million likes and half-a-million retweets, creating millions of misleading impressions about Canada as a sanctuary for all the world's displaced. Anyone with the smallest bit of knowledge about the immigration process understands that Canada's doors are anything but wide open, but Trudeau isn't just blatantly spreading falsehoods by sending that message — he's actually enticing people to uproot their lives, throwing another wrench into an already chaotic immigration system, all based on disingenuous messaging.

Armed with the fallacious belief that Canada will absolutely offer them residency, many asylum-seekers will gamble all their money and risk their lives trying to make the dangerous journey to Canada. Indeed, we've seen how quickly would-be immigrants will flood the borders if they believe their chances of staying have improved.

The Liberals' elimination of the visa requirement for Mexican travellers at the end of last year, for example, has led to a 1,000 per cent increase in Mexican refugee claims this year. We know based on data from before the visa restriction, however, that only a fraction of those applicants will be allowed to stay, meaning that many Mexicans will spend thousands coming to Canada with only a slim chance of actually gaining residency.

Nevertheless, Trudeau's rhetoric will surely resonate among asylum-seekers currently in the U.S. who are considering entering Canada illegally in order to bypass the Safe Third Country Agreement.  Already, in the first two months of 2017, Canadian police intercepted 1,134 asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally, which is half of all of last year's total.

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Surely we will see even greater numbers of asylum-seekers illegally crossing into Canada as the weather gets warmer. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

If we're seeing these sorts of numbers in the dead of winter — and Trump has only begun his crackdown on illegal immigrants currently residing in America — surely we will see even greater numbers as the weather gets warmer, especially as Trudeau continues to peddle the notion that refugees can find a home in Canada.

But of course, many refugees will not find a home in Canada, even if they are granted temporary asylum. According to data supplied by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, out of the 15,196 in-country refugee applicants processed in 2016, a total of 4,970 were rejected for various reasons, such as applicants not being considered in enough danger in their home country — and that was only after hundreds of other applications had already been terminated because the applicants had criminal records, abandoned claims, etc.

This year, the government says it plans to take in 40,000 refugees within the total target number of 300,000 new immigrants in 2017. These numbers sound generous, but the reality is that Canada's immigration policy is very selective in terms of who gets citizenship. Our nation's immigration process involves a point system that scoops the cream of the crop from a long queue of applicants, which is hardly the wide-open door implied by Trudeau.

On top of irresponsibly encouraging vast swaths of people to try their luck at residency, Trudeau's words risk inciting Canadians who are already feeling anxious about letting in too many newcomers. A recent Reuters poll found that only 36 per cent of Canadians believe that those illegally crossing the border should be able to remain in Canada. The perception that Canada is too generous toward newcomers could give way to resentment, and Canada could very well see a nativist backlash akin to that of Brexit or Trump. Our prime minister should be tempering those anxieties, not stoking them.

Of course, welcoming and supporting newcomers is a worthy tradition in Canada — more so recently than in decades past — but the hard reality is we have quotas on how many asylum-seekers and immigrants we choose to let in each year (and for good reason, integrating newcomers into society is an expensive and difficult process).

Simply reaching Canada is in no way a guarantee of residency, which is not the message that Trudeau has been dangling over the world's millions of war-torn and destitute people. Trudeau should really stop virtue signalling about how welcoming a country Canada is to newcomers, lest desperate asylum-seekers decide to take his airy words seriously.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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