Meet the McMaster prof quoted by Kellie Leitch and learn why he's unhappy about it

Victor Satzewich, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and the author of Points of Entry, says federal Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch's campaign wants to fix an immigration system that is not broken.

Victor Satzewich says Leitch's campaign wants to fix an immigration system that is not broken

A campaign video from Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch went viral. It encourages viewers to read Satzewich's book. (Kellie Leitch for Leader of the Conservative Party/YouTube)

A McMaster University professor whose book is frequently cited by Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch says he's tired of his research being used to prop up her "absurd" proposal to screen immigrants for anti-Canadian values.

Despite having spoken to her on the phone to explain how she misunderstands his book, and having published an op-ed firing against her policy, he's wearily finding himself cited in a video that went viral last week.

"It's a phony issue, as far as I'm concerned, to say that somehow immigrants don't have or don't develop the so-called values that the rest of us have," says Victor Satzewich, a sociology professor at the Hamilton university.

Satzewich is the author of Points of Entry, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at how applications to enter Canada are processed, and how visa officers make decisions or exercise discretion.

They are working incredibly hard to make ends meet. They want to have the same things that other Canadians want.- Victor Satzewich

Leitch, one of 14 people vying for the Conservative leadership, has cited the book in both her controversial campaign launch speech in November and in a viral video released on Feb. 26 while explaining her campaign's intention to screen all immigrants for anti-Canadian values.

In an interview with CBC News, Satzewich said Leitch's plan doesn't make any sense, from a practical point of view, and she misunderstands the decision-making process of immigration officials. 

The Canadian government has set a target of welcoming 300,000 immigrants for 2017, the same as in 2016. This year, the number of refugees and people accepted on humanitarian grounds is to be lower, to accommodate more applicants from the skilled worker and family classes. 

Even fewer immigrants were taken in the previous five years, at an average of less than 260,000 per year.

Satzewich says Leitch "deliberately" refers to these target numbers as "quotas."

"There's flexibility [in a target]. It's like a productivity expectation that visa offices meet these targets," he says.

"This is not new. The immigration minister stands up in Parliament every year and announces these targets. She didn't seem to complain when her government did the same."

Admissibility not the same as inadmissibility

Leitch's recent eight-minute video, which went viral for its odd production value, encourages viewers to read Satzewich's book.

"Some of the officers [Satzewich] interviewed have said that the focus on quotas means that sometimes you have to overlook things to get the program numbers," it says. "Risk management means closing your eyes.

"This is a problem. It is a problem because priority is placed on numbers rather than individuals, and some people are, in the words of immigration officials themselves, being allowed into the country that would otherwise not be admissible."

Satzewich disagrees, saying his book argues that decision-making for visa officials is mostly straightforward, and whether an immigration applicant is accepted or rejected can be determined easily by reviewing things like their qualifications and language skills. That is the selection decision, the first category visa officers go through.

Creating risk by cutting corners?

The second category is the inadmissibility decision. If an applicant meets the first set of criteria, their applications are reviewed to determine reasons they would be inadmissible, such as a criminal record, involvement in terrorist activities or a serious medical condition.

Satzewich believes Leitch misrepresents this second category.

Vic Satzewich, McMaster professor of sociology who has been behind the scenes of Canadian visa offices around the world, says the immigration system is not broken, despite what Kellie Leitch says. (Courtesy Vic Satzewich)

"She's saying that visa officers cut corners and look the other way when it comes to inadmissibility decisions, and that is just completely false," he says.

"They do not take shortcuts, whatever time pressures they may be under. Sometimes they may not have enough time to dig as deeply into a file that they may want to, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are admitting someone who is inadmissible.

"It's a fine line, but I think she's deliberately obfuscating that line."

It's a fine line, but I think she's deliberately obfuscating that line.- Dr. Vic Satzewich , on Leitch's oft-repeated statements about immigration officers

Satzewich says he made all this clear to Leitch when the two spoke over the phone a few months ago, before he published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail against the Tory candidate and her stance. He said Leitch ended the call thanking him, and saying she would look into the issue some more.

Leitch's office, meanwhile, did not respond to a request for comment from CBC News.

Face-to-face interviews

Satzewich also disputes Leitch's assertion that visa officers not interviewing every single potential immigrant is something that puts Canada at risk.

"I don't think anywhere in my book do I say that they make bad decisions as a result of not interviewing, in part because for every category of permanent resident application, the person whose application is denied can appeal for a judicial review or to the immigration and refugee board. There are checks and balances built into in the system."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with a young girl as he greets a family of Syrian refugees during their arrival at Pearson International airport, in Toronto, on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. Kellie Leitch's bid for Conservative Party leadership stakes out a different view on immigrants and refugees than Trudeau's. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

He admits that visa officers do not offer many interviews for potential visitors to Canada anymore. 

"If visitors do cause harm to Canadian society, we have this thing called the criminal code in place to deal with it," he says.

Immigrants value hard work

This weekend, Leitch's campaign released sample questions from her proposed screening test, including, "Are men and women equal, and entitled to equal protection under the law?" or "Do you recognize that to have a good life in Canada you will need to work hard for yourself and your family, and that you can't expect to have things you want given to you?"

Satzewich, who had not heard these questions before the interview, says it would be absurd to think that immigration officials would not prepare applicants with the required answers, "much like preparing for the LSAT."

"The implication that immigrants somehow don't value hard work is completely absurd. Walk into any Tim Hortons and look who's working behind the counter. They're filled with newcomers. They're doing shift work, running to serve us our double doubles and sour cream glazed donuts.

"They are working incredibly hard to make ends meet. They want to have the same things that other Canadians want: a good school for their kids, they want decent healthcare, a nice house, they want to be successful."

Satzewich also says the platform is specifically designed to appeal to an undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment in Canada.

"I think we're kidding ourselves if we think that somehow Canada is insulated from broader anti-immigration politics and sentiments. We're far more supportive of immigrants and immigration than most other countries in the world but there is still an underbelly of racism and xenophobia and fear of the other in this country," he says.

"She wants to portray the immigration system as broken in order to stoke those fears."


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