Canada needs a new immigration policy, says UBC law dean

Catherine Dauvergne argues there's a mismatch between how Canadians think about immigration, and how it actually happens. She says it's time for a new immigration policy, and a new narrative.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets a family of Syrian refugees during their arrival at in Toronto on December 11, 2015. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The biggest Canadian immigration story in decades featured refugees. But refugees make up a very small part of Canadian immigration in the 21st century. 

Catherine Dauvergne says that mismatch is no surprise. In her new book, The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies, the UBC law school dean argues that Canadian immigration policy has strayed from the traditional story we tell ourselves, of being a nation of immigrants, welcoming people from around the world who want to come and start a better life. 

These days, most people who come to Canada now are economic migrants, entering the country under programs like express entry, which allows Canadian employers to influence which possible immigrants get to enter. They're not people risking life and limb to become Canadian, but people who are good at making money in their home country, who Canada wants to make money here instead.

"It's not about building the nation, or about identity, or about stability or diversity," says Dauvergne, "it's really about finding the right economic widget, I guess." 

Dauvergne argues it's time for a new policy, and for a shift in the narrative, so the two align once again. 

Catherine Dauvergne's new book looks at immigration policy in Canada, and argues it's time for a new one.

Click the play button above to hear the full interview. The following has been edited for clarity and length.

What makes you think that Canadians generally don't have an accurate sense of this reality? 

Well, we have a very strong and well-regarded mythology of immigration, and we say things regularly to each other such as: "we are a nation of immigrants," or "Canada is a mosaic," or "immigration is what drives our multiculturalism forward," and all of those robust value statements that aren't really economically driven are divorced from the reality of how we develop and move forward on immigration policy at the moment. 

And what's more, the mythology has really good sticking power... in that, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, there are lots of good reasons to stick with the old story. If you're a kind of left-leaning immigration advocate, a space that I've occupied for lots and lots of years, of course you want to stick to the immigration mythology story, because it says "migrants come here, they're very grateful for the opportunity, they will make enormous sacrifices and end up making a better's all about the next generation, and they're really here for their children and they're going to do anything they can to fit in to the Canadian story." 

And if you are opposed to a lot of migration, and very concerned about the way migration works at the moment, and you're on that end of the political spectrum, then you stick with the old mythology because the fact that contemporary migrants don't fit into that story necessarily well becomes a very good reason to say "contemporary migrants are failing, they're not successful the way previous generations were, we have all these PhDs driving taxis, why are we letting people into the country like this?" And the old mythology becomes a story against which new migrants are measured, and found to be failing. 

So why is it that governments have shifted the policy when it comes to immigration, but haven't shifted the narrative? 

Oh, because the narrative serves governments really well. In terms of their capacity to tell a story that says "we are opening our door to migrants because this is our tradition, we're not really changing anything for now, we're just tweaking a few things at the edges." Because if that policy doesn't work, the old narrative provides a really strong basis on which you can just blame the newcomer, for not living up to the mythology. 

Click the play button above to hear the full interview. 


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