The Sunday Edition

How are Canadian attitudes towards immigration changing?

Michael Enright speaks with Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, Rachel Curran, Senior Associate for Harper and Associates, and Rivka Augenfeld, a long-time advocate for immigrants and refugees.
Asylum seekers walk along Roxham Road near Champlain, New York last summer. A recent Angus Reid poll showed 67 per cent of Canadians believe the refugee situation is now a crisis. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a recent poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, a growing number of Canadians are concerned about our immigration policy.

67 per cent believe the refugee situation is now a crisis; and 71 per cent think there should be a greater investment in border security than on assisting those who are entering Canada through irregular border crossings.

There have been additional signs that immigration is becoming more a heated and fractious topic, and political observers are predicting it will be a defining issue in the 2019 federal election campaign.

Concerns about immigration are now crossing party lines, Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute in Vancouver told The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright.

"Significant segments of the left actually see Andrew Scheer as the best leader to deal with this issue," she said. 

Rivka Augenfeld believes Canadians are basing their views on misinformation or a lack of information. As an advocate for immigrants and refugees for 41 years, she noted that there has not been a massive change in immigration numbers, but the media are feeding a perception that there is.

"When the media keeps hammering 'illegal, illegal, illegal,' what do you expect? People have a vision of being invaded by illegals," Augenfeld said.

"If people hear the words 'flood' and 'influx' and 'crisis' often enough, you start believing in that."

One of the prime concerns of Canadians, according to Rachel Curran, is the increased number of asylum- seekers who are entering Canada at irregular border crossings.

"I think that has raised concerns because there's a sense that those people are not perhaps genuine refugee claimants, but that they are economic migrants looking for a better standard of living, and you can't blame them for that," said Curran. She is a former director of policy to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and now works as a senior associate for Harper and Associates in Ottawa.

The polarized nature of the discussion of Canadian immigration policy is a problem, Kurl warned. She says it's problematic to imply "that if you don't agree, if you're not supportive of accepting the border crossers, of making accommodations on that front, then there is a tinge of discrimination or racism to you."

"This is a little bit about looking in the mirror and confronting who we are," Kurl explained, adding that it is also about examining Canada's reputation as "an endlessly accepting country."

"We are now at a period where we are being tested in a situation that's become quite normal in the U.S. and in parts of Western Europe," she said.

"We've always had control over who's coming into the country. We've always been buffered by two oceans on each side and the Arctic Circle to the north. So this is a new phenomenon and a new experience."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full discussion.