Unit 4 Immigration

Overview Who Gets In? Who Does Not?


Ask yourself:

  • What do stories of how we welcome newcomers tell us about ourselves?
  • Are we “saints” or “sinners” when it comes to helping those who flee their homelands?

Immigration has been important throughout our history. The issues change and the ground shifts constantly when we look at Canadian society today. Immigration and its implications for Canada will be important for the foreseeable future. Canadian immigration policy has been and will be affected by world events: from the coming of the Loyalists, to Syrian refugees, to the aftermath of future crises yet to unfold.

What do these two letters to the editor of the Globe and Mail printed March 13, 2012, tell you about Canadians’ views of immigration?

Immigrant youth group discussion

Thank you to the Jewish Immigration Aid Services (JIAS) Toronto for their help in arranging the group discussion.

Simply eliminating all the old files to deal with the immigration system backlog of one million applications is totally out of balance and unfair (Trimming The Queue – editorial, March 12). As you note, applicants have waited in line, many for years, and paid the required processing fee.

Does Immigration Minister Jason Kenney not feel morally in the wrong to suggest what would be harsh punishment for these aspiring immigrants? He should focus instead on giving the system the necessary resources and staff to clear the queue. After the backlog is cleared, Mr. Kenney can think about changes – keeping in mind that the immigration system should be fair and justifiable.

Source: Kalwant Singh Sahota, Delta, British Columbia
Jason Kenney’s pending and proposed reforms to overhaul Canada’s immigration system are long overdue. They will ultimately transform our immigration system from one based on non-economic criteria – for example: refugees and family class – to one based almost solely on economic interest, fast integration and the productivity gains potential immigrants will be able to offer to this country. I commend Mr. Kenney for being a visionary on this front and hope the Harper administration diligently pursues this goal.

Source: Kevin Carter, Niagara Falls, Ontario

The philosopher Emil Fackenheim has outlined three stages of antisemitism:

“You cannot live among us as Jews,” leading to forced conversions;
“You cannot live among us,” leading to mass deportations, and
“You cannot live,” leading to genocide.

In the case of genocide committed against groups of people, there were sometimes options to leave (emigrate) from the home country and avoid the murder and violence that would follow if they stayed.

Key concepts › Classification

There are a number of ways to classify immigrants. Which of the following do you think we are examining in this unit? Why do you think so?

Most immigrants are in this category: planning to stay, gain citizenship, raise families and live permanently in Canada. Governments over our history have had criteria for “qualified” immigrants. These criteria have changed over time.

Temporary Workers
These immigrants are here on a contract basis and include a wide variety of people. Seasonal farm workers, students, professional athletes and others who get work permits to fill specific jobs are in this category.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers
These can include people fleeing, war, natural disasters, or human oppression based on religion, ethnicity, or identity markers. Some in this category may be considered “economic” refugees: those just looking for better job opportunities. Governments today have a task to sort these out.

Unauthorized Workers /Illegals
We do not know how many immigrants fit this category but they can include: people smuggled in, students or tourists overstaying visa dates, those with false documents, and others. In the United States this has been a hot political issue for decades.

This unit begins with Fackenheim’s second stage. For a time the Nazi régime in the 1930s allowed and encouraged, after a fashion, emigration. Yet such emigration depended upon the willingness of other countries such as Canada to accept these immigrants (arrivals). We shall examine Canada’s record.

Did You Know?

Canada is the only country to have won the Nansen Refugee Award awarded annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to an individual, group, or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless peoples. Canadians are the first and only people to have been honoured collectively with this award. The 1986 award committee cited "the major and sustained contribution of the People of Canada to the cause of refugees".

We begin with an historic case study that represents a dramatic event in our history: the voyage of the MS St. Louis and Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis before WWII.

The other cases we provide for classroom or independent study include:

  • The Vietnamese “MS St. Louis People” in the 1970s and 1980s: Did we learn from history?
  • Irish immigration and emigration past and present: Change and continuity over time
  • Islamophobia since 9/11: New century, new rules, or same old fears?
  • International migration since the events of Sept.11, 2001: The global scene

Each case provides further insights and connects in interesting ways to the St. Louis story. As you explore one or more of these cases think about the unit questions. How do these cases and any others you may investigate shape your answers?

Other questions to consider for these cases would be the following:

  • What are the “push” factors?
  • What are the “pull” factors?
  • How “welcoming” was Canada to the newcomers? What reasons can you determine for our reactions to those wishing to immigrate to Canada? Did we deserve the Nansen Award?

Action 1  


What Have You Learned?

Write a position paper or editorial on Canada’s immigration record using the graph below as an organizer.

Canada’s immigration record

Action 2  


Class debate

The class conducts a debate on the question, “Should Canada give up its Nansen medal for its humane treatment of refugees?”, based on evidence from the case studies and any additional cases. For those witnessing the debate they can write individual position papers on the debate question.

Action 3  


Immigration in the media

Students in small groups can develop a thesis on immigration issues today as reported in the media, focusing on Canada, the United States, or globally.