Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration is a ground-breaking multi-media project documenting nine years of immigration changes by the federal government.
Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration finds that citizenship is becoming harder to get and easier to lose. Permanent residency for refugees, skilled workers and family members is restricted, but the migrant worker program is exploding. Enforcement, in the form of detentions, deportations and secret trials, is also on the rise. Pervasive sentiments such as “bogus refugees”, “terrorists”, and “foreigners stealing jobs” have justified the increasing exclusion and marginalization of migrants. If migrants are allowed in, it is with temporary, conditional or precarious status.
In 2009, the Conservative government oversaw the largest immigration raid in recent Canadian history, during which Canadian Border Services Agency officers stormed farms, factories and homes to detain over 100 non-status workers in Ontario. Two years later, the federal government announced the ‘four in and four out’ rule that now bars the renewal of work permits for foreign workers who have been working in Canada for four years. As a result of this policy, an estimated 70,000 low-waged migrant workers are facing the possibility of expulsion from 2015 onwards. This is one of the largest mass deportations in Canadian history.
These mass raids and deportations are emblematic of a pattern of tighter immigration controls by the federal government over the past nine years. Although the Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration report focuses on recent Conservative rule, immigrant exclusion has been central to Canada since its inception. From the Komagata Maru to the Chinese Head Tax, from the internment of Japanese-Canadians to the de facto prohibition on Black immigration, “White Canada forever” — and its intersections with other forms of systemic oppression — has been a prevailing political and social force in Canada.
This history of exclusion is, of course, informed by the foundational violence of genocide against Indigenous nations. Settler-colonialism has sought to conquer and forcibly displace Indigenous peoples from their territories, and is an ongoing reality. Indigenous peoples in Canada still experience disproportionate poverty and homelessness, child apprehension, the trauma and grief of having their loved ones go missing or be murdered, repressive policing, and dispossession from their lands.
Canada is also complicit in global displacement. Canada’s imperial and capital interests in other parts of the world have displaced many migrants to Canada. For example, over 75 percent of the world’s exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada, and Canadian mining corporations in the global South are implicated in four times as many violations as companies from other countries.
While Canada is often cast as a liberal counterpoint to aggressive U.S. immigration enforcement tactics, the U.S. has actually pointed to Canada as the model to implement for U.S. migration policy. The current Canadian immigration model that favours precarity and temporariness over permanency is not a ‘broken’ immigration system. Canada has actually perfected a system of managed migration to ensure the steady supply of cheap labour within neoliberalism, while entrenching racialized citizenship. Researchers Keegan Williams and Jenna Hennebry have identified 111 new immigration policies since 2002, compared to 19 during 1867-2001. The vast majority of these new changes are Ministerial Instructions, which require no parliamentary approval.
Canada currently accepts more migrants under temporary permits than those who immigrate permanently. Permanent residency for refugees, skilled workers and family members is restricted, citizenship is becoming harder to get and easier to lose, but the migrant worker program is exploding. Migrant workers are brought in as cheap labourers, while family-class immigrants (read: ‘economic burdens’) and refugees (read: ‘terrorists’) are kept out. In reality, all migrants provide an immense subsidy to the Canadian economy; for example, grandparents who undertake childcare and domestic labour. Moreover, it is dehumanizing to propagate the idea that migrants are only desirable if they can contribute to the paid workforce. All human beings are worthy.
In light of these escalating attacks, we call for permanent immigration status and equal rights for migrant workers, refugees, immigrants, and all migrants. We know that real justice comes through community struggles for self-determination and liberation, and we envision a humanity where everyone is able to live abundantly and meaningfully in responsible relationships to one another and in reverence for the earth that sustains us.
Key findings of Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration
Citizenship: Canadian citizenship is now harder to get and easier to lose. The percentage of immigrants who became citizens dropped from 79 percent to 26 percent among people who arrived between 2000 and 2008. Muslim-Canadians have been particularly targeted as un-Canadian with, for example, the ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. The new “Stealing Citizenship Act” (Bill C-24) legislates second-class citizenship.
Temporary Foreign Workers: Canada currently accepts more migrants under temporary permits than those allowed to immigrate permanently. The federal government eliminated nearly 280,000 applications under the Federal Skilled Worker Program and removed the guaranteed right to permanent residency for caregivers, while the number of temporary migrant workers tripled over the past decade. This is a revolving door system; while more workers are brought in under exploitative conditions, at the same time many are being swiftly removed. As a result of the federal government’s recent ‘four in and four out’ rule, an estimated 70,000 low-wage migrant workers now face the possibility of expulsion. This is one of the largest mass deportations in Canadian history.
Family Reunification: The number of family-class immigrants dropped by 20 percent in the first five years of Conservative government. Most parents and grandparents can now only arrive on a temporary visitor Super Visa, which requires the purchase of private Canadian healthcare insurance. Many spouses have to come on a conditional sponsorship, and older children cannot be sponsored. Processing times for in-Canada spousal sponsorships have tripled and have been the subject of scathing criticism by the Office of the Auditor General. The income threshold for all family sponsorships has increased, making family reunification a privilege for the wealthy.
Refugees: Sweeping exclusions and inflammatory rhetoric about “bogus refugees” by the Conservative government resulted in a 50 percent decrease in the number of refugee claims and a 30 percent drop in the number of accepted refugees. Many refugees are contending with reduced legal avenues, mandatory incarceration for them and their children, a two-tier system that discriminates based on nationality, and lack of access to adequate healthcare and social assistance. If they do manage to be accepted as refugees, their refugee status is conditional. The Conservative government set $15 million towards reaching an annual target of 875 applications to strip refugee status, and the number of former refugees who lost their protected status and permanent residency has quintupled.
Detention: The Canadian government jailed 87,317 migrants without charges between 2006 and 2014, and spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars over five years to detain migrants. Migrants, including up to 807 children per year, are the only population in Canada who can be jailed without being charged with a specific criminal offense. This can include indefinite detention, which has repeatedly received strong condemnation by the United Nations. In 2013 alone, migrant detainees spent a collective total of 503 years behind bars. Some migrants now also face mandatory detention, and detained mothers face the painful choice of keeping their children incarcerated with them or handing them over to a child welfare agency.
Deportation: The Canadian government deported 117,531 people between 2006 and 2014, including to countries with official moratoriums on deportation. The federal government and Canada Border Services Agency bribe people to self-deport and use international smugglers to get fake documents to deport migrants to countries to which they have no connection. Refugees are stripped of their permanent residency and face deportation, undocumented migrants face increased deportation raids, and permanent residents convicted of minor offences — including traffic offenses — are deported without a right to appeal.
Security Measures: Refugees and permanent residents are facing secret trials, deportation or limbo due to tightened security processes. New anti-terror legislation and the secret police bill, C-51, grant extraordinary powers for surveillance, secret investigative hearings, and preventative detention without charge. Canada has included charities as well as almost every major Palestinian resistance movement on its anti-terror list. Under the vague guise of ‘terrorism,’ citizenship can be revoked from some Canadians.
Funding Priorities: Over $53 million has been cut from immigrant services, with additional cuts to refugee health and ESL training. Government offices offering walk-in services have closed, and trained staff in remaining offices have been laid off. This results in a high error rate in immigration processing; in a quality management review of just 88 refugee applications, 113 government errors were identified. Meanwhile, immigration enforcement spending rose by $107 million between 2010 and 2013, with an overall 2014 budget of $1.8 billion for enforcement activities.
How do these changes affect Permanent Residents? Learn more here.