By Allison Light
“It’s gonna take a while for Canada to be the generous liberal Canada it once was,” said Mr. Khan, the Immigration and Refugee Law Barrister and Solicitor. This stuck with me as an overall takeaway from our dinner conversation – that on this trip we may not find exactly the forever-immigration-friendly northern neighbor we might’ve arrived expected. He explained that Canada, like the US and other Western countries, is currently drifting towards the right – going through a “big change in its identity,” as he put it.
One of the points he made about the issue of all the Haitians crossing over stuck with me, which is the line drawn between refugee/human rights work and compassionate humanitarian aid. Since their original displacement was due to natural disaster, they are not qualified for refugee status, in the same way that conditions of poverty in Central America aren’t officially grounds for their resettlement as refugees either. A country can’t offer another country’s population protection from poverty or disaster, but can from civil war and specific persecution. But what’s the difference, if both groups’ lives are constantly on the brink of ruin?
While talking about that number after dinner, we couldn’t help but think: of course people are coming here, of course they’ll keep coming as TPS runs out for selected populations next year. With numbers like that? We would try too. It reminds me of the mare nostrum conundrum, where refugees would of course attempt to cross the Mediterranean when they thought there was someone waiting on the other side to help. Then again, we’ve also seen multiple narratives where people crossed knowing their chances were slim to none – the story about Bambino, for example, where 500 men threw themselves at a fence hoping one might successfully make it across. Maybe that’s a better representation of the experience of the Central American applicants he mentioned, with a 95% rejection rate but with at least some who will still continue to try.
The conversation made me realize that I need to understand a little bit better how my own country deals with resettlement claims and asylum seekers in order to fully appreciate how Canada’s system differs. The picture Mr. Khan painted of this video-chat where a refugee’s fate is determined by a board one province over (a board that doesn’t even have to consist of mostly lawyers) was fascinating, and so different from my understanding of how the US does it. I predict that I’ll learn as much about how US resettlement works as how Canadian resettlement works on this trip.