By Rose Gilbert
My first glimpses of Winnipeg through the bus windows confirmed what I had learned in class: it’s a multicultural city, shaped by the contributions of immigrants from a wide variety of backgrounds. A German grocery advertising sausage — “Our WURST is the BEST!!” — abuts Dr. Lin Liu’s Eastern Healing Center. Enrico’s Cooling Services on Queen Street flies South African, Canadian, and Italian flags side by side from its roof. Advertisements for the Gupta Eye Centre pop up on billboards, benches, and bus stops. These businesses are highly visible testaments to the presence and entrepreneurial success of Winnipeg’s many immigrant communities, each of which represent different waves of migration in Canadian history. They also raise questions about how the city will handle the nation’s current debate about immigrants, refugees, and “queue-jumpers.” Manitoba province (in which Winnipeg is the only major population center) contains the greatest number of people who arrived in the country within the past year, and the second greatest number of people who arrived in the country in the past five years. How do these new arrivals’ experience differ from that of their predecessors, and has Canadian willingness to welcome them dwindled?
Canada’s highly publicized acceptance of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees provided a welcome contrast to the Trump campaign’s — a later, administration’s — harsh position on all migration. Like Germany, Canada seemed to be emerging as a global defender of human rights, a nation that would welcome the refugees no one else would. But, also like Germany, Canada has experienced backlash when the flow of migrants didn’t stop.
“Canadian values are changing,” said immigration lawyer Bashir A. Khan. Khan added that the public is becoming more right-wing and less supportive of immigration. In particular, many Canadians have begun to turn against asylum-seekers illegally crossing the border from the U.S., denigrating them as “queue-jumpers” stealing places from more deserving refugees patiently waiting their turn to enter the country through proper channels. Khan said that the term “queue-jumper” originates from Australia’s policy of subtracting the number of irregular arrivals from the quota of refugees they plan to accept each year. Therefore, asylum-seekers who arrive illegally take a spot away from someone else who is waiting to be granted asylum. Khan said that since Canada’s immigration policy doesn’t work this way, the term “queue-jumper” is a “misnomer” that decreases support for asylum-seekers fleeing the U.S., like Haitians fearing deportation after the end of TPS.
But Canadian reluctance to accept asylum-seekers at their U.S. border predates this year’s surge of Haitians by more than three decades. The Canadian government had tried to get the U.S. to sign a Safe Third Country Agreement, which states that asylum-seekers and refugees must file their claims in the first safe country they arrive in, for thirty years before finally succeeding in the aftermath of 9/11. Though both countries are parties to this treaty, the flow of asylum-seekers between the U.S. and Canada is almost entirely one-sided, meaning that the agreement’s real function is to get the U.S. to police Canada’s only land border. Canada has never unreservedly welcomed migration, but Winnipeg’s vibrant and diverse immigrant communities have endured anyways.