Sunday, January 24, 2016

Canada: An immigration example to the world

One in five of us were born outside this country. It’s not surprising. Canada has one of the most positive attitudes toward immigrants in the developed world. We lead in promoting rapid labour market integration, a common sense of belonging, and non-discrimination.
The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPI) ranked Canada sixth out of 38 countries in its 2014 annual survey — just behind Sweden, Portugal, New Zealand, Finland and Norway.
Being a world leader in integrating immigrants is not a recent phenomenon. Canada is the only country in the world that has welcomed nearly one per cent of its population (250,000) every year, for the past two decades.
We do not have an anti-immigration political party at any level of government. And we attract more newcomers per capita than any other country on the globe.
Our multicultural society makes newcomers feel welcome. No single ethnic, religious or racial group dominates the national dialogue. Newcomers are presented with a positive history of immigrant success. We are a young, tolerant country built by immigrants from all over the world.
Other G7 countries, such as Italy, Germany, France, and Great Britain, rank well behind Canada. But before we congratulate ourselves too readily we should consider the daunting challenges facing these and other European states.
Europe is changing. A few blocks from where my family frequently stays in Nice, France, a new has neighbourhood has sprung up. Walking through it is like entering another world — a world created by mass Muslim immigration.
The shop signs are in Arabic. The women wear head scarves. Indigenous French locals are nowhere to be seen. Idle men dominate the street scene. Unlike most of Canada’s Italian, Chinese, Greek and other ethnic enclaves, this neighbourhood has the feel of a religion-centric ghetto.
Muslim neighbourhoods like this one have grown up in the poorer parts of dozens of cities in Europe. Amsterdam, Marseilles, Stockholm and Birmingham are already one-fifth Muslim.
Paris is surrounded by suburban ghettos populated by over 1.7 million Muslims, mostly from Algeria and Morocco. Every year between 30,000 and 40,000 cars are set on fire in the outskirts of Paris and other French cities where second- and third-generation immigrants live in poverty.
In the past, Europeans have generally rejected criticism of Islam, maintaining immigrants of any faith would assimilate into a multicultural Europe. But in many countries that hasn’t happened.
A Pew Research Center study found 81 per cent of British Muslims considered themselves Muslims first and British citizens second. In France, Germany, and Spain, between 50 and 69 per cent of Muslims identified with their religious affiliation over their national identity.
The British Centre for Social Cohesion reported one-third of British Muslim students are in favour of a worldwide Islamic caliphate.
Some observers feel that integration has been hindered by Muslim leaders who interpret Islam as both a political ideology and a religion. Others maintain that by forcing assimilation, countries like France compel immigrants to make the impossible choice between their cultural identity and their new country.
That was the situation in 2014. Since then more than a million people from Syria, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan — many of them Muslims — have reached Europe. It’s the biggest refugee influx since the Second World War. This latest migrant wave continues with no sign of easing, putting intense pressure on European Union countries to stem the flow and fashion more effective integration programs.
Canada’s commitment to take 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, about 10 per cent of our normal annual intake of immigrants, seems a very modest challenge in comparison.
While Canada ranks high in newcomer integration, several recent developments are worrisome.
First, Canada lost MIPI points in 2014 over previous years. The recent delays and restrictions to family reunion and citizenship introduced by the Harper government are damaging. They undermine one of the basic strengths of our immigration model. Selected immigrants are supposed to arrive as permanent residents with equal rights to invest in their integration and quickly become full Canadian citizens.
Second, recent surveys say distinctly different things about our attitudes toward immigration.
A March Ekos poll found Canadians are becoming more fearful, less compassionate and less welcoming when it comes to immigration. Forty-six per cent of Canadians said too many immigrants are coming — up from 25 per cent in 2005. Stephen Harper tried unsuccessfully to tap into these negative sentiments during the October election.
A June survey by the Environics Institute provides part of the answer to why Justin Trudeau’s more welcoming immigration policies received wider support. Environics found attitudes have held steady or grown more positive over the last five years. Canadians continue to believe immigration is good for the economy. We are more confident about the country’s ability to manage refugees and the possible criminal element. Nearly 95 per cent felt a person born abroad is as likely to make good a citizen as someone born here.
Let’s hope the Environics poll reflects our attitudes, and that Trudeau rolls back Harper’s restrictive legislation so Canada can remain an immigrant integration example to the world.
— R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, TTC chief general manager and Canada Post CEO. r.michael.warren@gmail.com