People are sneaking into Canada because we’ve basically told them to

August 10, 2017
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William Watson: We need an immigration system that is open, fair and generous. But also one that doesn’t create incentives to immigrate here illegally

Mayor Denis Coderre, right, greets a busload of asylum seekers at Olympic Stadium on Aug. 3, 2017 in Montreal.The stadium is being used as temporary housing to deal with the influx of asylum seekers arriving from the United States.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
William Watson
William Watson
Financial Post.com

August 10, 2017
8:52 AM EDT

By William Watson

Let me get this straight. If you show up at a Canada Border Services Agency post on the world’s longest undefended border and ask to come in as a refugee, we say: “No, you’re already in the U.S. Apply in the U.S. It’s a civilized place with which we have an agreement on these matters.” But if you then go to one of the thousands of truly undefended parts of the border and cross over illegally, we arrest and detain you but then do allow you to apply for refugee status. In other words, ring the doorbell and we won’t let you in, but come in through the bathroom window and you’ll find dinner and your room waiting for you. And that’s true even if the formerly undefended bits now actually are defended, in the sense that the RCMP has set up a booth and tents to observe and process your entry, which they arrest you for but don’t try to prevent.

Comparing our immigration laws with what the Trump administration has just proposed, several U.S. newspapers made very complimentary comments about our system. None mentioned this bizarro loophole, which apparently stems from court cases that say that anyone on Canadian soil, if only for 10 seconds, has Charter rights. This is a laudable principle. But maybe we need an economist on the Supreme Court to instruct all his or her lawyer-colleagues on how humans respond to incentives. If you close all the doors but leave a window open with only mild penalties for using it, guess what? People use the window.

Ring the doorbell and we wonu2019t let you in, but come in through the bathroom window and youu2019ll find dinner and your room waiting for you

Most of the several score of people crossing from the U.S. into Quebec every day this month have been from Haiti. I have never been to Haiti, but I can imagine that if I were Haitian, I might well want to move to Canada. Haiti ranks 163rd on the UN’s Human Development Index, just behind Senegal, just ahead of Uganda. Its Human Development score is 0.493 out of 1.0 (versus Canada’s 0.920.) Life expectancy at birth is just 63.1 years in Haiti. Expected years of schooling are 9.1. Gross national income per capita is just $1,657. In Canada it’s $42,582 — 27.5 times higher. (Both dollar figures are in 2011 U.S. dollars at purchasing-power parity.) Almost 90 out of 100 Canadians use the internet. Almost 90 out of 100 Haitians don’t.

A truly humane immigration policy might allow anyone from Haiti and all 41 other “Low Human Development” countries (to use the UN’s term for them) to come here. A really humane policy might go get them and bring them here, if they agreed to come. But that is not the policy we have. The policy we have provides for two ways of getting in. Either you score a certain number of points on our immigration scale, which is specifically designed to make sure truly poor and unskilled people aren’t welcome here, and then you dutifully wait your turn. Or you persuade the Immigration Review Board that, if sent home, you face the prospect of persecution for your race, religion, politics, nationality or “membership in a particular social group (such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation),” or of torture, death or “cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.”

I have never been to Haiti, but I can imagine that if I were Haitian, I might well want to move to Canada

Many Haitians have come to Canada using either of these two methods. The most recent numbers I can find show that more than 63,000 Canadian residents and citizens were born in Haiti. But Haiti’s population is 10.7 million, so that’s not really very many. And Haitians’ success before the Immigration Review Board has been less than 50 per cent in recent years. Since 2013, 628 Haitian claims for protection have been accepted, and 737 rejected. (The top 10 countries for claims are Nigeria, Hungary, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Colombia, Eritrea and Burundi.)

Those big-hearted Canadians who lined up to show support for the new refugee claimants being ushered into Montreal’s Olympic Stadium — which seems finally to have found a use for itself — assume, or at least wish, that all the people now camped out where the Expos used to play are going to become Canadians. That seems unlikely. In the first instance, they’re now refugees from the U.S., where they’ve been living. It will be hard to argue that the U.S., to which many of them voluntarily moved after the 2010 earthquake, is persecuting them. In fact, the persecution is that it may not let them stay, which means they have to go back to Haiti. Perhaps some might be persecuted in Haiti, but establishing the likelihood of that is not at all a sure thing — even if it may be worth a try.

We need an immigration system that is open, fair and generous and does not create incentives to take a flier on immigrating illegally and hoping for a good outcome before the asylum tribunals.

Financial Post

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