A number of friends, mostly on the libertarian left, have taxed me with inconsistency for MLI’s publication of Scott Newark’s excellent piece on the Sun Sea and the arrival of the Tamil refugees in British Columbia last week. In their view the piece (and the Globe and Mail op-ed that it inspired) comes across as anti-immigration, and they are gung ho for a Canada of open borders, a position they assume I share. Several of them reminded me that Macdonald and Laurier were fervent advocates of open immigration. But this is a red herring because the Sun Sea is not about immigration.
In fact, I share Macdonald and Laurier’s enthusiasm for immigration. But I also admire them because both were believers in fairness and the rule of law and both jealously guarded Canada’s sovereignty, and fought hard to win more of it from Britain. They wanted that sovereignty so the Government of Canada could act to protect the interests of Canadians, and non-Canadians would not be making important decisions for Canadians. And the Sun Sea matter is primarily about national security, public safety and the sovereign right of the government of Canada to act to protect the interests of Canadians. It is also a matter of fairness and the rule of law. It is only tangentially about immigration.
From my perspective, the story goes something like this. While remaining very open to immigration, including of Tamils from Sri Lanka, Canada’s government has become wary of the dangers that some Tamils pose. A small minority of Tamils in Canada have used threats, intimidation and blackmail as ways to help finance their just ended civil war back home. Some Tamils in Sri Lanka have been involved in acts of terrorism and are now on the run from their own government. And others are just trying to jump the legitimate queue to get into Canada, aided and abetted by people-smugglers who are making money off human misery. The government is entirely within its legal and moral rights to close the door to both sorts of would-be migrants.
Whatever sympathy we may have for people wishing to immigrate to Canada, we must give preference to those who follow our orderly and legitimate rules over those who deliberately bypass them. And it is highly appropriate that the government should insist that people wishing to come to Canada properly identify themselves, so we can do appropriate checks on them to ensure that we are not permitting dangerous people into the country. That is one reason why the Government of Canada has instituted a visa requirement for Sri Lankans to come to Canada. You may not agree with that specific policy, but it is perfectly legal and done in fulfillment of an entirely legitimate function of the national government.
The Sun Sea is an obvious ploy to frustrate a legitimate policy that is intended to protect Canadians and create rules that are fair to all claimants. Sri Lankans who wish to come to Canada have appropriate channels to follow. But the generosity of our refugee policy makes it a de facto back door to immigration, even for people who are not legitimate refugees, because the appeals process once landed in Canada is so long and cumbersome, and removals so ineffective even when claims are denied. Creating a back door system is not the intent of the current policy, nor is it the intent of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights, of which Canada is a party. In my view when people use the refugee determination process illegitimately, as in the case of the Sun Sea, it undermines public support for the process for those who really need it.
The proof that the Sun Sea is an end run is, of course, the great discomfort and extremely high cost that people endured to make the trip. People who follow the rules laid down by the Canadian government can make the trip for a fraction of what people paid to travel on the Sun Sea. So the upshot of this is that neither fairness nor safety are advanced if people willing to pay enough money can become self-selected immigrants to Canada by hiring a ship, sailing here and announcing that they claim refugee status. This type of people-smuggling and profiteering by its perpetrators is both illegal and inhumane.
So…what can and should be done and why? Stay tuned.