Tom Denton: Immigrants & Refugees

Heritage Group meeting of September 21, 2017.

Speaker notes by Tom Denton

Photo of Heritage Group meeting of September 21, 2017.Policies & Attitudes – the Big Picture

This is a huge issue, a global issue, and one that is going to occupy your, and a lot of people’s, thinking in days ahead. For Canadians it used to be a peripheral issue, a junior ministry in Ottawa. Today it is central. My intent this morning is to set the stage for your future sessions on this theme – the big picture.

Planet earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Homo sapiens, our species of humans first began to evolve about 200,000 years ago. It is estimated that in 10,000 BC the homo sapien population of the planet was between one and ten million; that’s a wide range of estimates but still a very small number for the entire planet.

10,000 BC is 12,000 years ago. That’s long before recorded history anywhere, but about the time there’s evidence of Somali people in the horn of Africa. It’s also about the time that we can find first evidence of Indigenous people in North America, like my own ancestors, the Passamaquoddy folk of New Brunswick and Maine.

Population curve since 10,000 BC

Population curve since 10,000 BC / Wikimedia Commons

By the time Jesus was born – what we now call the start of the Common Era – there were 170 million souls on the planet. When Columbus arrived in America, about 1500, there were 450 million people on the entire planet. By 1800 the number had finally reached one billion. Remember, this is after 200,000 years of procreating.

One hundred years later, by 1900, the planet’s population was 1.6 billion. In the next century, the twentieth, the population rose to six billion, and today, just seventeen years later, it stands at 7.2 billion. In the past 100 years earth’s population has quadrupled. Look no further for much of the reason for the instabilities of the moment. And the challenges.

Image of a Canada thumbprint

Kurious / Pixabay

Now let’s look at Canada and immigration. Anybody here that was born in another country (not counting Newfoundland)? Over twenty percent of Canadians were not born here. That’s unusual. Only Australia is about the same. The United States that has the big reputation as the country of immigrants, has 13 percent foreign born.

Over twenty percent of Canadians were not born here

Here’s something that will surprise you: despite all you hear about human migration, about wars and refugees, and environmental disasters, the fact is that not much over three percent of the world’s population lives in a country outside the one where they were born. Three percent! Why is that? Have sociologists studied this phenomenon of human behaviour?

Painting of buildings

3dman_eu / Pixabay

Over the past century there has been a major migration within countries, from rural to urban places – but not outside them. Think of our Inuit. No borders, no immigration rules to stop them from moving south to the delights of Winnipeg or Toronto. Why do they stay in one of the most environmentally inhospitable places on the planet? Any thoughts on this?

I don’t know the answer, but it is the reality. People cling to home.

Back to Canada. Leaving aside the Indigenous population that has been here forever, why did Europeans come here, to stay, starting just over 400 years ago? It wasn’t Canada then. Just North America. My wife’s first European ancestors in America, came in 1620 on the Mayflower. Mine came in 1635, also to the Massachusetts colony on a vessel called the John. That was the seventeenth century, and that’s fifteen generations ago in my family. We don’t think of them as “refugees” now, but that’s what they were, seeking freedom to practice their religion.

In the eighteenth century began a Scottish migration of “crofters”, peasants forced off their land by landlords who preferred raising sheep. They were economic refugees. The same century saw a huge wave of United Empire Loyalists who arrived, mostly in 1783, after the ending of the American Revolution and the formation of the United States. All four of my grandparents were descendants of these “Loyalists”, refugees!

In the nineteenth century we had a huge migration to North America of Irish peasants fleeing the potato famine. Refugees. In the twentieth century, after the ending of the Second World War, there was a large influx from Europe of what we called Displaced Persons, or derogatorily, “DPs”. They were refugees. Later, during the Cold War era, many refugees came from Iron Curtain countries, and were admitted as “Designated Class”.

The Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, in 1951, effectively established the idea that refugees had to be political refugees. And still they came, from Chile, from Central America, from Southeast Asia, from Afghanistan, from the former Yugoslavia, from Africa, and now from Syria – all meeting the definition of “political refugees”. All forced to come despite those ties of home that are so powerful.

Photo of a child refugee by skeeze / Pixabay

Photo by skeeze / Pixabay

But now we are facing a new challenge. What kind of refugees are all those Haitians crossing the border into Quebec because POTUS Trump won’t renew their permits to stay in the US? They fled an earthquake in Haiti, and it’s a miserable place to have to return to. As deserts expand in Africa and sea levels rise, as hurricanes and tropical storms, and earthquakes, devastate, what are we going to do about people we could call “environmental refugees?” There could be a lot more of them in the future. Of course they’d rather stay home if they could, but maybe they can’t.

So here we sit in Canada, the most under-populated, and ideal, country on the planet. What do we do about the clamour to get in? Already the demand to immigrate is about three times the 300,000 we will let in this year. And 6,000 Haitians is a Crisis. What do we do about what I call our “cozy Canada” policy?

I’ve been writing and speaking a lot about this. Here’s some of what I have been saying:

Tight crop of original photograph - "The Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Photo C."

Wikimedia Commons

The economic and political elites have maintained their grip on the nation, but Canada has paid a heavy price. Had we kept to the vision and policy of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in the early years of the 20th century, today our population would match that of Japan (125 million), be 1 and 1/2 times that of Germany and double that of the United Kingdom.

Laurier’s plan and expectation was that Canada would have a population of 100 million by the year 2000. In 1913 we had 400,000 immigrants when our population was under 8 million. We’ve never achieved that number since. Instead Canada is small and largely irrelevant on the world stage, although there are many Canadians who see us as tiny-perfect, and like it that way; a kind of Switzerland to the planet.

Map of Manitoba overlaid by CaliforniaThe blunt reality is that we are defenseless in a dangerous world. Our military size ranks us only 74th among the nations. The U.S. military is 22 times ours in size. We couldn’t even begin to defend our borders. One of history’s great ironies is that the most significant wave of immigration in early days was the arrival in 1783 of the United Empire Loyalists, the refugees from the American Revolution. Today we depend on the U.S. to protect us. When one reflects that the State of California has a population four million larger than all of Canada, and yet could fit into the bottom two thirds of Manitoba, one can see how we have compromised our birthright in this vast and promising land.
In 1900 the U.S. had a population lead on Canada of 71 million people. Today, it leads by 290 million. The U.S. opened its gates to the world and built the mightiest nation on the planet. Canada has cautiously tiptoed along the immigration path; the consequences are still to unfold. And then came last week’s wake-up! This is what I have written about it, unpublished.

by shawn1 / Pixabay

The news that U.S policy is not to defend Canada came as a shock to many. That was what Lt.- Gen. Pierre St-Amand, the Canadian deputy commander of NORAD told the House of Commons defence committee, studying Canada’s readiness for an attack from North Korea. The bottom line is that Canada is defenseless if anyone should lob a missile in this direction. The chickens have come home to roost. The Mulroney government declined to participate in US President Regan’s “Star Wars” initiative, and the Martin government stayed out of president George W. Bush’s ballistic missile defense system. Canadians rely instead on laws, rules, treaties and conventions, shaky stuff these days, and slow responding.

What about NATO2 Canada is a member. Article Five of the treaty states that if an armed attack occurs against one of the member States, it should be considered an attack against all members, and other members must assist the attacked member, with armed forces if necessary. General St-Amand didn’t mention this, perhaps because reaction and response would come too late.

Graph of size of military for various countries
North Korea is smaller in size than the Maritime provinces put together, and has a population of 25.5 million; still only two thirds of Canada’s 35.5 million. But it has nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And it has a military of 1,190,000 personnel. Canada’s military numbers 68,000. This reality underlines Canada’s vulnerability.


Russian Honour Guard by WikiImages / Pixabay

Russia faces us across the top of the planet; it has a military of over one million active troops. China, another country to make Canadians nervous, has 2.3 million troops. We have relied on the axiom that the US, with its 1.5 million military, will defend us. This belief was dealt a severe blow by general St-Amand, in his shocking remarks before the defence committee.

This year’s increased movement of refugee claimants across Canada’s border with the US has brought forth cries from some quarters that the prime minister should stop them. Some would call these cries ludicrous. How might that stopping be done? The border with the US is 8,891 kilometres long, and still 6,416 kilometres even if the border with Alaska is ignored. And then there is Canada’s coastline, at 202,000 kilometres, by far the longest of any country.

Our entire military and policing capacity is far from being adequate to this borders task, never mind the missiles overhead. Our small population size confirms this. And governments’ budgetary constraints, federal or provincial, supported by the vocal wishes of most voters, will keep things that way. The practical truth is that Canada’s skies and borders cannot be self-defended without help from its friends, presumably the NATO members. But with the speed of events today that easily disregard The Rule of Law, help would have to be immediate or it would be no help. The Treaty of Versailles didn’t stop Hitler.

The 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 extending protocol) is the important international treaty detailing how refugees are to be defined, received, and treated. Canada is a signatory as is also the United States. An amusing recent press report tells how German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in light of US President Trump’s several moves against refugees and other non-nationals in the US, phoned him to remind him of state obligations under this treaty.

Canada has the same international treaty obligations, to receive and to deal with refugee claimants, not to bar the door. As the human migratory tide grows, not only because of terrorism and conflicts, but also because of environmental changes and disasters, and the entire planet is forced to deal with a human population that has quadrupled in numbers in only the past 100 years, Canada’s baring the door, or even attempting to restrict the entrance, will become impossible.

This will be the pragmatic, the political, and the moral challenge of our future – if North Korea, and the US, leave us alone.

Image of a gated Canadian flag

Gate photo by Momentmal / Pixabay

That’s the big picture, folks. As far as immigration policy goes, you won’t see much change this year. We’ve pulled the blankets over our heads, and are keeping the nation “gated” because Canadian attitudes seem to like it that way. But how long can this last? There are already millions of new Canadians who want to sponsor-in their relatives, and can’t. Political and environmental pressures beyond our borders are building.

What will happen next?

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