Guest post by Wendy Chan, Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Graduate Program, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, Canada. Her research examines the criminalization of race in the context of immigration enforcement, the welfare state, and in the mainstream media.

In the last several years, the Conservative government in Canada has made it abundantly clear to potential immigrants that unless you’re a young, healthy, working-age person with several university degrees and significant financial resources, preferably from a westernized (read white) country of origin, you’re not welcomed here. What this means is that if you’re a refugee or asylum seeker, a parent or grandparent with children living in Canada whom you wish to be closer to, a Filipino caregiver, a wealthy investor from China, or a skilled worker from Africa or Asia, it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to immigrant to Canada today.

Canadian immigration policies have been subjected to widespread change in many different programs over the last several years. The previous Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, who is now the Minister for Employment and Social Services, is the architect of most of these changes. His successor to the immigration portfolio, Chris Alexander, continues down the path charted by Kenney with evermore restrictions, particularly in the family class category, and increased enforcement overall.

Source: Titan Herald
In various press releases and media reports, the rationale provided by the government for amending current policies is the need to curb ‘fraud’ and ‘abuse’ of the immigration system. From the government’s perspective, there are simply too many ‘bogus’ refugee claims, marriages of convenience, Canadians of convenience, fraudulent visa applicants, fake nannies, tax dodgers, and too many immigrants and failed refugee claimants abusing the social services system. The latest and newest target are ‘anchor babies’―children born in Canada to non-citizens or non-residents despite acknowledgements that this isn’t a significant problem.

Throughout ongoing claims of widespread problems with fraud, the government has rarely, if ever, provided statistics to demonstrate the real extent of these problems in any of the programs that have been targeted. Nor are these statistics publicly available. Instead, hand-picked anecdotes are used to suggest that the problems of fraud and abuse are rampant, and they need to be managed with greater enforcement and tighter restrictions on access.

Conflating immigration with criminality has allowed the government to target a large swath of immigrants, migrants, and refugees for greater surveillance and enforcement. By redrawing the boundaries of who constitutes a ‘desirable’ immigrant, it becomes clear that racialized individuals, more than ever, do not fit the government’s narrow profile of what it means to be ‘desirable.’

The pace of change has been rapid and meteoric. Some of the key changes include:

  • Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, was passed making it more difficult for asylum seekers and refugees to apply for protection and introduces mandatory 12-month detention without access to independent review for certain categories of arriving non-citizens.
  • The Interim Federal Health program saw changes in June 2012 that resulted in the elimination of health care for many refugees and refugee claimants as well as a reduction in health care access for many other refugees.
  • Bill C-24, Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, makes it more difficult for permanent residents to gain Canadian citizenship.
  • Applications to the Federal Immigrant Investor’s Program and the Entrepreneur Program were terminated with the Economic Action Plan 2014 Act.
  • Bill C-38, Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act, led to the termination of approximately 280,000 applications to the Federal Skilled Workers program.
  • Sponsorship of foreign spouses and family members has been tightened, with longer sponsorship periods and increased financial commitments.
  • The Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act (Bill C-43) denies permanent residents serving sentences of six months or more for ‘serious crimes’ the right to appeal a deportation order.
  • Biometric information (i.e., photograph and fingerprints) from applicants on the list of countries named by the government will be required as part of their visa applications.

While no one would dispute the need to ensure the integrity of the system, critics have questioned many of the changes, especially given the paucity of evidence demonstrating that these are significant problems. Moreover, the desire to resolve administrative backlogs shouldn’t be done at the expense of applicants who have applied in good faith to immigrant to Canada. The balance between enforcement and the creation of an immigration system that provides equal and fair access for immigrants and refugees has been lost with these policy changes.

The immigration minister, both past and present, has routinely relied on demonizing immigrants and refugees in order to justify implementing changes to various programs. We’re told that immigrants and refugees are dishonest, fraudulent, and unworthy of admission. Given that the bulk of immigrants and refugees coming to Canada are from non-white countries, it’s difficult to ignore the racialized attack that underlies the Conservative government’s claims of fraud and abuse in the immigration system. The demonization of immigrants and refugees is possible, in part, due to their racial differences, which allows the Conservative party to neutralize critics arguing against the reforms. The government has consistently hinted that enforcement problems are a problem of racialized people who neither understand nor follow the rules of Canada. The discourse of crime is employed to scapegoat immigrants and refugees, and reinforce their outsider status. It’s now commonplace to find public and political discourse on immigration in Canada saturated with the language of nationality, social class, gender, and race. Jason Kenney, the previous Immigration Minister, has made it clear on many occasions that only the ‘best’ immigrants are welcomed to Canada.
By blaming racialized immigrants and refugees for causing problems for Canada, their unequal, marginalized status is legitimated and their exclusion justified. Yet, it’s also clear that Canada cannot prosper without immigration. Given this context, it’s no surprise that the terms of admission today are increasingly precarious and temporary. This can be most clearly seen in the dramatic shift towards the focus on temporary foreign labour and the exploitation of migrant labourers. Since 2006, the number of temporary workers has exceeded the number of permanent residents entering Canada on an annual basis. In addition, the recent scandal over the misuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker program in the spring of 2013 highlights the problems with having a two-tiered society. Temporary foreign workers in Canada routinely suffer the indignities of lower wages, poor housing, demonization, and no recourse when employer-employee relations break down.
The maintenance of racial hierarchies through an emphasis on immigration enforcement and the denial of rights will exacerbate social, economic, and political inequality in Canada. At a time when Canada needs more immigrants, and international migration flows are at historically high levels, the criminalization of immigrants and refugees is a short-term and short-sighted solution. The implementation of restrictive policies highlights the lack of creativity by the government in adapting to the changing global context. The current direction of Canadian immigration policy will only cause more pain and suffering for immigrants and refugees whose only ‘crime’ is the search for a better life.
Want to read more about immigration policy in Canada? Check out these blog posts:

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Chan W (2014) Are We All Frauds Now? The Ongoing Criminalization of Immigration in Canada. Available at: (Accessed [date]).