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Attitudes hardening toward immigrants: UBC professor

May 2, 2016

Vancouver Sun | Canadians have become less positive and more anxious about immigration, and especially refugees, in recent years, University of B.C. law school dean Catherine Dauvergne argues in a new book, The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies. Attitudes on the subject both in Canada and around the world have become polarized, creating an environment in which conservative politics thrive, she told Postmedia reporter Tara Carman.

Q: How would you say the attitudes of Canadians toward immigration, and refugees in particular, have changed since the early 1980s, when Canada took in 60,000 refugees from Vietnam?

A: I think if you look at the largest possible survey data, the Canadian population still is overall positive about the general value of immigration, but the extent of the positiveness has declined quite a lot over that 30-year period of time. So, there is a discernible trend to people being less positive, more anxious and more likely to view immigrants as a security issue, which in the 1980s was almost unheard of.

Q: You talk about Canada’s systematic dismantling of the refugee protection system. Can you give examples of that and what the effects of those policies have been on the ground, and on public opinion?

A: The larger changes have really happened in regard to people who make it to Canada on their own (as opposed to those selected by Ottawa) and then claim refugee protection. The principal changes in the past 25 years have been to make it much, much harder to get into that system in the first place. … We have a safe third country agreement with the United States and we are now putting a lot of money and effort into keeping people away from Canada from afar. Some of these things, the new government has changed or may change, but a lot of them they probably won’t. These are trends … that are prevalent around the world.

Q: What do you think of the changes the new Liberal government has introduced, includingaccepting 25,000 Syrian refugees within the first four months of their mandate? What else do you think this government could be doing?

A: I think 25,000 is a good start and there are a lot more people in need of protection out there. If we look at the number that even quite reluctant European countries are currently hosting who come from Syria, we see that 25,000 really does look like a drop in the bucket. So it’s a very significant step and it’s certainly very welcome and it’s certainly wonderful for those families who have a safe place to stay in Canada. But I don’t think that either the government or the Canadian public should think because of this 25,000 that Canada has done enough or that Canada has taken on all the responsibility that we can and should be able to afford.

Q: There is a widespread perception that refugees in particular are a drain on the system, using benefits such as social assistance and the medical system that are funded by taxpaying Canadians. What is your message to people who say Canada needs to “take care of our own” homeless people and struggling seniors before throwing our doors open to the world’s neediest?

A: Well, there’s absolutely no evidence that if we refuse to take care of refugees we will divert any funds to anybody else within the country. Having robust and supportive welfare systems which are equally available to everybody is actually more likely to be beneficial. A good indication of this is that the recent arrival of more than 1,000 Syrians into British Columbia has been a trigger for the provincial government to re-look at the (welfare) housing allocations, because it has been an issue that has made it absolutely transparent that those allocations are inadequate. … It’s difficult to get people to think of people beyond their borders, but global inequality is so stark and growing that … (it) is really a moral and an ethical imperative. Many, many Canadians recognize this, but I think it’s quite polarized.

This Q&A has been edited for length.

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