Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The "South African" refugee and Canada's Immigration Woes

The headline story in the Globe and Mail this Morning is called, South African's refugee case causes backlash against ‘racist' Canada.

I'll start by quoting what I see as the main underlying issue.

Stéphane Malépart, a spokesman for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, said the board cannot release the Huntley decision or make any comment on the ruling since all of its cases are heard in private and its tribunals operate at arm's length from the government.

The Canadian government deflects responsibility by saying the decision was made by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board. It views this board much like it views the police and the courts. Political interference is all but forbidden. Just like the government wouldn't go and tell the police to drop a manslaughter case against a political ally, they also won't tell the Immigration and Refugee Board to accept or deny a particular application.

This raises a dual issue. It's good on the one hand, because it's not fair for a government minister to push through his maid's, or his foreign lover's, or his immigrating friend's immigration or refugee application without proper invesigations. David Blunkett of England found this out when he was forced to resign over personally handing in his maid's immigration forms, which were subsequently fast tracked in a fraction of the usual processing time.

On the other hand, giving immigration courts complete autonomy raises serious issues when their decisions have political implications. Canadian immigration refused entry to British Minister George Galloway. Most people saw his "actions in question" as being charitable to Palestinians. Some Canadian official saw it as supporting terrorist organisations.

In the case of the South African Refugee, as in many others, it causes serious diplomatic dilemmas for the Canadian government. This case is an embarrassment for Canada, as was Galloway, as was Abdelrazik, Arar, and the thousands of unreported stories of incompetent and unfair immigration official decisions that have occurred throughout the world.

South Africa does suffer from high crime. It suffers from underlying racism left over from apartheid. But South Africa also prides itself on reconciliation, which started with Nelson Mandela's famous forgiveness, and continues to inspire its people, and the world today.

If racism, a higher than normal crime rate, and equal opportunity/affirmative action/nepotism practices are all that's needed to accept a refugee, then perhaps Canadian citizens will soon be seeking refuge overseas as well.

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