Canadian PM Justin Trudeau turns up at the airport to greet refugees as “new Canadians”—and personally hands out winter coats. When the arguments for immigration are so strong, why won't Britain follow its path?by Steve Bloomfield / August 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
In a packed House of Commons, the Conservative Party leader rose from the benches and spoke with passion about the plight of thousands of victims of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. They needed the protection of the west and should be welcome in our country, she argued. MP after MP rose to echo the leader’s views. No-one claimed the nation’s well of hospitality would be exhausted; no-one suggested the children should be subject to dental checks to prove their age. A vote was called on whether to accept the refugees—more than 1,000 Yazidi women and girls. There were 313 votes in favour; not a single MP voted against. The national newspapers the next day were united in their approval; this was a moment of great pride for a nation that saw itself as tolerant and generous, with a sense of fair play. This was not some parallel universe, nor some distant time in history; this was Canada, last year.
Since the election of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015, Canada has been revelling in its position as a global liberal beacon. While many European nations have balked at the idea of accepting Syrian refugees fleeing terror, Trudeau announced that Canada would invite 25,000 Syrians immediately. He even turned up at the airport to greet them as “new Canadians” and personally handed out winter coats.
As last August’s Yazidi vote showed, such sympathy is bipartisan. “We’ve always had a very generous refugee programme in Canada,” Rona Ambrose, the then Conservative Party leader who led the charge in the Commons, told me. “I thought this was something I could make a difference on.” The idea that a centre-right party wouldn’t speak up on behalf of refugees strikes Ambrose as strange (she gasps when I mention the discussion in the UK about possible dental checks of child refugees). “There is a consensus on the importance of immigration and refugees for our country,” she says. “It’s not unusual that we [the Conservatives] would do something on human rights.”
Canada’s immigration policy isn’t just about compassion—there’s calculation too. While happily accepting more refugees per capita than most western nations, its openness extends to migrants as well. Each year the government sets a target for the number of immigrants it wants, based on what the economy needs. Provinces and cities compete to host them. The government even encourages people to apply. The country’s immigration minister visited China last August in order to persuade government officials to double, and eventually triple, the number of offices where Chinese could apply for Canadian visas.