That would be my brother Robert Bray, who recently testified before a standing committee of the Canadian House of Commons. Canada has a parliamentary system, which means that when one party gets a majority they’re more or less an elected dictatorship; but at the moment we have a minority government, so Parliament in general and its committees in particular have considerable political oomph. Immigration is a hot issue across the rich world, and the issue of family reunification is a hot zone within the hot zone. If you care even slightly about these things, I think you’ll find Rob’s remarks worth the investment of a little time.
Brief to the Standing Committee on Citizenship & Immigration on Family Reunification ·
Rob Bray, Family & Children Services Manager
Calgary Catholic Immigration Society
April 6, 2005
Since it’s topical, and since I work for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, I think I’d like to begin with a quote from the late pope, John Paul the Second, May Peace Be Upon Him, as my Muslim friends say:
Hospitality: Progress in the capacity to live together within the universal human family is closely linked to the growth of a mentality of hospitality. Since the family is the fundamental unit of every society, the reunification of refugee families must be promoted.
from Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity, 1992
Now the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society is in fact a non-denominational organization, and not part of the Catholic church, but we honour our founding volunteers, and on our logo appears the quote from the Christian Bible, Matthew 25:35: I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.
That has been my job for about 20 years now, welcoming newcomers. But if you look at the verses immediately before our motto, Matthew 25:32-34, you get a glimpse of CIC’s job: [CIC is Citizenship and Immigration Canada -Tim]
All the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom ...”
(Note there is no mention of processing times and Security Certificates.) I take this verse as a warning: separating the sheep from the goats is God’s business, not ours, and it is insane arrogance to assume that we can successfully do what God himself finds challenging. When we poor humans try, it always seems to go awry, and ends in cruelty and absurdity. Cruelty and absurdity are, I think, a pretty good description of family reunification under our current system.
Before I get any farther, I would also like to introduce a word to this discussion, that gets far too little coverage. We talk about immigration in terms of economics and demographics, and rights and humanitarianism. The word I never hear is “love”. We all love our children, we all love our families. I work in family services, and at the end of the day, family services is all about love. Refugees and immigrants are not sheep or goats, they are children of God who love their families. Somewhere, somehow, in our immigration policies and practises, we ought to recognize that, and not be scared of it. There is something deeply wrong, when we begin to view love as a problem, which is pretty much where were are at now. Instead, we ought to celebrate it.
Anyway, one of the little chuckles I get every year, is when CIC proudly announces that it “met its target” of a little less than a quarter of a million immigrants. To read the language, you’d think that they were scurrying around the world drumming up business and launching mighty marketing efforts to scare up the necessary numbers. This is of course nonsense. What they are really announcing, is that they were able to keep immigration down, below a quarter of a million, and that we should cheer them on in this effort. To do so has meant separating many sheep from goats, and parents from children, and brothers from sisters.
The only way you can do this, of course, is quotas. In the face of quotas, talking about tinkering with the system is kind of pointless. I can give you many examples of cruel absurdities in the system, for example that siblings cannot combine their incomes to sponsor their parent, when spouses can; or that we routinely deny visitor visas to grandparents wanting to see their grandchildren, for fear that they might file a refugee claim. Or the current CIC obsession with refugee children, where we deny children the ability to sponsor their parents, and force them into the gentle joys of the foster care system, lest desperate parents around the world be tempted to use their children as some kind of back-door to the system. Like I said, cruelty and absurdity. To say nothing of stupidity. Let me say it again: parents love their children. They are not so cynical as CIC officers, to put their children into hell, on the slim chance it might save themselves.
Because the system is so terribly under-resourced, the time between application and acceptance can be quite lengthy, a year or two or three or even more. Life in the refugee camps is so hard and desperate, that it is not uncommon for children to die while they wait. And parents are so desperate, and yes loving, that they will beg and/or pay, for one of their children to take the dead child’s place & name, and come to a new life in Canada. It’s not like anyone will notice, one malnourished African child looks pretty much like another I suppose.
I know of several children here in Calgary, that are living in foster care and group homes, because they came to Canada substituting for a dead child, and the new family relationship did not work out. The children would like to be with their parents, but are not allowed to sponsor them. Their parents and brothers and sisters are in the camps, suffering, sometimes dying, but doing their best to avoid notice, lest the child be sent back. How do you think that feels, to be the child selected? It’s called survivor guilt, and it isn’t pleasant. There was a movie about that, Sophie’s Choice, and what role is it that we are in effect forcing our Immigration officers to play?
But no, we have to maintain the integrity of the system, and love and compassion just Don’t Matter.
Now, the CCR [Canadian Council for Refugees -Tim] has given you many sensible recommendations. And I would draw your attention to those from John Peters in Winnipeg. There are certainly things we could be doing a lot better. But in the face of the 60:40 quota on Family Class, and a ceiling of 3000 or so private sponsorships, well, it’s all rather pointless.
I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day. She and her husband farm near Swift Current in Saskatchewan, and farming being what it is these days what with wheat prices and cattle bans, they make a good portion of their living as carpenters, which is pretty easy as there is a fairly extreme shortage of carpenters. Our worlds don’t intersect very much, but once she asked me about the points system, and I tried to explain it to her. She said: “But that’s insane. We don’t need more engineers, we need more guys banging nails for a living. How can we get more of them?” I am struck that a farmer from Saskatchewan understands the situation, where the government manifestly does not.
The government has pretty consistently talked about immigration in terms of the economic benefit to Canada. Well, I suppose all this business about importing skills and talent will enrich us. But we are doing harm to the world, as we vacuum up all the educated and skilled from third world countries, and then we don’t really take advantage of their skills anyway. But that is a topic for this afternoon.
In any case, I would like to make the point that immigrants bring us something vastly more important than their education and training. They bring us their children. If you poll immigrants about their choice, you consistently get the same answer why: “for my children.” That’s why they are here, and that’s the key contribution, the precious gift, that they give to this country.
Some people look at a refugee family with 8 children and a dad with three years of school and mom with none and they see an immediate drain on the social services system. They think: “there is no way that this guy will get a job that can support his family.” (Actually, you might be surprised.) I look at that family, with all my experience, and I see 4 entrepreneurs and 4 university educated professionals. They’re going to start companies and make inventions and develop real estate and give startling amounts to charity. We know they will; they always have.
At this point, the simple fact is that Canada needs more bus drivers and carpenters and plumbers, than it needs people with Master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering. As I will talk about this afternoon, I think those Pakistani and Belorussian engineers deserve a fair kick at the can, which they currently are not getting. But what is far more important for this country is simply young bodies, young people imbued with a sense of progress, the value of education, and drive to survive and succeed. I can’t think of a more likely place to find that than in a refugee camp, actually.
I think expanding the Family Class share of the total, and reinstating the Assisted Relative class would be really good places to start. There is no better indicator for successful settlement in Canada, than the presence of family members, as the Private Sponsorship program proves (the now totally discredited Peel study notwithstanding).
We at CCIS originate about 70% of the private, church sponsorship applications in Calgary, and we work very closely with other Agreement Holders. I worked for many years in Winnipeg, with the people that are generating truly astounding numbers of applications these days. We regularly get what amounts to criticism from CIC, because virtually all of the sponsorships are pretty nominal: we are simply signing our good name, and undertaking to provide support if things go wrong, in a situation where family members in Canada are the actual sponsors. They say this like it’s a bad thing. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. All, 100% of those sponsored, are refugees. There will be no cost to Canada at all. And there is no cost to the churches either: the families have always been able to support their members. And we are reuniting families. But with the number of private sponsorships held to about 3000 a year, our ability to reunite families is minimal. And they have the gall, the absolute gall, to imply that we aren’t doing the right thing.
We could very easily triple the number of privately sponsored refugees, almost all of them family reunification cases. This would not cost the government of Canada anything, anything at all, besides some rather minimal manpower to process them. We could do this simply on the basis of current applications. 9,000 or so privately sponsored, no cost to Canada, family reunification cases, amount to less than 5% of our total immigration levels. What insanity has led us to conclude that that 5% represents a danger to Canada, or an unacceptable cost to our society?
To conclude, I’d like to tell you a little story. I worked for many years as an employment counselor, finding jobs for newcomers, and as a middle-aged white guy I enjoyed a certain rapport with the other middle-aged white guys that still tend to run most businesses. I actually very rarely came across any real racism (ignorance, and stupidity, yes, but those are curable). But the one instance I experienced lingers in my memory. It was a big industrial garage. And the employer, in effect told me, that while he himself had no prejudices, he was pretty sure that his mechanics did. So he was very sorry, but he didn’t want to hire any black mechanics, because of the strife that he expected would ensue in his workplace.
It made me sick: racism by proxy. He was insulting his Canadian employees as much as he was injuring my immigrant clients.
In the case of private sponsorships, where there is no cost to Canada, and we have a dependable system that demonstrably works, the only excuse for limiting the numbers, is to keep the number of poor, mostly black people out of Canada, I suppose for the sake of some kind of social peace. The government of Canada is not that far from my garage-owning thoughtful racist, I think. Except perhaps it isn’t even that thoughtful. At least that son of a bitch apologized for it.
[This is Tim again. I wrote Rob saying “Hey, can I run that?” and he said OK, and his answering email had some more good stuff; here it is, lightly edited.]
In the event, on family reunification, I deeply missed a crucial point; 10 years ago, Canada admitted about 40,000 grandparents. Last year, it was a little over 5500. This was clearly deliberate policy by CIC. Given the backlog, if those seniors didn’t die of old age, it would take almost 20 years to clear the already submitted and approved applications. Your mother-in-law, even though she is white and from a white country, got in just in time, today she would have no chance at all.The Mississauga centre (we have two, Vegreville is the other) has not cleared a single new parental application in two years. My own mother, if she had the misfortune to live in Lusaka or Tehran, would effectively be barred from ever seeing her grandchildren. Well no, she could almost certainly get a visa to the US, and we could too, so we could visit there. But no way could she come here.
And I didn’t discuss the issue of bonds for visiting grandmothers, bonds intended to ensure that they will not file a refugee claim while here on a visitor (tourist) visa (filed in desperation when confronted by a sponsorship system that will very likely take longer than their life expectancy), and that, of course, is against about any human rights law and international convention that I know of. But the idea has been floated recently, and on reflection I find it deeply offensive. To start with, it implies that if you come from a poor country, you can only visit if you are rich. I was able to talk to the Standing Committee Members about this a good deal, but mostly over lunch, so it won’t be in Hansard.
What I was struck by, was that bail and performance bonds are routinely asked of drug dealers and rapists. How on earth is it that people that simply might want to wish to live in a different country, or wish to see and hold their grandchildren, end up in the same category? I’m sorry, but this is so clearly insane.
A hundred years ago, it was very difficult to ship product or transfer funds internationally. But (if you weren’t Chinese or Indian), you could go live almost anywhere you wanted. Now, it is almost exactly the reverse. I am far from sure that that is progress.
Well, maybe this minority government will live a long time. Or will be succeeded by many minority governments. Because right now this committee is not a joke, and it is actually functioning as it is ostensibly designed to. It is so wonderful, when politicians that actually have to deal with and understand real people, are given the ability to inject some of that into the executive power of government. When this actually happens, the beauty of a parliamentary system with limited division between the legislative and executive branches of government becomes apparent.
But of course it won’t last.
Of course there is a downside. Like me, they get a lot of calls from the disgruntled. Most immigrants do very well, thank you. But those that don’t, for one reason or another, have the motivation and time to complain, a lot, to people in my trade, and to MPs. This can tend to distort our thinking. This was pretty apparent talking to the committee, and hearing the other testimony. So if there is one thought I’d like to leave everyone with, it is that for all the problems, immigration has been massively successful for this country, has enriched and deepened it in ways we couldn’t even conceive of 20 years ago. 17% of Canadians weren’t born in this country, and that would include me and Don actually, to say nothing of Lauren—of our existing adult family, over half were not born in Canada. I think that that is nothing but a good thing.
And finally, this thought: even if you are an atheist, the concept that we are all children of God is viable: we are all precious and amazing. Separating sheep and goats is a terrible idea when applied to human beings. One of the most practical and obvious effects, when you try and work with systems that separate people into categories and types, is that It Just Doesn’t Work. If I have learnt anything in my life, it is that.
The part of my testimony that the committee seized on hardest and talked on and on again during lunch, and that came up again in the afternoon too, was that after counseling and watching thousands of immigrants, I know of almost no indicators of success. Not English or French on arrival, not education and training, not offers of jobs. The only one I can identify, is having a family. Both when you arrive, and family already here in Canada. And that is basically Duh! type common sense. It’s a weird world when that kind of obviousness becomes some kind of revelation.