Immigration is religion in Canada. It is simply part of our culture. To challenge immigration policy in Canada is equivalent to a Saudi Arabian proposing to introduce pork and alcohol to his society, or an Iranian publicly declaring that there is no Allah. A look at the internet confirms this. There are over a hundred websites in the United States dedicated to the advocacy of immigration reduction and population stabilization. In Canada I’ve found three.
The immigrant is celebrated as a hero. He is folklore. Every Canadian family has an immigrant story. For mine, it was the grandfather who arrived in Toronto at 17 to work his way across the Prairies doing hard farm labour, only to arrive in Vancouver in 1908 with just $5 in his pocket. He went on to build three homes, raise four kids and have six grandchildren. My Icelandic great-grandparents arrived in Winnipeg in 1885, and wisely bypassed Gimli to build a house in the mild climate of Victoria the following year---the house still stands today as a heritage house. They came with no English, funny clothes, a different cuisine and a strong work ethic, a familiar formula for Canadian success. That was a century ago but there are still New Canadians made of similar stuff.
I met an Iranian man who went AWOL from the Army during the murderous war with Iraq, trekked overland through Kurdish territory and into Turkey, where he was jailed and badly beaten. Some how he made it to Vancouver and of course, was penniless. Five years later he was running three gas stations.
Then there was “Richard”, who drove his “beater” up to the Canadian border in the Kootenays when he was 18 to escape the Vietnam draft. The Canadian border guard told him to turn around, but when he was distracted, Richard floored it and escaped into our country never to be apprehended. He found friends, work, learned a trade and raised a family. Good on him. In Nelson a monument was built to commemorate the contribution made by American war-resisters like him to West Kootenay society.
The most impressive immigrant I ever encountered was a gentleman in his late 80’s who lived in my father’s care home. He had been the son of kulaks in Ukraine when they were murdered by Red soldiers. He was trained in auto-mechanics and drafted into the Soviet Army when war broke out. Promoted to captain, he survived some harrowing tank battles to be posted to the British sector in Berlin at war’s end as a liaison officer. He made contact with Canadian officials and was accepted for passage to Canada as an immigrant. As an auto-mechanic he was employed by the Ford Motor Company for ten years where worked hard and long and saved feverishly. Then he took the gamble and set up his own auto-mechanics shop in Toronto. He built up a loyal customer base and then came his biggest break, he secured the Volvo franchise for the city. He retired a multi-millionaire and moved to Vancouver. So from a poor orphan in Stalin’s Russia to a multi-millionaire—are these not the kind of people our hearts belong to!
As a footnote, when my mother arrived at the dinner table, this little Ukrainian man with a broad Russian accent, jumped up like a jack-in-the-box, bowed and took her hand and kissed it. Underneath the millionaire, he was still a Soviet officer.
How can we not admire such people, people that overcome so much adversity to get here and then make the most of their opportunities? Statistically we know that immigrants are better educated and less likely to commit crimes, and anecdotally, don’t we suspect that the typical immigrant is harder working and a better citizen than those of us who were born here? The common refrain is that immigrants built this country. That is undeniable. They are still building it.
But the question is, how much building remains to be done? At what point do we say that we have over-built? The carpenter who built my house did a fine job and I thank him very much for doing it. But the job is finished. No more additions are needed to be made. None that is, that don’t come at the expense of the property itself, of the trees and shrubs and the birds that nest and perch in them.
What was needed in 1885 when my great-grandparents came to Manitoba is not needed now. Icelandic fishermen are not needed to fish Lake Winnipeg. Irish Catholic miners are not needed to mine the silver mines of Rossland, B.C. as my grandparents did in 1907. The perceived needs of the labour market of 2007 will not be the needs of the post-carbon world decades from now. What Garrett Hardin said of America can be said of this country. “There is no rational excuse for encouraging an immigration rate that was appropriate to, and beneficial in, our juvenile phase.” Yet we are still captives of a cult that belongs to a bygone day---the era of mass immigration.
We have yet to formulate a Population Policy for Canada. Its development has been advocated and promoted by several people and groups for decades, but Ottawa has never listened. John Meyer of Zero Population Growth Canada proposed it in the late seventies, but no one listened. Twenty-three academics led by Professor Michael Healy of UBC were commissioned by the federal government in 1997 to conduct a $2.4 million study into the environmental damage to the Fraser Basin wrought by population growth. The report recommended that Ottawa construct a Population Plan for the country and that provinces comply with it. The report was left to gather dust and now 20% of the Fraser Delta is covered by buildings, excluding greenhouses and covered farms, and 10 species of mammals exclusive to that region face extinction. The Population Institute of Canada followed suit with a presentation to a parliamentary committee in May of 1991 proposing the development of a Population Plan for this country. We still haven’t got one.
We have yet to define what our carrying capacity is. How many people can our environment sustain indefinitely? Preliminary evidence suggests we have long gone past that point of sustainability. Only when we have established our carrying capacity can we then fit in our “economic” requirements. It is irrelevant how many immigrants we need to support an aging population, or how many are needed to fill key areas, or how many refugees Stephen Lewis thinks we have a moral responsibility to accept. It’s what our environment can indefinitely sustain. Period.
Until then, it would be prudent to declare an immigration moratorium, just because two-thirds of all current population growth comes from this source and soon it will be the only driver of growth. We must therefore, regrettably, restrict the intake of people of high moral caliber such as those examples I cited. Because this is not about immigrants. It’s about numbers. It’s not reflection upon the outstanding qualities of the people left standing outside the gate or a judgment of their worth.
Recently I attempted to board a B.C. Ferry. I arrived five minutes before departure and my car was third in the queue waiting for the signal to drive aboard. I waited and prayed. The entrance guard motioned for the first car to come forward. It just squeezed on. The guard turned, then crossed his arms to convey the message that there was no more room for us. Did this indicate that the Ferry Corporation was “anti-passenger”? No. Only that the car-deck was full and I had arrived too late at the terminal. I am not “anti-immigrant”. I am simply against more immigration.
The safest course for Canada’s environment is to assume that our boat is already full and to effect an immediate freeze on immigration. And then begin an inventory of current biodiversity—a State of the Union Address---and establish its tolerance for more people. That is, articulate a definition of Canada’s carrying capacity.
But given the Canadian cult of immigration, and the deification of the immigrant, this may never be politically realistic. For the sake of all of Canada’s passengers, both human and non-human, one can only keep trying.