December 2012 marked the 22nd anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. In Canada there is much to reflect on: The strides we've made over the past decades in creating a nation that is welcoming, that values the contribution of immigrants and that takes its obligation to protecting those in need of asylum and refuge seriously.
An opinion piece released recently by the Toronto-based Maytree Foundation talks about the five reasons we should celebrate. It includes the fact that over 85% of immigrants become citizens, that immigrants experience economic and other successes in Canada, that the children of immigrants have high educational attainment, that we all get along in spite of our many differences and that as a country we continue to be a place of welcome for immigrants. We should celebrate these things and hold them dear.
It is precisely because we want and need to protect this proud legacy of Canada, that we must raise our concerns about how some of the recent changes to our immigration and refugee protection system is beginning to threaten these accomplishments. The implementation of Bill C-31 and its many worrying aspects including the detention of children must set off alarm bells. The recent announcements of the elimination of specific EI benefits for migrant agricultural workers even though they have paid into the fund; the cuts to healthcare for asylum-seekers; and the release of a ‘safe countries' list that will bar Romani in particular but potentially other ‘minority' groups from countries like Hungary from seeking protection is cause for grave concern about the direction in which we're heading and the implications for individuals, their families and for the values we hold close.
But I remain hopeful because I trust in the innate progressiveness of most Canadians, including our decision-makers. We have seen a groundswell of activism from medical practitioners in response to the cuts to healthcare. We've witnessed many in our media use their platform to ask important questions of our elected officials about the decisions they are making that have detrimental impacts on the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalized. We've heard ordinary Canadians say ‘not in my name' as they've responded to the policy of detention of children and other harmful policies in Bill C-31.
Our democratic systems are strong and we must continue to use them. We need to inform, to educate and to commit to progressive social change. Those of us working in community have a responsibility to provide opportunities for those affected by these public policy changes to have their voices lifted and their stories told. Our movement must always be forward as our goal remains that of building on a legacy that we can celebrate each year as we stop to reflect.