Discerning the Arc


January 2020 / Toronto - On the first day of January as I waited for glimpses of a dawning day through a south facing window, I was struck by feelings of anticipation that I was having that is highly unusual for me at the start of a new year. In the past it was more about remembering to change the year when writing the date and otherwise it was just another day, albeit without the hangovers of my younger years.

But this January 1st had a different feel and flavour – a gravitas to it that I can’t quite explain. May be the only other time I felt this was on the first day of the year 2000, the beginning of a new century. The feeling of anticipation has stayed with me and over the last week I’ve asked what is it that I’m expecting? Is this about positive happenings or a foreboding of things to come?

Well the news in the last few days speaks more to the latter. The threat of increased military conflict in the Middle East is top of mind for all of us- especially here at OCASI as we have a colleague and friend currently there visiting with her family. We remember the wars in that region from the early 1990s to the early 2000s to the current conflict that continues to rage in Syria which brought over forty thousand refugees to our shores for resettlement only three or four years ago. We are deeply concerned that escalating tensions will add to the numbers of internally displaced people and refugees in the region.

Closer to home, we are witnessing the profiling of Iranians by US customs and immigration, with news reports of tens of families being held for questioning for hours during routine crossing of the border between US and Canada on the west coast. These are families and individuals who are primarily US citizens or permanent residents.

And in a doubling down on unfair immigration practices at the borders the US government announces that beginning this month all who are detained at the US border (even permanent residents) will be subject to DNA testing and the information will be shared with their national police force and kept indefinitely. This practice raises significant issues of privacy and is a recipe for ethno-racial profiling which already occurs at alarming rates at our borders.

During the recent federal election campaign period, OCASI and the United Way with our sector partners published a number of OpEds countering xenophobic and racist information appearing in various media. We questioned the practice of some media to give equal weight to debates that at the core were racist, sexist and anti-immigrant in the name of balance and objectivity. We pointed out the false equivalency in this positioning and called them out on their responsibility to counter false and dangerous commentary. Surprisingly, all of our Op-Eds were picked up even by the media shops we were critical of. This was positive.

It was therefore disappointing to have CBC- Canada’s national public media outlet, heavily promote and show a documentary with accompanying articles on “Birth Tourism”. The notion that Canada’s hospitals are being overrun by visitors from the global south coming here to have Canadian babies and gaming our immigration system is an old tale that does not bear out with the facts. The subtext is that our immigration program and borders are not controlled. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Based on a single Policy Options report from 2018, the documentary repeatedly states that there are 5000 non-residents births per year in Canada and links that number to tourists coming in to give birth. This is false. 

Are there tourists who come to Canada with the express purpose of having Canadian children, I’m sure there are. Are they in the thousands per year? Doubt it very much. This 5000 per year number cited by Andrew Griffith, the author of the 2018 report, is a total sum of births by women without permanent resident status or citizenship. The author makes it quite clear that included in that number are temporary foreign workers, international students and people who live here with precarious immigration status (including failed refugee claimants from moratorium countries where Canada does not deport to). In other words births by all migrants (not citizens or permanent residents) are counted in this number.

CBC had a responsibility to highlight these facts. As a public broadcaster, I believe they have a greater responsibility to stay away from dog-whistle polemics particularly in this moment of heightened xenophobia and racist populism.

Fortunately we are not the only ones who believe that CBC should be held to account. There is a letter of complaint to CBC drafted by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change that was circulated, asking organizations concerned about the impact of this kind of misinformation on (im)migrant communities to sign on. We have signed on as a Council and we encourage you to do the same.

As I come to the end of this first ‘rant’ for 2020, I think I know what that anticipatory feeling portends- there will be moments and issues of grave concern in the coming weeks and months and years. But we have a mature, diverse, complex social justice network across the country from coast to coast to coast comprised of every day Canadians wanting to do right. I take comfort in that.

I also remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s sharing that “I do not understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice”. Hanging my proverbial chapeau on this belief.

In Solidarity for 2020!