Canada took in more refugees – 28,100 – than any other country in 2018, according to United Nation statistics. The United States was second with 22,900 and in all, 25 countries resettled 92,000 people. Canada’s refugee numbers fall into line with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s oft-repeated mantra that “diversity of our country is actually one of our greatest strengths.”
When US President Donald Trump enacted a ban on people from some Muslim countries in 2017, the Canadian prime minister’s response was swift. “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” Trudeau said in a tweet. “Diversity is our strength.” Shortly after his election in 2015, Canada accepted more than 39,000 Syrian refugees.
Trudeau seemed in tune with Canadians – a Forum Research poll in of 1,369 Canadians in December 2015 indicated that 48 percent supported the government’s plan to bring thousands of refugees to Canada in the next few months. Another 44 per cent were opposed. But that was then and this is now.
A massive Canadian Broadcasting Corporation poll of 4,500 people earlier this month found that 57 percent of those asked said that the country should not be accepting more refugees, although 75 percent of respondents were in favour of the government encouraging skilled labourers to immigrate to the country.
In other words, the times have changed and so has public opinion on refugees.
A federal election is set for Oct. 21, and polls conducted by various Canadian organizations place Trudeau’s Liberals trailing behind the Andrew Scheer-led Progressive Conservatives. And just when Trudeau may have thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The poll found Canadians want a change in government and that if the election were held today, the Conservatives would win. Immigration is shaping up as a key issue in the election, and Trudeau’s tweet in 2015 has come back to haunt him. Trump’s anti-immigration utterings and Trudeau’s “welcome” tweet created a surge of thousands of people walking out of the United States and into Canada at irregular crossing points.
Pundits say that media coverage of the illegal crossings has turned Canadians’ opinion against asylum seekers. At first, there was sympathy for those fleeing to Canada, particularly when the crossers did so in the coldest of winter weather and lost toes and fingers to frostbite. Those who crossed in the harshest months at a rural area in the province of Manitoba were at first welcomed, but attitudes have changed.
“There has been a drastic decline in the acceptance and the welcoming, specifically of refugees,” Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, said this month. But there was also been a world shift in public opinion against refugees and immigration, not just in Canada.
“Canada is not unique,” said Mireille Paquet, a political science professor at Concordia University. “Canada might have been more protected from some of the trends we see in Europe or in the United States, for example, but recent events show that Canadians also react the same way to this kind of politicalization of immigration.”
And all this comes at a time of unprecedented need.
While the 25 countries took in a total of 92,400 refugees, it pales beside the UN numbers that suggest 1.4 million refugees were in need of resettlement in 2018.
The UN estimates there are 70 million people who have had to flee their homes because of violence and persecution, and 25.9 million are refugees.
Turkey alone is host to 3.7 million refugees.
The problem is only going to get worse, and the question is, how long will host countries take on the responsibility of providing food and shelter as they become inundated with refugees?
If Trudeau loses the election, it could be a bellwether of misery for refugees hoping to come to Canada.
Scheer has already said that on immigration levels, he will be guided on Canada’s best interests.