Oct 11, 2023

Has the Time Arrived for an Immigration Reset in Canada?

Canada has the fastest population growth among the G7 member countries. In June 2023, the national population reached 40 million1, driven almost entirely by mass immigration. 

This historic milestone has both an upside and a downside. 

On the one hand, facilitated migration has been a reliable catalyst for Canada’s economic growth. Research has shown that ethnocultural diversity has a favorable impact on government revenue and workplace productivity. With 20% of the Canadian workforce set to retire by 2026, the agile recruitment of global talent is fundamental to the country’s future competitiveness and its economic security. 

On the other hand, the federal government’s overreliance on mass migration to “supercharge” the post-pandemic economic recovery has induced lengthy processing delays, inventory backlogs, and immigration program integrity shortcomings. Canada’s immigration target for 2025 is 500,000 permanent residents2. But that figure excludes tourists, temporary workers, and international students, which have grown by 300% in the last decade. Additionally, Canada has approved over 909,000 applications under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) as of 10 October3. According to some researchers, the number of non-permanent residents in Canada is severely undercounted. 

It appears that a rigid adherence to overly ambitious immigration targets has had operational consequences for both Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as well as urban centres that are challenged by the legacy effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic and rising infrastructure demand (eg., housing, healthcare, transportation infrastructure). Adapting to these countervailing trends has not been easy. 

The latest public opinion polling indicates that broad-based support for mass immigration is waning4. Newcomers to Canada are also departing in greater numbers, discouraged by soaring housing prices and a sluggish economy. Therefore, setting more realistic annual immigration targets is going to be a political and economic priority moving forward. In August, Sean Fraser, the new federal Minister of Housing and Infrastructure acknowledged the need for improved integration among the immigration, housing, and infrastructure portfolios.  

Without providing specific details, Minister Fraser also said that “momentous” policy changes are coming to Canada’s immigration portfolio. What this means in practical terms is not clear.    

In addition to effective policy coordination at all government levels, Canada must learn how to excel at front-end security screening. The country’s hard-won reputation as a defender of human rights was severely damaged in late 2022 when a Spanish-based human rights organization revealed that China was covertly operating “police” stations in multiple Canadian cities. The report raised serious concerns about the extent of China’s extrajudicial activities in Canada5. At the request of the federal government, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) has launched a review of foreign interference in Canada’s electoral process. More recently, Ottawa established a Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions6. 

The Commissioner of the public inquiry, Honourable Marie-Josée Hogue of the Quebec Court of Appeal, has been given a mandate by Parliament to assess interference by China, Russia, and other countries. India should be included since Prime Minister Trudeau has accused Indian government agents of helping to kill Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh separatist leader, in the city of Surrey. India rejects the prime minister’s accusation outright and has reproached Canada for remaining too sympathetic to the separatist Khalistan movement.  

In the previous month, the Canada-India bilateral dispute escalated into a full-blown diplomatic crisis. Bilateral relations are likely to remain acrimonious for the foreseeable future, notwithstanding the sizable economic costs to both countries. Trade negotiations between the two countries have stalled and Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy7 (Ottawa’s blueprint for shaping economic, security, and immigration policies in the region), less than a year old, might be in jeopardy. Within Canada, the political blowback from the Nijjar murder could be severe if criminal and intelligence investigations disclose that non-Canadian assassins entered Canada with IRCC-issued travel visas.     

Amid the diplomatic melt-down with India, Prime Minister Trudeau issued a public apology after a suspected Nazi from World War II received a standing ovation in the House of Commons during the state visit of Ukrainian Present Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This embarrassing spectacle exposed a regrettable period in Canadian history8. The parliamentary security failure also gave a propaganda victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who leveraged the “de-Nazification” excuse as a justification for the illegal invasion of Ukraine. 

Almost immediately, Canadian human rights groups and historians pressed for the declassification and public release of the two-volume 1986 Deschenes Commission report (officially called the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada), prepared after two years of hearings into the presence of Nazi war criminals who settled in Canada after World War II9. Also lacking is a proper accounting of follow-up action (if any) taken in response to recommendations made by the Deschenes Commission. 

Coincidentally, the federal government should resume the production of Canada’s War Crimes Program report, last published in 201510. Delivered jointly by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Department of Justice, the War Crimes Program report demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to its international obligations and its success in preventing suspected war criminals from entering the country.    

Safeguarding an open democracy in a world that is more hostile to Canadian values necessitates enhanced security screening of all inadmissible persons, especially violent actors motivated by extremist ideology, criminality, or covert geopolitical intentions. IRCC has a leading role to play in this regard given that it is the primary point of contact for foreign nationals wanting to come and stay in Canada. 

Unfortunately, IRCC is not performing as well as it should. A 2023 evaluation of Canada’s Immigration National Security Screening Program found that the IRCC granted approval to enter or stay in the country in 46% of cases where applicants were assessed to be inadmissible by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The report also revealed that the CBSA subsequently took enforcement action against 295 applicants who had received a favourable IRCC decision.11 

Enhanced governance oversight is imperative if the integrity of Canda’s immigration and refugee policies is to be protected, particularly since the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) assessed that IRCC has 65% more staff than needed to reach its processing goals in FY 2022-2023.12 The ideal situation would be to create a stand-alone oversight body for IRCC, ensuring that Canada’s immigration regime balances the competing challenges of business performance, operating cost, corporate risk management, transparency, and accountability. 

Because of IRCC’s adjunct role in the security and intelligence community, consideration should also be given to extending the oversight function of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and/or the newly created National Security Council (NSC). 

Undoubtedly, Canada is one of the world’s most admired migration destinations. However, glaring deficiencies in Canada’s immigration regime pose a strategic risk to the country’s future prosperity and security. In these turbulent times, the federal government must be resolute in the transparent protection of its immigration advantage. Beyond more realistic goal setting, IRCC would benefit from enhanced governance oversight. This will help to ensure that application processing decisions made today do not compromise Canada’s national security tomorrow.

1Statistics Canada, The Daily (27 September 2023). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/230927/dq230927a-eng.htm

2Government of Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), “Canada Welcomes the Most Immigrants in a Single Year in its History,” News Release (23 December 2021). https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/news/2021/12/canada-welcomes-the-most-immigrants-in-a-single-year-in-its-history.html/ 

3Government of Canada, “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel: Key figures.” (10 October 2023). https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/ukraine-measures/key-figures.html

4 Nanos Research, “Canadians Prefer that Canada Accepts Fewer Immigrants and International Students Than What is Projected for 2023,” (11 September 2023). https://nanos.co/canadians-prefer-that-canada-accepts-fewer-immigrants-and-international-students-than-what-is-projected-for-2023-globe-nanos/

5Safeguard Defenders, “110 Overseas: Chinese National Policing Gone Wild.” (September 2022). https://safeguarddefenders.com/sites/default/files/pdf/110%20Overseas%20%28v5%29.pdf

6Government of Canada, Democratic Institutions, “Government of Canada launches public inquiry into foreign interference” (7 September 2023). https://www.canada.ca/en/democratic-institutions/news/2023/09/government-of-canada-launches-public-inquiry-into-foreign-interference.html.

7Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada, “Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy” (2022). https://www.international.gc.ca/transparency-transparence/assets/pdfs/indo-pacific-indo-pacifique/indo-pacific-indo-pacifique-en.pdf

8John Paul Tasker, “Trudeau Apologizes After Man Who Fought in Nazi Unit Praised by Parliament at Zelenskyy Event,” (27 September 2023). https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/yaroslav-hunka-fallout-1.6979628

9Christian Pass-Lang, CBC News, “Hunka scandal spurs renewed calls for disclosure of alleged war criminal investigation records.” (1 October 2023). https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-second-world-war-immigration-documents-1.6983966. 

10Government of Canada, “Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden Joint Statement,” News (24 March 2023). https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/statements/2023/03/24/prime-minister-trudeau-and-president-biden-joint-statement/

11Government of Canada, Canda Border Services Agency, “Evaluation of the National Security Screening Program,” (2023). https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/agency-agence/reports-rapports/ae-ve/2023/menu-eng.html

12Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), “Costing the Express Entry Immigration Process,” (7 March 2023). https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2023/dpb-pbo/YN5-263-2023-eng.pdf

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