Harper’s Conservatives are in the midst of an attempt to change Canadian immigration policy. Significant amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are being added to a budget motion, Bill C-50.
The changes are debatable in the way that all legislation is debatable, since, of course, the bill is open to parliamentary deliberation. The changes are also debatable in a second meaning, more as a matter of judgment: the bill is questionable, problematic, perfectly reactionary, and so on. Yet it seems that precisely on account of its twice-debatable nature, the bill will not be debated independently in Parliament. The government has found a way to pass the debatable changes without debate.
Instead of being debated as a separate bill, changes to the Immigration Act are tucked into budget bill C-50. Opposition MPs can vote against Bill C-50 only if they wish to cause a federal election, since a no-confidence vote on a budget bill would dissolve the government.
The Liberals have refused to join the NDP in defeating the bill, which they explain with the now familiar apology that they don’t want to trigger an election. But in fact the Liberals were given the opportunity to support an NDP motion to split the budget bill into two different bills, which could have allowed Parliament to vote against the immigration changes without precipitating an election. The Liberals rejected that option. It appears they will support Bill C-50 in spite of, or rather, because of the fact that the Conservatives are seeking to pass anti-immigrant laws in a fundamentally undemocratic way.
When asked why she refused to introduce the legislation as a separate bill, Immigration Minister Diane Finley argued that democratic debate could take too much time. “Up to two years,” she exaggerated. “We have to act now.”
This paradoxical reality of “debate without debate” in fact matches a contradiction in immigration law itself, where those affected by new laws âe” immigrants âe” are not only absent at the time of the debate but, also, excluded by definition of the law. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for example, does not apply to immigrants and thus, under C-50, the immigration minister has the authority and legal right to discriminate against certain immigrants by ranking and prioritizing different “categories” (racial, economic, etc.) of applicants.
This paradox is a second state advantage added to the first: the already-mentioned de facto evasion of Parliament by the Conservatives. Not only are prospective Canadians being excluded from the debate on Bill C-50, all Canadians are.
The changes would give Minister Finley centralized authority far beyond what the position already allows, including the ability to reject any application that comes to her office, even if the applicant meets the official requirements for entry into Canada. The changes also allow the minister to “hold on to, return, or throw out a visa application and deny any opportunity to review that decision in Court,” according to the group No One Is Illegal.
Another change lessens the obligation of the minister to examine application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Whereas before, the minister “shall” examine such applications, the minister now only “may” do so. The changes also give the minister the power to decide on the order in which applications are processed, irrespective of the order they arrive at her office. In addition, the minister would have the power to give priority to different “categories” of immigrants.
In the words of Conservative Jim Flaherty, “[we need] a competitive immigration system which will quickly process skilled immigrants who can make an immediate contribution to the economy.” Thus, rather than being treated as a human individual, the immigrant is “processed” as a prospective wage-labour commodity.
But why is the commodification and labour-ization of immigrants racist? Abstractly, because commodification is like racism in assigning value to individuals on the basis of superficial markings and indicators rather than on the basis of the inherent dignity of each human being. Concretely, because people of colour are first in line for exploitation, both as wage earners at the hands of capital in the de-unionized/”flexible labour” economy, and as subjects of the administrative authority of the state.
It should not be controversial to note that Bill C-50 is, foremost, a bill within the post-colonial universe of international immigration. The changes in C-50 will allow for the “fast-tracking” of immigrants from two overlapping groups, both of which have been formed out of the centuries-long division between colony and Empire: 1) highly skilled individuals, members of the investor class, importers of international capital, etc and 2) wageworkers slated for hyper-commodification, “flexiblization” and de-unionization.
For the most part, the first group is white and the second is non-white. The two categories, of course, are by no means mutually exclusive, as wealthy non-white immigrants continue to bring capital into Canada.
We should acknowledge also that not all non-white immigrants are racialized equally. For example, C-50 will allow Immigration Canada to systematically discriminate against Muslims in our post-9/11 universe, as argued by immigration activists and the well-known Toronto immigration lawyer, Barbara Jackman.
Thus, the immigrant is either a “security threat” or a potential unit of “human capital,” reduced to a duel level of pure administration and mere exchange value. So, then, what of immigrants who are not immigrating for purposes of work or those whose labour is not demanded by the market? When racialized immigrants are either “securitized” or reified as labour, all other human reasons for immigration âe” family re-unification, for example âe” become unimportant to the state.
It is precisely for this reason that the changes in Bill C-50 allow the immigration minister to overlook applications made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds: most such applications are family re-unification applications that will not directly benefit the economy. Any family re-unification applications will be de-prioritized under Bill C-50 if the applicant cannot serve the highest requirements of profit making, and thus Bill C-50 keeps families separate.
Bill C-50 is a prime example of a 21st century post-colonial state giving with one hand what it takes away with the other. Globally, the hyper-rich countries like Canada create the conditions for mass displacement and immigration within and away from the Third World.
This inequality is maintained by means of the international trade imbalance, practices of monopoly agri-business, large-scale and “low-intensity” war and occupation, and major unsettling fluctuations in the international economy due to the changing demands of the post-colonial consumer nations, among other factors. At the same time, countries like Canada are enacting measures to make immigration a dehumanizing reality for thousands of workers and a virtual impossibility for many families.
Bill C-50 has to be struck down and replaced with a positive alternative that understands the world as a single global community, in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect.