Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A Liberal immigration policy

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Do I feel sorry for the latest batch of seaborne refugees to land in Canada?

The question is irrelevant, but the answer is yes. Sane people do not board a ship sailing to an unknowable destination in a light, frivolous way. The circumstances in which these Tamil migrants left Sri Lanka were not happy. They were on the losing side of something very like a civil war. I could go on for some paragraphs describing the fix they were in -- the greater for those of greatest danger to us in Canada, if they were in fact associated with the Tamil Tigers; and whose word, if they say they now regret this association, cannot be taken at face value.

Notwithstanding, I am generally against public displays of compassion, and favour instead private, genuine and, therefore, mostly invisible acts of compassion. As a public policy, "compassion" is nearly always a fraud; and I have inserted the word "nearly" only in case I think of an exception after filing this column. I can't think of one now.

When, for instance, a certain George W. Bush was first running for president of the U.S., with a political message of "compassionate conservatism," my comment was that he meant some kind of fraudulent conservatism. When Brian Mulroney described Canada's socialist and dysfunctional medical system as a "sacred trust," I called it Irish smarm. It is unfortunate that electorates aren't better trained to spot snake-oil salesmanship, but there you go. Democracy lasts, in this world, for only as long as the people remain astute.

We are lucky, for the moment, to have a party in power that owes nothing to the Tamil Tigers. For the Liberals, the sham of "compassion" extended to fundraising events with their goons, and the settled party understanding that any large, fairly desperate, and culturally exotic pool of welfare-propending immigrants will make reliable Liberal voting fodder. Hence side-splitting expostulations of compassion.

Hence, a Canadian immigration system that is actually designed to be dysfunctional, and advertises opportunities for abuse. It is no accident that it takes very little time to become a fully voting Canadian citizen, but a lot of time to deport even the most flagrantly illegal visitor to this country, once he has "opted" to stay. It is no accident an immense vested interest has been assembled in the form of immigration lawyers, who will scream pink bluster when their own gravy train is impeded.

The Liberals built and own Canada's immigration system, together with the justifying public policy of "multiculturalism" the Trudeau government summoned while pointing a demographic hose at major English-speaking urban areas, back in the 1970s. We take it for granted no Tory today can hope to win a seat in Toronto or Vancouver, or any other dense urban environment. This result did not come about naturally.

We must accept the consequences of past immigration policy and the political difficulties in persuading past beneficiaries they will not benefit from its continuation. For there is such a thing as a tipping point, past which an entire country becomes dysfunctional -- because the cultural virtues on which it depended have been squandered.

In this respect, the public ideal of "multiculturalism" does far more harm than open immigration, though the one policy depends on the other, and both are aggravated by the venal attractions of a welfare state.

A society in which all social, economic, and cultural values are optional, and in which, moreover, all traditional and received values are placed under formal suspicion, is a society that is disintegrating. It is a society in which the self-serving rule, the dutiful are in their way and hypocrisy is consistently rewarded.

The poor souls aboard the Sun Sea were unlikely to have much, if any, understanding of the Canadian circumstances into which they were projecting themselves. Nor can they be blamed for receiving all kinds of material assistance at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer, for which they did not specifically ask. Their own interests are immediate, and exclude those of their new host nation; after all, their first choice for landing was Australia.

Yet the whole process by which they were delivered was a cynical manipulation of an immigration system designed to be cynically manipulated.

Paradoxically, we could better afford to accept refugees at a time when it was clear that each applicant must assimilate in the "melting pot" of an established Canadian society, would be watched, and would be under compulsion to earn his way as a test of his commitment.

We cannot be held to account for the mess in Sri Lanka; nor, from this distance, are we in a position to judge Tamil claims of persecution, after an armed conflict in which the Tamil side was governed by an obviously terrorist organization. And while we are now compelled to review each refugee claimant under our existing laws, we'd be fools not to change those laws to prevent further cynical manipulation.

David Warren is the Ottawa Citizen international affairs columnist.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2010 A13

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