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Black Immigrants

*This blogpost has been translated from French to English

For Black History Month, the Institute launched a policy series highlighting bold policy solutions in order to tackle anti-Black racism, focusing on the need for intergovernmental action. Each submission proposes a plan for governments to work together to tackle a problem; while serving as a guide for advocates working towards [what should be] our collective effort to eradicate anti-Black racism. 

In the summer of 2017, the arrival of asylum seekers at the Canada-US border—mainly Haitians— caused much turmoil in Quebec. The perception of the arrival of a “massive” number of people was fuelled by media commentary. The Canada Border Services Agency added to the perception of “invasion” when they chose the Montreal Olympic Stadium as a temporary accommodation. The symbol was strong.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada stated at the time that 50 per cent of Haitian nationals applying to be accepted as refugees in the previous year had been successful. In response to the growing anti-immigration populist movement, Ottawa changed its communication strategy.

At the end of the summer of 2017, the Trudeau Government sent two of its MPs, Pablo Rodriguez and Emmanuel Dubourg, on a mission to the United States. Their explicit mandate was to discourage the arrival of Haitians residing there. New statistics were derived a small, unrepresentative sample of data, and it was proclaimed to anyone who would listen, from New York to Miami, that only 10 per cent of those who tried their luck in Canada were winning their case.

At the end of 2017, only 22 per cent of Haitian applicants had been accepted as refugees. For 2018, 25 per cent of applications were successful. At the beginning of 2019, observers now worry that even fewer families will be welcomed this year.

As the situation in Haiti is far from improving, it is difficult to see in this gradual closure of our borders as anything rational. One day, the government decided to communicate that proportion of successful applicants was low, and progressively, their figures became closer and closer to the truth.

How did the prophecy become self-fulfilling? Since the “crisis” of 2017, community organizers who come to the aid of asylum seekers mostly denounce the difficulty of accessing lawyers competent in immigration law, and within the prescribed deadlines. Files are too often sloppily put together, and families are kept ill informed about the process that awaits them. The Canada Border Services Agency also keeps people in detention without apparent motives. Some parents are separated from their children, with the complicity of the Youth Protection Services, while others are deported before possible remedies are exhausted. 

Asylum seekers are increasingly treated like criminals, amidst the indifference of a public convinced that such situations only exist in the US.

For Blacks and racialized people who would like to come to Quebec as economic immigrants the situation is just as complex. Premier François Legault declared last January, while he was in Paris, that he wanted to increase the number of French and European immigrants to Quebec. According to him, there are too many unqualified newcomers in Quebec, or immigrants who do not speak French.

The majority of Francophones in the world are African, and there is, of course, no correlation between a person’s professional skills and their continent of origin. It is thus difficult to interpret Legault’s political vision as anything other than biased by prejudices and misconceptions—conscious or not—that have deep roots in the history of this country. 

It is equally suspicious that the Premier’s sudden encouragement of European immigration is coupled with anti-immigration measures that delight ethnic nationalists and the populist right. At the beginning of the year, his government shredded 18,000 pending immigration applications. Just like that.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau loves to lecture François Legault on his immigration agenda. Yet, as we have seen, Ottawa also responds to anti-black mobilization—albeit more subtly.

The current situation leaves a pronounced aftertaste of déjà vu.

In 1911, Wilfrid Laurier signed a decree formally prohibiting Black immigration to Canada. For diplomatic reasons, racism was never formally named in the law. However, this did not deter Immigration Canada from deploying a vast dissuasion campaign targeting black Americans attempting to cross the border. Doctors were paid to pronounce the medical exams of aspiring African-Canadians failed, and agents spread the idea that our winters are incompatible with the constitution of the Black race.

Today, Canada calls itself open and welcoming while still sabotaging the chances of admission of some immigrants. The tactics employed, however, have been greatly refined. 

Neither Canada nor Quebec will ever claim, explicitly, to dislike Black immigration. 

One can only hope that, some day, pretty rhetoric about inclusion and openness will not distract us from judging the actions of a government and their demonstrated consequences. 

If we knew more about the history of immigration in Canada and its underlying Eurocentric political project, we would not be surprised by the injustices we are seeing today.