Olena Zamkova, BFA 22, saw this first-hand after she spent several weeks along the Hungary-Ukraine border assisting refugees with transportation, paperwork, accommodations and fundraising.
“When they came here, they immediately received a work permit and all the privileges of Canadian permanent residents,” she says. “It was very fast and efficient.”
Admirable as such responsiveness is, it’s not necessarily representative.
“Canada absolutely did the right thing for Ukraine by setting up priority access channels of bureaucracy, running emergency rescue programs and issuing an uncapped number of visitor visas,” acknowledges Deniz Duruiz, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology whose research focuses on migrants and refugees.
“However, this showed refugees of all races — who have not benefited from the same practices — just what Canada is capable of when the will is there,” she adds. “It’s such a shame that the Canadian state only seems to mobilize in this way for white people from a land that was included in Europe only after its invasion by Russia.”
Bias is reflected not just in government policy, but in public perception, too. A study published by Ipsos to mark World Refugee Day 2022 indicated that while 64 per cent of Canadians support accepting more refugees from Ukraine, that number drops to 37 per cent for Afghanistan, 36 per cent for Venezuela and 35 per cent for Syria.
Experts like Paquet have noted that there used to be much more political agreement around immigration. In this age of polarization, that’s no longer the case.
“Immigration was featured heavily in the last two provincial elections [in Quebec],” Paquet remarked at McGill. “That’s pretty new. It’s also worth noting that position-taking by Quebec parties on immigration has become more differentiated.”
‘Bureaucratic and administrative lag’
All of this must be better understood to ensure that immigrants and refugees are treated fairly and equitably.
The procedural nuts and bolts of our system have to be improved to meet the current moment, too. Canada’s speedy response to the Ukraine crisis, many have noted, was exceptional.
“We have an infrastructure in place, but it’s very slow in terms of dealing with people who are applying for refugee status,” says Butkowsky.
This is echoed by Daoud, who has seen asylum seekers and refugee claimants wait for agonizingly long stretches of time. “There’s a significant bureaucratic and administrative lag in the government’s paperwork processing for these individuals,” he says.
The result, Daoud adds, is that Canada risks losing its credibility on an issue that it frequently likes to stake its international reputation on.
“Integration is always a two-way street. There’s the refugee or the newcomer willing to integrate into society, and then there’s the society that has to be welcoming and accommodating and ensure that the pathway exists for them to integrate. The longer we delay, the harder the integration process becomes.”