Is the Liberal government backing away from its commitment to refugees? After campaigning on compassion, Ottawa is now facing a perfect storm of surging asylum claims, an overburdened system and political pressure.
All three factors, refugee advocates say, have led the government to back down on its pledge to overhaul the way asylum claims are processed (according to the Canadian Press) and stop risking both money and political capital on an issue that could cost them support at home and abroad.
The top reason for the change of heart — on this and so many files — appears to be the changing of the guard in Washington. Ottawa is now dealing with an administration that is, to put it charitably, not refugee-positive.
It’s also not NAFTA-positive, softwood lumber-positive or — as the firing of FBI director James Comey demonstrated — rule-of-law positive. In short, antagonizing President Donald Trump by welcoming more refugees is not in Trudeau’s interest, especially when he is staring down the barrel of trade negotiations with a volatile and unpredictable administration.
Trump’s immigration ideas have also spilled over into Canada. As immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman told The Canadian Press, “the concern at the centre is that support has dissipated significantly because of a series of factors, the most important one being the emergence of Donald Trump … And I think the concern is amplified by the Conservative leadership race where you have many of the candidates taking a very anti-immigrant posturing in their campaign.”
It remains to be seen how well leadership aspirant Kellie Leitch does with Conservative supporters, but her Trumpian proposal to screen immigrants for “Canadian values” has the support of a majority of Canadians polled on the question; almost half support her pledge to deport border-crossers back to the United States.