In Canada, America, and Europe, migration, refugee influx, and immigration issues have exploded in unprecedented ways to shape political campaigns, political fortunes, and caused political upheaval even within democracies.

The Canadian Corner

The immigration issue was certainly a major point of discussion and arguably part of the electoral dynamic in the Canadian federal elections of October 2019. So if you think Canada is an exception, or an admirable outlier in the age of Brexit and Trump, well, think again.

As the Liberal government pushed forward its multiyear targets for an increase influx of immigrants from 2019 to 2022, reaching from 330,000 to 350,000 (1 million within three years), the risks have been real and may well be immediate if an economic downturn brings a deep recession. It is likely that the Liberals will pay a political price for that scheme, as Canadians are a welcoming people, with caution, pragmatic in nature, and circumspect at all levels. Thus, the recent tough changes in the asylum system.

In an EKOS data from a survey, Canadians are a welcoming lot to most legal immigration, including investors, economic migrants, and family unification. “However, when Canadians are asked in blind experimental tests whether they’d prefer to live beside a white newcomer from Europe or brown or black newcomers from somewhere else, the differences ballooned to 200 to 300 percentage points. . . . The more a person is ‘different’ from white society, the more likely the average Canadian would want them to stay away.”1

Add to that finding the trouble with multiculturalism. A simple order of a double-double at a Tim Horton’s (Canada’s version of a Starbucks) near you is all you need to know about the present predicament and dysfunctionality of that concept. If you are waiting in line, for instance, the talk is often confined between people of the same stripe and ethnicity. And if you happen to sit down inside, you will soon discover that the place is usually carved up and colonized by different groups of people talking among themselves, oblivious to the rest. This Balkanization within a Tim Horton’s is the epitome of the present dilemma of official multiculturalism.

“A multicultural Canada is a great idea in principle,” wrote Michael Ignatief when he was a public intellectual roaming the globe, “but in reality it is more like a tacit contract of mutual indifference. Communities share political and geographic space, but not necessarily religious, social or moral space. We have little Hong Kongs, little Kabuls, little Jaffnas, just as we once had little Berdichevs, little Pescaras, and little Lisbons.”2

And then there’s the 2015 citizenship debate during the federal elections campaign concerning Bill C-24. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi was so alarmed and frightened by the tone and substance of that bill that he wrote in the Globe and Mail the following: “How is it that I, born . . . in Toronto, could also have my citizenship revoked? One Canadian citizen committing the same crime should be treated as any other. . . . Most distressingly, the bill allows the minister of citizenship and immigration to exile people from Canada without any Canadian court being involved. . . . How did we allow this to happen?” He finished by saying: “The truth is not easy.”3

Then we had Canada’s most prominent immigration and refugee lawyer, Lorne Waldman, who took the niqab case of Zunera Ishaq and won against the government. He also warned Canadians not to ignore these deep-seated feelings of prejudice and act against them to preserve our freedoms. (Keep in mind that Jews and Muslims were not desirable pre-World War II.)

Demography as Destiny

But in fact, Canada, like the U.S.A. and the EU, needs immigration badly. On January 25, 2017, Statistics Canada released a study title: “From 2011 to 2036—Canada: A look at Ethnocultural Diversity and Immigration.” Here are some of the highlights:

Nearly one in two Canadians could be an immigrant or a child of an immigrant by 2036.

Immigrants and second-generation individuals combined, who represented 38.2 percent of Canada’s population in 2011, could account for nearly one in two people (between 44.2 and 49.7 percent) in 2036.

If recent trends in the composition of immigration remain the same throughout the projection, in 2036 between 55.7 and 57.9 percent of Canada’s immigrant population would be Asian born, up from 44.8 percent in 2011.

More than one third of the working-age population in 2036 would belong to a visible minority group.

More than one quarter of the Canadian population in 2036 would have a mother tongue other than English or French.

Diversity is Canada’s destiny. International migration is slowly creating a new Canadian political culture and is positioning it to be a leading nation in the world on this front.

Furthermore, the religious makeup of the immigrant population has drastically changed. From the nearly 95 percent Christian immigrants from the old continent in the past 200 years, the new influx is mostly a mix of all religions in the globe, including the “nones,” the unaffiliated, even the atheists.

The American Angle

With or without the current administration, the love affair of America with immigration continues. Why? Because it pays dividends, and it is in the national interest. “The share of the U.S. population made up by immigrants has returned to the levels at the turn of the twentieth century—although the makeup of today’s immigrant population looks very different. Why it matters: as we saw a century ago, and are witnessing again now, immigration brings needed labor and economic benefits—even though there is often a backlash from those who fear that the America they know is slipping away.”4

At the beginning religion and religious persecution, played a great part in the evolution of immigration to the United States of America. The early settlers who came from Europe brought with them the heavy burden of mental and physical scars of religious wars, infighting, and persecution not uncommon in the history of humanity. The following quote from the Library of Congress Exhibitions is enough to paint a clear picture of that part of history:

“The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as ‘enforced uniformity of religion,’ meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.”5

Wave after wave of immigrants arrived at the U.S.A. during the colonial era, in the nineteenth century and from the 1880s to 1920. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 changed the entire landscape of the American immigration system. “In 1965 Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which did away with quotas based on nationality and allowed Americans to sponsor relatives from their countries of origin. As a result of this act and subsequent legislation, the nation experienced a shift in immigration patterns. Today the majority of U.S. immigrants come from Asia and Latin America rather than Europe.”6

America, truth be told, historically and presently, was and still is a land of contradictions. Heaven and hell, democratic and exclusive, progressive and backward-looking, engaging and alienating, welcoming to newcomers from afar and yet dismissive, derisive, and destructive all at once.

The road to America has been, historically speaking, a thorny one. In an excellent commentary or op-ed on the subject of immigration to America, Professor Amy Chua from Yale Law School offered a critique to both camps: the anti-immigration crusaders, and to the open-border advocates. She presented five convincing suggestions to improve the current system:

Overhaul admission priorities: That is, reducing family sponsorships and increasing skilled workers with technological skills and high education plus good English proficiency.

Make English the official national language: The importance of a common language is critical for social cohesion and national identity and cultural integration.

Immigrants must embrace the nation’s civic virtues: That is, resist the enclave mentality, increasing political and civic duties and involvement in community affairs at all levels.

Enforce the law: The imperative of penalizing employers who hire undocumented immigrants and embrace the rule of law in this area of border enforcement humanly.

Make the United States an equal-opportunity immigration magnet: The U.S. immigration system should be ethnically neutral, offering opportunity to all around the world. Diversity is imperative in the twenty-first century.7

Immigration is by nature a cultural call for self-examination. The newcomers are being asked to adapt and learn new landscape of political, social, religious and moral norms. Everything they know or hold dear is challenged or looked at differently in this new time and place where they settled.

The natives, or the hosting party, are also being asked to adjust and learn that the ways of yesterday are not the only way forward, or exclusively so. These two solitudes are playing out in most countries and communities in the world. That never happened before quite this way in any period of human history; certainly not on this scale and magnitude. How to handle it, how to have different religious traditions and faiths coexisting and sharing the political polity, is the challenge of modernity and diversity in our times.

The walls that some political leaders are calling for are more and more walls of cultural divide, racial fears, and ethnic cleansing. But the fear of immigrants is clearly misplaced. In fact, studies show that communities where immigrants exist, legal or even illegal, are by far more peaceful and commit less crime than places where immigrants are not present. “As the percentage of foreign-born increased in the United States from 7 percent to 13 percent between 1990 and 2013, violent crime rates fell 48 percent.”8

Leadership here is indispensable. In times like these, when ordinary citizens are fearful of constant change in technology, climate change, demographic challenges, acceleration of globalization, political divisions, and tribal identity politics, we need leaders with vision, integrity, and historical consciousness to find a path to the promised land.

“Politics,” wrote the late Charles Krauthammer, “the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything because, in the end, everything . . . lives or dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. . . . Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians.”

Don’t we need our politics to be right and noble and practical and graceful these days, more than ever before? We must find this dignity before we are all damaged!

1Michael Valpy and Frank Graves, “The Contradictions at the Heart of Canada’s Multiculturism,” Globe and Mail, December 14, 2018.

2Michael Igantief, “The Hate Stops Here,” Globe and Mail, updated April 12, 2018.

3Naheed Nenski, “Divided, Canada Stands to Lose What Makes It Great,” Globe and Mail, updated May 15, 2018.

4Stef W. Kight, “The U.S. Is Back to Being a Nation of Immigrants,” Axios, August 30, 2018.

5Library of Congress Exhibitions, “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic: America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century, Part 1.”

6“U.S. Immigration Before 1965,” updated May 16, 2019. History.com Editors.

7Amy Chua, “The Right Road to America,” Washington Post, December 16, 2007.

8Fred Hiatt, “The Wound That May Long Outlive Donald Trump,” Washington Post, August 26, 2018.

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah, immigration consultant (ICCRC), practicing in Ottawa. Author of Hostage to History: The Cultural Collapse of the 21st Century Arab World (Victoria, B.C.: FriesenPress, 2016) and a forthcoming book, Gates and Walls, in 2020. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.


Article Author: ​Elie Mikhael Nasrallah

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah, born in Lebanon, graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa, with an honours degree in political science. He has written three books: “My Arab Spring, My Canada,” 2012, “None of the Above,” 2014, “Hostage to History,” 2016. He writes from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.