Philosopher’s Cafe

Immigration: Should we build walls or bridges?
Review by Cecilia Hutchinson
Approximately 100 people attended this very interesting meeting on January 4, 2017, to discuss Immigration: Should we build walls or bridges? Jim Brennan, Executive Director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, Courtenay, introduced the topic and invited questions to what became an interesting, inclusive discussion.  First and foremost, all attendees agreed by a show of hands that immigration is a progressive initiative that affects us all by the positive value immigrants add to Canada. Attendees offered views ranging from immigration’s economic impact, to culture and jobs, to the immigration process and what requirements are necessary for immigrants to come to Canada. And, as any good discussion should, this one raised vast numbers of questions without resolving any. My intention here is to list some of the questions posed and to make several personal observations.

An excellent distinction was made between two types of immigrants:  those who immigrate intentionally to set down roots in a new country and those who immigrate because they need a safe-haven, as in the recent case of Syrian refugees. It is understood that, while some refugees adopt their sponsor country as their own, many refugee’s intention is to return home as soon as safely possible.  Any country offering safe-haven to people in distress should be proud to set caring, ethical standards that encourage individuals to have a home away from home, whether it be permanent or temporary.

Everyone agreed that governments at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels need to work together to accommodate a smooth transition for all immigrants who come to Canada. Again, the distinction must be made between those who plan to come to Canada and those who come as refugees seeking safe-haven. Each group requires planning specific to the needs of a unique set of circumstances.

The questions are endless; the answers are constantly evolving. Who should be encouraged to immigrate? Can Canada accommodate the numbers of people wanting or needing to immigrate?  Will the vastness of Canada be overpowered by increased numbers of citizens? What kinds of jobs should be available for new Canadians? How can the system ensure suitable jobs for new immigrants so that individuals acquire positions equivalent to their training? How do we ensure Canadian immigration is open to all social sectors rather than ‘just’ highly educated individuals?  Can Canada accommodate labourers and farmers along with doctors, managers, and high-tech workers? While life in Canada is increasingly urban-based, would it be productive to encourage immigrants to work the land, to encourage labourers to develop agriculture?

We as Canadians consider ourselves open to immigration. Yet, there is a divisiveness in the way immigrants and immigration are discussed.  There is a we/they, us/them mentality in Canadian thought.  We like to talk about the Canadian mosaic yet some of the discussion referred to immigrants being ‘turned into’ Canadians.  It was refreshing to hear Jim Brennan point out that cultural distinctions come naturally, and whether Canadians are living abroad or foreign groups are becoming part of the Canadian landscape, individuals gravitate toward the familiar, the comfort of sameness.  To build upon the Canadian mosaic requires that both immigrants and established Canadians grow together to build relationships with bridges that encourage diversity rather than walls that obliterate and divide.

Thank you to Peter Schwarzhoff for organizing the Philosopher’s Café and to Jim Brennan for leading the discussion.