Comments on Immigration Legislative Review

Paul Gingrich

Member, Board of Directors, Regina Open Door Society

Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina

March 2, 1998


  1. Contribution of immigrants. History, multiculturalism, labour force. Canada does not pay for upbringing, education, and training, but for no cost obtains adults ready and able to work.
  2. a. Integration. Multiple meanings of integration. Problematic concept. Diversity among newcomers and Canadian born - many ways of belonging, of integrating, and many possible positions and places to be occupied.
    b. Active Citizenship. Meaning? Problems with Recommendation 31 - tax filing, language, age, criminality, and active participation all problematic for some.
    c. Prairie Cities. Welcoming atmosphere, small ethnic communities, networks, community associations help newcomers integrate well.
    d. Subsequent Generations. Why change landed immigrant status? Integrate over time. Children and subsequent generations integrate.
  3. Language. Knowledge of official language of varied importance. One year of language training generally sufficient and this is not so costly. Prairie multicultural heritage - newcomers did not know English. Tuition fee? Protection legislation and languages?
  4. Credentials. Recommendation 27 should be strengthened. Work on this needs quick development and more attention. Rural and remote areas - streamline credentialing. Canadian experience often lacking. Provide more job placement programs.
  5. Separate protection and immigration legislation (Recommendation 2). Generally agree. Importance of protection role for Canada. Many of problems faced by each group are similar after arrival - integration, family reunification, landing fees, language training. Settlement agencies. Two-tier system? Selection of English or French speakers? Payment for language training, landing fee, medical examinations? May be aimed at immigrants but could be applied to those entering under protection legislation.
  6. Research. Importance of research. What standards are to be applied? Lack of data, lack of clarity concerning research goals, long-term nature of integration, changing social and economic conditions.
  7. Economic Immigrants. Ensure that changes would improve immigration policy. Personal suitability - ability to be adaptable and learn quickly may be the real key to success, and many immigrants appear to have this. General employability criteria may be preferable to specific criteria. Grouping skilled worker immigrants with entrepreneurs and investors is misleading.
  8. Conclusion. Move cautiously. Listen to broad cross-section of Canadians, newcomers, and immigrant-serving agencies. Develop immigration policy to serve whole country.

Comments on Immigration Legislative Review

Note: References are to document Not Just Numbers on the Citizenship and Immigration website.


The comments that follow come from several sources: (i) from my experiences as a member of the Board of Directors of the Regina Open Door Society, (ii) from my academic work as a member of the Sociology Department at the University of Regina, (iii) from a study of newcomers to Regina who arrived in Canada as refugees, and (iv) from my personal experiences. My hope is that the comments I make will be considered in a positive light, with a view toward assisting Canada improve its approach to immigration.

In addition to detailed recommendations, Not Just Numbers raises many theoretical and general issues concerning immigration and integration. As someone who has been involved in research and study on immigration, and not so directly involved in implementation of policy or working directly with immigrants, my comments are primarily concerned with the overall approach to immigration and immigration policy.

As an initial comment, I am pleased to see the attention that the panel has given to a very broad range of issues related to immigration. In my view, many of the recommendations would go a long way toward improving the practice of immigration policy in Canada and would benefit Canadians. In particular, the emphasis on issues related to immigrant integration and citizenship is a very welcome aspect of Not Just Numbers (Introduction, R1, and Ch. 4), one that is long overdue. The recognition of the contribution that immigrants can make to Canada (Ch. 6) and the understanding of the importance of protection in Canada's immigration policy (Ch. 7) are important contributions that Not Just Numbers makes to the discussion of immigration policy.

At the same time, I have a number of criticisms of Not Just Numbers and these are discussed below. In addition, I make a number of comments concerning the manner in which immigration and integration are discussed, about the structure of immigration policy, and concerning the role of immigration research. These comments and critique follow.

1. Contributions of Immigrants

a. History. Most of the current population of Canada is composed of immigrants or descendants of immigrants. While everyone is aware of this, the historical significance of this is sometimes forgotten. A considerable part of the identity of Canada is that we are a land of immigrants. Those of us who live in western Canada, where immigrants in the last one hundred years formed the basis for the bulk of the population, are especially aware of this. Immigrants have played an extremely important role in making Canada what it is now, and immigration should continue to help build Canada and continue to form a key part of Canadian identity.

b. Multiculturalism. Issues of integration and citizenship are highlighted in Not Just Numbers, but there is little mention of the manner in which Canada has become multicultural or the contribution of multicultural practices and policy. While there is still a long way to go in pursuit of the goals of multiculturalism, in the thirty years since multiculturalism became part of official policy in Canada, great strides have been made. There has been development and general acceptance of the goals of understanding, appreciation, harmony, and equity among those of diverse backgrounds. Multicultural principles, policies, and programs are often taken for granted, but compared with fifty years ago, when an policy of assimilation dominated, Canada has become a much more open and progressive society, and Canadians have become more caring, tolerant, and accepting of diversity. Multiculturalism has become an essential ingredient of Canadian society and identity. Further, it is a concept and approach that was pioneered in Canada and has become a Canadian contribution to the world. We should not allow concerns over a few problems related to immigration to obscure and sidetrack these positive developments.

c. Labour Force. The Canadian born labour force has often been supplemented with immigrants. Immigrants who came to Canada have filled skill shortages, have done work that Canadian born workers may have been reluctant to do, and have made long term contributions to the Canadian economy. While job growth has not been as great as most Canadians would like, and while unemployment rates are unacceptably high, immigrants do not bear responsibility for these problems. Immigration has often been very responsive to economic conditions, as those who contemplate coming to Canada are quick to learn when are where there are jobs. In this connection I find it encouraging that Not Just Numbers recognizes the "longer-term benefits of economic immigration" (last paragraph of section 6.2). It is my hope that immigration policy can continue to take this medium to long-term approach, looking at the continued benefits immigrants can make to the Canadian economy and society.

d. Economic Contribution. When discussing immigration, one factor that is often overlooked is that immigrants generally arrive in Canada as adults, ready to contribute to the Canadian economy and society. Canada does not pay for the upbringing, socialization, education, and training of immigrants but, with no initial cost, gains the advantage of the labour, ideas, and civic participation of immigrants. This is sometimes forgotten when considering the initial costs, such as language training, settlement assistance, and job retraining - costs usually associated with the first year or two after arrival. In a cost-benefit approach, the latter costs are dwarfed by the benefits that Canada obtains by being able to accept and integrate immigrant adults. The benefits to Canada are likely greatest for highly skilled immigrant workers, especially since these often help Canada meet labour market bottlenecks, but most immigrants come ready to work and contribute to Canadian society. I encourage those responsible for immigration policy to remember the above - a single-minded focus on costs associated with the period just after arrival obscures the benefits that immigrants bring with them.

2. Integration and Active Citizenship

a. The Concept of Integration. The authors of Not Just Numbers introduce the issue of integration into a discussion of immigration policy and practice. The panel is to be commended for tackling this issue and connecting it with community participation and citizenship. Potentially this is one of the most important issues in Canadian society - with immigration leading to changes in population structure and constituting a key aspect of the structure of Canadian society in the future. However, it is on this very issue that I view Not Just Numbers as being misleading and without a progressive approach to the understanding of Canadian society. This problem may emerge because there are multiple meanings for integration and the processes that accompany integration and citizenship are complex.

First, consider some of the meanings that integration might have:

  1. It could mean assimilation, cutting off one's roots upon entry to Canada, abandoning one's original language, religion, and culture, and becoming part of a dominant culture - French-Canadian in Quebec and English-Canadian in most of the rest of Canada.
  2. It could mean that an immigrant would continue to practice some original cultural patterns and is economically successful in Canada. This might mean practicing an original religion, teaching the children the immigrant's original language, having a residence in a suburb of a Canadian city, and having a good job that pays well. With multiculturalism, this combination might even be expected and encouraged.
  3. Integration could mean being somewhat less successful economically in Canada but abandoning most of the original cultural patterns. While this is a combination usually not promoted, immigrants may adopt many Canadian practices and learn English well, but are not able to gain a solid economic foothold.
  4. Integration could mean becoming part of an immigrant enclave such as a Chinatown where only a rudimentary knowledge of English is necessary, but where job opportunities are adequate or plentiful, where immigrants take out citizenship and are law abiding, and where immigrants vote and participate in a variety of ethnic and civic activities.
  5. Another approach to integration is to consider it as a two-way process, with immigrants changing their culture, language, and practices after they arrive in Canada, and with Canadian social and economic structures themselves changing in response to immigration. As immigrants arrive, there are changes in urban residence patterns and structures, modifications to the curriculum and practices in educational institutions, and recognition and acceptance of different cultural and ethnic patterns and practices in the country. The ethnic institutions and structures that immigrants bring with them change as immigrants settle in and adapt to Canada, but Canada also changes. It is this two-way integration process that is an essential feature of Canadian identity and history, and of defining what the Canadian nation is.

While Not Just Numbers argues that active citizenship and integration does not mean assimilation, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish how it might differ. While the recommendations in Not Just Numbers do not prohibit ethnic cultural practices and various forms of integration, if instituted, Recommendation 31 would leave immigrants little time and energy to participate in their own culture.

Integration is a slippery and problematic concept, especially in a diverse society. Consider a few examples of the diversity we have among Canadians who were born in Canada:

Are we to argue that people in these groups are not integrated or are not active citizens - even when they are unemployed or do not vote? These are all Canadians and they make contributions to Canada, each in their own way.

In a contemporary democratic and liberal society there are many different ways in which people belong to society - some of the differences among people are lifestyle choices and others may represent a variety of ascribed cultural patterns. Integration may be a concept that is easier to associate with a relatively homogeneous society than with a more diverse society. When there is great diversity, difference, and inequality in society, for newcomers there will be many routes to becoming part of that society, and many positions and places that newcomers will integrate into. Some immigrants may never find a single place, but may always have to perform a balancing act - for example, making an economic contribution to a country where they barely know the language and do not understand the customs and practices. But is this of any less benefit to Canada or the immigrant?

Integration can also be associated with many different strategies and combinations of retention of original culture and practices and participation in the economic and civic affairs of the new country. Historically there have been many routes to integration. Witness the different ways that Italian-Canadians, French-Canadians, Ukrainian-Canadians, Hutterites and Mennonites, Jewish-Canadians, and British-Canadians have taken in becoming Canadian. Yet most Canadians would agree that individuals in these groups are integrated into Canada.

b. The Concept of Active Citizenship. If integration is a difficult concept, active citizenship is even more problematic. As far as I am aware, we do not have different citizenship requirements for different people born in Canada, although there may be some provincial differences and some First Nations people have somewhat different rights. While many of us wish that all citizens would "be more informed, responsible, and committed to citizen participation in the public sphere of politics and in the private sphere of community, home and family," it would seem unreasonable to apply this high standard to newcomers when it is not applied to citizens born in Canada. Further, how do we "demonstrate that an individual has achieved a degree of integration into the Canadian community" when we are unsure which community this is or exactly what integration means? If there is suspicion that some newcomers do not pay their "fair share of the cost of public services," inequities in the tax structure should be corrected, and it may be found that some corporations and well-off Canadian-born individuals do not pay their fair share. (Quotes in this paragraph are from Not Just Numbers, Section 4.7).

There may be little argument against requiring three years' residence as a reasonable time requirement for citizenship, and requiring that applicants for citizenship should know something about Canada and have some knowledge of an official language. But the other requirements of Recommendation 31 could prohibit some valuable newcomers from obtaining Canadian citizenship. The reason for the age requirement is not clear - surely we should encourage the children of newcomers to belong to Canada by becoming citizens. Fiscal responsibility may seem to be a reasonable requirement. But the stipulation that an individual file income tax in order to qualify for Canadian citizenship would appear to discriminate against students, stay-at-home parents who wish to care for young children or a disabled family member, and perhaps against other newcomers. Similarly, most of us would agree that newcomers should not be criminals, but there are many possible ways of violating the law - would we deny Canadian citizenship to those who did not pay a single parking ticket? And to put the onus on newcomers of being able to "demonstrate that they are in compliance with Canadian laws" (4.7, p. 8) seems like an overly strong requirement. If someone asked me to demonstrate that I was in compliance with Canadian laws, I do not know how I would do this - it is probably an impossibility.

Finally, as is the case with any set of regulations, one way of dealing with perceived abuses is to deal with the few who abuse the rules. Adoption of very restrictive and tough overall rules as a means of dealing with a few alleged abuses is often an inappropriate way of dealing with problems.

c. Integration in Prairie Cities. A different issue, and one that does not appear to be addressed in Not Just Numbers is the different patterns of integration for immigrants to different areas of the country. While medium sized cities, such as those on the Prairies, are given no special attention in the report, it is the view of many of us who live in these cities, that immigrants have generally integrated very well into these cities. Factors which would appear to contribute to this include:

Some newcomers to Prairie cities also leave for larger urban centres, but this may be as much a reflection of anticipated job opportunities and ethnic networks in these larger centres as dislike of the smaller Prairie cities. Certainly the Saskatchewan agencies that work with newcomers have found that those who stay in the Prairie cities integrate quickly into the economic structure of these cities, and large numbers do become "active citizens" in the sense used in Not Just Numbers.

When considering where to locate those seeking protection in Canada, and when recommending places for newcomers to locate, those responsible for immigration policy and practice should take a more careful look at Prairie cities. It may be that the immigrant experience in these cities is fairly close to the ideal espoused in many of the arguments presented in Not Just Numbers.

d. Issues Related to Time and the Second and Subsequent Generations. In Not Just Numbers there are conflicting views concerning the element of time. In terms of integration, Section 4.1 states that "it may take several generations to complete" but a few pages later in Recommendation 29, it is implied that three years should be a standard for active citizenship and, presumably, integration. It is not clear what the three year limit (while renewable) on landed immigrant status is expected to achieve. In fact, the whole aim of Section 4.6 is unclear. The view that individuals who are landed immigrants cannot make a long-term contribution to Canada seems mistaken. Many landed immigrants have lived for many years in Canada and, apart from being unable to vote, are among the most active participants (not citizens) in Canada. Further, why someone should necessarily commit himself or herself to Canada by cutting off ties to other places is unclear. If there is some good reason for this, then this should be made clear. But the arguments of Section 4.6 seem primarily based on anecdote, do not have solid research data behind them, and are not well constructed or persuasive.

A related issue is what happens to newcomers over time. Many immigrants initially find it difficult to feel or become a full part of Canada, and some leave Canada after a short time. But for the majority of immigrants who settle in Canada and become part of the Canadian social fabric, the commitment to Canada generally increases. As the Canadian political philosopher Will Kymlicka points out in Multicultural Citizenship it is difficult to change cultures, and people have a strong attachment to their own culture. But at the same time, integration usually means that only some aspects of an original culture are retained, and newcomers are gradually absorbed into and become fuller parts of Canadian society.

The children of immigrants seem to have fewer such problems, and from the point of view of their parents, may become too integrated into Canada, and much too quickly. Not Just Numbers pays little attention to children, but it these children and their children who represent the longer term outcome of immigration. In North America, the historical record is clear - children quickly learn the dominant language and become part of the dominant culture. While these children may retain aspects of their ethnic heritage, they have no trouble becoming full citizens, in much the same way as do children of Canadian-born parents. When considering the integration and active citizenship process, policy makers must take note of this. Where there are questions about the ability of the newcomers themselves to integrate and become active citizens, such doubts disappear when considering second and subsequent generations.

e. Conclusion. My comments in this section have primarily been aimed at what I perceive to be weaknesses or misleading arguments concerning integration and active citizenship. I would suggest that the proposals in Chapter 4 aimed at tightening the regulations to deal with some instances of alleged abuse, are not in the best interests of Canada. In terms of a positive recommendation, immigration policy should be aimed at maintaining a relatively steady flow of immigrants into Canada, looking toward the medium to long-term benefits provided by these immigrants. Landed immigrant and citizenship regulations should reflect the diverse routes that immigrants have taken toward integrating into Canada.

3. Language

A major conclusion emerging from Not Just Numbers is that knowledge of an official language is to be required of most newcomers, or a financial charge must be paid by the newcomer. The authors of Not Just Numbers urge immigration policy to be based on solid research, but on exactly what evidence the official language recommendation is based is not clear. Section 4.4 refers only to comments that were heard by the panel. While there is no doubt that knowledge of an official language is important for some forms of integration, some newcomers will need knowledge of an official language more than others. In addition, some can learn the new language fairly quickly. In the study of refugees in Regina that I conducted in the early 1990s, the general feeling was that one year of English language training would be sufficient for newcomers. If the cost of providing this language training is balanced against the benefits noted above in item 1.d., the cost of such training is fairly minimal in the larger picture.

The requirement that newcomers know either English or French is certainly alien to the multicultural heritage of the Prairies. Immigrants to the Prairies were predominantly non-English speakers when they arrived, and many were slow to learn English. By the second and certainly by the third generation, everyone spoke English. The second and subsequent generations of immigrants to the Prairies have integrated well. For example, in the classes I teach at the University of Regina there is a great diversity of ethnic backgrounds, with many Central and Eastern European names mixed in with British and other names. The original lack of knowledge of English does not appear to have hurt subsequent generations.

In Not Just Numbers there are some confusing statements concerning knowledge of official languages, and this makes it difficult to know exactly what is being recommended. Recommendation 26 argues for language testing, but does not indicate what will be done with the test results. Recommendation 35 says that there should be a tuition fee that reflects the cost of basic language training, but does not say what this fee would be used for. Would those who pay the fee be required to take classes and learn French or English? If so, note that it may be difficult to force people into classes and even more difficult to force people to learn English or French. If the fee is paid, will newcomers have to pay tuition again once they enroll in language training?

A further issue related to languages is language training for those who arrive through protection legislation, that is, refugees. Presumably, their language training would continue to be supported financially by government. But I fear that the general principle of requiring immigrants to pay tuition for language training might eventually spill over into a similar requirement for those who have come to Canada for protection.

In summary, there are many problems that could develop if requirements concerning knowledge of English or French are very stringently enforced in the future. While some preference might be given to those independent applicants who are familiar with one of these official languages, if applicants are judged to be worthy of being allowed entry into Canada on other grounds, a few months of support to assist in learning an official language seems like a minimal cost for Canada. The same can be said for the family sponsored immigrants.

4. Credentials

In the study of newcomers who had arrived as refugees in Regina, one of the major complaints that these newcomers had was that foreign credentials and experience were often not recognized by professional associations or employers. It is encouraging to see that Not Just Numbers has addressed this issue in Recommendation 27. While this recommendation is commendable, given that the council that is to work on this issue has not been established and is only now being proposed, this problem may not be addressed very promptly.

In remote areas and in some of the small towns and rural areas of the Prairies, there is a shortage of qualified health personnel and there may be skilled labour shortages in a number other occupations and professions in these same areas. In some cases, these problems could be met by streamlining the procedures for providing credentials to newcomers, in return for promises that these newcomers will serve these areas for a period of time. This would appear to be a practical procedure, one which would benefit people in these remote or rural areas and provide a means of integrating newcomers, thus benefiting both sides.

There are many complications in dealing with the credentials issue, not least being the fact that the various levels of governments do not directly control many of the procedures for providing credentials. But since one of the major concerns of Not Just Numbers is that newcomers take on active citizenship and make an economic contribution to Canadian society, it would seem important to address this issue quickly.

A related issue is the lack of Canadian experience among those who are entering the Canadian labour force for the first time. In conversations with immigrants, I have repeatedly heard that one of the main obstacles to getting a job is that employers do not see any Canadian experience on their record. Again, this is a problem that governments may have difficulty solving, since they have no direct control over employers, and at most can try to persuade employers to take a different approach.

Agencies such as the Regina Open Door Society and employment training and placement programs can assist here, but they need funds to establish such programs. In Regina, when such programs have existed, they have been very successful - often leading to long-term employment of newcomers who participate. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments could all assist newcomers by providing training programs which would provide temporary initial placement of the newcomers in jobs. This would provide newcomers with some Canadian experience, familiarize employers with the newcomers, and allow for fuller use of the abilities that newcomers bring with them. While such programs might appear to be costly in budgetary terms, in terms of overall economic impact there seems to be little doubt that everyone would benefit from more programs of this sort. These programs should be thought of as investments that will create returns in the form of more efficient and productive use of the working abilities of newcomers. The process of integration and active citizenship would also be greatly assisted through this approach.

5. Protection and Immigration Legislation

The development of separate protection and immigration legislation could be a positive development, which will allow the separate objectives for each of the ways that newcomers arrive in Canada to be more clearly organized. The procedures outlined for determination of who should be protected could work out well, although the lack of an appeal process (Recommendation 92) could cause problems for some individuals and families in need of protection.

Canada should continue to play a major role in protection, as it has done historically. Given the great need for protection in the contemporary world, my hope is that Canada will find it possible to expand the numbers of individuals accepted, especially those who are selected abroad and sponsored by the government. (There were less than 10,000 from this group in 1996).

My concerns relating to the discussion of protection are twofold: (i) what happens to those afforded protection after landing in Canada, and (ii) how are settlement and integration issues to be organized? Many of the needs of immigrants and of those who seek protection in Canada are very similar in the period after arrival - landing fees, language training, obtaining Canadian credentials, family reunification, and integration into Canada. By separating these two groups, a two tier system for treatment of newcomers could be established, one that would cause resentment and confusion among the newcomers. In addition, new policies directed at independent immigrants - requiring knowledge of an official language, limited language training, and somewhat more rigorous policies with respect to sponsorship - could gradually spill over and be applied to those accepted for protection in Canada.

What occurs following landing in Canada relates to the role and work of agencies such as the Regina Open Door Society. My hope is that settlement agencies of this sort will continue to be supported. Such agencies are able to welcome newcomers, assist with the settlement process, and begin the integration process. These agencies have made a great contribution within the Prairie cities, and some have recently been recognized in Citizenship Awards.

In Prairie cities, core funding of settlement agencies could help to produce greater budgetary stability for these agencies. Directing larger numbers of government sponsored newcomers to these cities could also assist these agencies and immigrant communities. The record of the settlement agencies on the Prairies is very good, and government sponsored refugees have settled and integrated well on the Prairies. With improved core funding and more newcomers being directed toward cities such as Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, and Yorkton, a province like Saskatchewan could make a greater contribution toward protection and citizenship than it has in the recent past.

My second, and related, concern is that establishing separate legislation for the two types of newcomers could lead to a two tier system for newcomers. To some extent this already exists, with the different categories of immigrants under the Annual Immigration Plan. In the Introduction to Not Just Numbers, it is recognized that there would need to be "necessary links … between the protection program and those programs relating to immigration and citizenship matters." (p. 1 of Introduction). But I do not find these links spelled out very clearly or completely in Not Just Numbers. As noted above, many of the proposed changes in language training and sponsorship could spill over from the immigrant group to those seeking protection. After all, those seeking protection constitute less than 15 per cent of all newcomers, so numerically speaking those seeking protection could get lost in the shuffle.

In terms of specific problems, the principle of having to pay for language training might make some sense for some independent immigrants, but surely it makes no sense for those seeking protection. Yet the principle established for immigrants could easily begin to be applied for those seeking protection. The landing fee, presumably aimed primarily at immigrants, is to be applied to those seeking protection (Recommendation 114). The question of payment for medical examination is dealt with in Not Just Numbers, but again the principles here could easily change. Further, at the present time it is very difficult for those who arrived in the refugee category to sponsor other family members. Making sponsorship procedures more rigorous would make it almost impossible for those who arrive under protection legislation to sponsor other family members for many years following arrival in Canada.

In summary, I urge policy makers to very carefully consider the effects of the separation of immigration and protection legislation. On balance, such a separation might improve the ability of Canada to play a major role in protection, and expand the numbers who arrive in Canada through this route. But at the same time, there are many potentially negative implications of such an approach - life could become difficult for those who arrive through protection legislation and resentment could be created with a two-tier system of language training and other settlement and integration services. The result of these could be to reduce Canada's ability to provide protection.

6. Research

At several places in Not Just Numbers there are recommendations that future policy should be founded on a solid research base. As a researcher myself, I am in general agreement with this approach. However, the manner in which Not Just Numbers lays this basis is of great concern to me. The problem is that the panel puts the onus on researchers to develop proof of positive effects before regulations are developed and adopted. While this might be an appropriate standard of proof for use of prescription drugs, which can be carefully tested, this is an overly high standard of proof for immigration research. Some of the problems associated with research on immigration are lack of data, lack of clarity by policy makers and practitioners in identifying research goals, the long-term nature of integration, and continually changing social and economic conditions.

In terms of data, immigration researchers still have little or no data on the children of immigrants, the so-called second generation. Censuses and surveys do not allow identification of these individuals, yet these people are the people who might be expected to more fully integrate into Canadian society. While Section 4.3 notes that the Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB) will provide more complete information, this data base is not yet available to most researchers, and analysis of these new data sources will take time. Given this lack of appropriate data, it is unreasonable to base immigration policy on data that are only now being developed. Research on the long history of immigration shows that most immigrants or their children have integrated well into Canadian society, and it is not clear why there should be any change in this.

In Not Just Numbers, several priority research areas, such as sponsorship (Section 5.3) are identified. Each of these areas deserves further research and now that a research agenda has been identified, immigration researchers can begin work on these topics. But this research will take time, especially where the data are not yet available (see Section 4.3).

The long-term nature of integration and changing social and economic conditions make it difficult to make definitive conclusions concerning appropriate immigration procedures at any point in time. Consider my ancestors who were Pennsylvania-Germans who came to Upper Canada in the early 1800s, speaking German. They were farmers and for several generations until the First World War, continued to speak German. They were not very well integrated into the urban English speaking culture that emerged in Ontario. But they contributed to the development of Canada, provided agricultural products, and beginning in the 1940s, began to integrate into urban Canadian society. Now the descendants of the original Pennsylvania-Germans can be considered to be more or less fully integrated, active citizens of Canada. Exactly what conclusions a social survey or immigration researcher would have made concerning this group in 1870 is not clear. At best a researcher at that time might have considered this group of Pennsylvania-Germans to be oddities, with little chance of ever becoming active citizens. In a similar manner, current research on Eritrean-Canadians or Vietnamese-Canadians is not able to anticipate the likely path that these groups will follow in future years. It may be, for example, that in 2026 Samira Boutros, the Canadian Prime Minister, will welcome the return of the Brandon rink from the Olympics with a gold medal in women's curling - won by the team of Nguyen, Amani, Biryani, and Martinez.

7. Economic Immigration

This section contains a few miscellaneous observations on Chapter 6 of Not Just Numbers. First, while the point system is undoubtedly flawed, it does appear to have worked fairly well over a thirty year period. Before scrapping the current system and replacing it with a system that is considerably different, it would seem advisable to determine exactly how it should be revised. Several times in Not Just Numbers, immigration policy makers are urged to base new legislation on data and sound research. Yet when I read Section 6.5, I find a list of qualities for immigrants laid out, without any clear research base for this list. The items noted in Section 6.5 (ii) and (iii) constitute a plausible set of characteristics for immigrants, but there are other characteristics and lists that are just as reasonable. I would like to know how the authors of Not Just Numbers settled on these characteristics.

The notion of "personal suitability" is downgraded in Not Just Numbers (Chapter 6, p. 5), yet one of the main characteristics immigrants bring with them is the ability to apply themselves, be adaptable, and learn quickly - these may the real keys to success in terms of integration and contribution to Canada. In this context, a more general set of employability criteria (which the authors of Not Just Numbers seem to reject) could conceivably be more appropriate than the specific items proposed. In a world of rapidly changing technologies, downsizing, and shifts in production, specific labour market requirements can change very rapidly, and few forecasters are able to predict such changes. A system of screening with a general set of selection criteria may of greater advantage to Canada than the more specific criteria laid out in Recommendations 47 through 52.

As a further note, it is unfair to group skilled workers with entrepreneurs and investors (Section 6.5, p. 6, Official Language Ability). Unless there is a misprint, the data do not support the argument. According to this section, over half of entrepreneurs and investors are not familiar with an official language, whereas only 6 per cent of skilled workers have no such knowledge. Surely these numbers negate the argument made here. But, more importantly, there is a basic difference between the two categories. The entrepreneur and investor categories are of fairly recent invention, have been controversial, have not worked well, and are not in the best interests of the whole country. The establishment of these categories may have originally been viewed as a way of getting some quick money - a foolish hope for national policy. In contrast, the skilled worker category has been a cornerstone of immigration policy since 1967, was an essential feature of immigration for the last thirty years, helped make Canadian immigration policy less discriminatory, and generally has served Canada well.

8. Conclusion

In summary, there is much useful information and many worthwhile recommendations in Not Just Numbers. There are also a considerable number of recommendations that, as I have pointed out, need some more clarification and consideration. In general, I support the view that immigration policy should be based on solid research. But at the same time, much of the data and research are not yet available. As a result, I encourage policy makers to move cautiously, and urge them not to assume that they know what the research will conclude before the research has been conducted.

There are many ways in which Canada's immigration policy can be improved. Listening only to those who look on immigration as a problem will not improve it. It is also necessary to talk to Canadians from a wide variety of backgrounds and to immigrants, to listen to those who work with immigrants, and to continue to adopt an expansive and progressive view of what Canada is and can become. It is encouraging to know that the federal government is holding these hearings and I trust that an improved immigration policy will emerge - on that will better serve the country as a whole.

Paul Gingrich
March 2, 1998

Regina Open Door Society
1855 Smith Street
Regina, Saskatchewan, S4P 2N5

Department of Sociology and Social Studies
University of Regina
Regina, Saskatchewan
S4S 0A2

Telephone: 306-585-4196
Fax: 306-585-4815

Note: This paper was prepared for presentation to the Public Consultations on Legislative Review in Winnipeg on March 2, 1998. A snow storm prevented the representatives of the Regina Open Door Society from attending these consultations and the paper was sent to Ottawa as a written brief.

Last edited on March 2, 1998.