Against the racialization of everything

Race, as I and many other academics never tire of reminding people, is a social construct. Many people who say this, however, do so in a perfunctory manner, before going on to treat it as though it were a natural kind, eternal and unchangeable. For me, the point of emphasizing the “constructedness” of race is to emphasize that is it not an inevitable social category. It is a particular way that many people have of framing certain aspects of individual identity and social interaction. It is, however, not the only, and not a necessary way, of framing things. Thus it always makes sense to ask, in any particular circumstance, whether race is the best way of framing an issue. The question is whether race, as a category, is really getting at what’s important in a given situation.

This question has particular salience at the moment, because many social justice advocates in Canada have been pushing fairly hard for a number of social problems that were traditionally framed in terms of immigration and ethnicity (and multiculturalism) to be reframed in terms of race (and anti-discrimination).… Continue reading

Canadian exceptionalism

Between Jeremy Corbyn’s showing in the last U.K. election and Emmanuel Macron’s phenomenal sweep in France, there is grounds for optimism that the fever of right-wing populism is beginning to break. In part I think this is due to Donald Trump himself, who is such a perfect specimen of the ugly American that his election and subsequent behaviour no doubt did considerable damage to the fortunes of populists in countries where voters would like to think of themselves as above the impulses that brought him to power. (This is, I suspect, an important part of the story in France.)

Just a few months ago, things were looking quite different. At that time, a fairly widespread discussion broke out over the seemingly anomalous circumstances that prevailed in Canada, where nativism seemed to be gaining no traction. The picture we all saw of a smiling Justin Trudeau greeting Syrian refugees at the airport was reprinted in newspapers around the world.… Continue reading

What the United States could learn from Canada on immigration policy

There are many countries around the world that have screwed up their immigration policy, in one way or another, creating the unfortunate combination of marginalized ethnic populations and nativist backlash. This can easily generate a vicious circle, in which the marginalization produces various social pathologies (e.g. unemployment, crime), which serve to rationalize many of the discriminatory attitudes driving the backlash, which in turn increases marginalization and exclusion, exacerbating the pathologies, and so on. There are lots of problems in Canada, but the one thing we have not done is screw up our immigration policy in this way. (Compare that to relations with First Nations, which we have screwed up, generating almost precisely the dynamic described above – with a few complicating factors).

Anyhow, whenever one of the countries out there who have screwed up their immigration policy look to Canada for some ideas about how to improve, the thing that they pick up on almost immediately is the points system that Canada uses to screen immigrants in certain classes.… Continue reading

Canadian Exceptionalism: The very idea

Has liberty moved north? Is Canada the last immigrant nation left standing?  Are we a bright light on a dark political stage?

The notion of “Canadian Exceptionalism” predates Brexit, Trump, Marine Le Pen, and the pretensions of Kellie Leitch. It goes back at least to 2012, when the Berkeley professor Irene Bloemraad published an article entitled Understanding ‘Canadian Exceptionalism’ in Immigration and Pluralism Policy, which juxtatposed “the widespread and increasing support of immigration among Canadian citizens with growing anti-immigrant sentiment and opposition to multicultural policies across Europe and the United States.” And our own Joe Heath has been workshopping a talk for a while now building on Bloemraad’s work.

So it’s not a new idea. But the basic thesis — that Canada seems to be unique in having built a stable, immigrant-driven multicultural society — has become more prevalent in the Trump/Brexit era, finding proponents both domestic and foreign.Continue reading

Sex education and the dilemmas of immigrant integration

Back when I lived in Montreal, there were about a dozen women in my neighbourhood – obviously recent immigrants – who had a strange hangup about dogs. Whenever I was out walking the dog, they would take great pains to avoid us, sometimes even crossing the street to walk on the other side. Once I came around a corner and startled one of these women, who when she saw the dog, literally screamed and ran away from us. At other times, if they were walking with their children, I would notice them covering their children’s eyes, so that they would not make eye contact with the dog.

Now I know there are some cultures where the thought of living with a dog is considered rather disgusting, but this seemed to go far beyond mere disgust, entering the realm of fear bordering on terror. So I asked a friend who studies this sort of thing what was up.… Continue reading

Are these really the Border Services we want?

It’s curious that complaints about the egregious behaviour of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) get so little traction. I wish there were a sophisticated, multi-faceted, complex explanation for this, but having watched the press on this for almost a decade, I think the explanation is pathetically straightforward: the CBSA deals mostly with foreigners. Sure, the Agency does a few bad things, a few human rights abuses and arbitrary exercises of power, but the broadly defined ‘we’ group is essentially willing to ignore this – or at least put up with this – in exchange for the sense of security that an armed border guard gives us.

Today, in my regular pursuit of near futile causes, I’d like to highlight just two things, to serve as a reminder that CBSA practices are quite far from the norm of what ‘we’ typically will tolerate from armed state officials and jailers in Canada.… Continue reading

A quiet loss for refugees

Today the Supreme Court of Canada handed down an important decision about refugee claimants with criminal records.

Obviously, that’s a tough sell. With so many people in the world whose basic human rights are not protected by their home states (about 15 million at last count), advocating for the tiny subset of refugees who have been convicted of a crime is not easy.

The arguments in their favour, however, are familiar to us, even though they come with an echo of a kinder and gentler time. There are two principal reasons why we forgive criminals: rehabilitation and atonement. That is, our criminal justice system echoes these two ideas at many levels. A commitment to rehabilitation means believing that people can change, and can return to being productive members of society. A commitment to atonement means that we embrace that idea that those who have ‘done their time’ or ‘paid their dues’ should be free to resume their place as members of society.… Continue reading

Identité: l’obligation de résultat du PLQ

Le gouvernement du Parti libéral a sagement décidé de ne pas déposer en catastrophe un projet de loi sur la laïcité ou la neutralité religieuse de l’État avant la fin de la dernière session parlementaire. La précipitation n’est pas de mise lorsqu’il est question d’enjeux aussi profonds et délicats. Cela étant dit, le gouvernement libéral a maintenant une obligation de résultat dans ce dossier.

Le Parti québécois est entièrement responsable du fiasco qu’a été son projet de Charte de la laïcité. Les problèmes et les risques inhérents à la démarche du PQ ont été identifiés dès que le projet de Charte a été coulé dans les médias. Il faut néanmoins admettre que l’attitude du gouvernement Charest eu égard aux questions identitaires a pavé la voie à l’approche populiste du PQ. On se rappellera que le PLQ a rapidement fait comprendre qu’il ne donnerait pas véritablement suite aux recommandations du Rapport Bouchard-Taylor et qu’il ne voulait pas approcher les questions liées à l’identité et à la place de la religion dans l’espace public avec une perche.… Continue reading

The Unholy Alliance Between Conservatives and Progressives

Daniel and I have been arguing for several years that one of the main reasons why the reaction against a liberal and pluralist political model of secularism is strong in Quebec is that an unlikely coalition between some progressives, including some feminists, and conservative or culturalist nationalists took shape in the course of our ongoing debate on religious accommodation (see here, p. 4). With regard to the controversies about the status of religion in the public sphere, Quebec appears to be closer to many Western European countries than to ROC. The French social scientist Olivier Roy just published a very powerful piece in the NYT showing how the European far right has been pushing for an “aggressive” form of secularism in order to defend against an alleged Islamic threat. It still pays lip service to the notion of a Christian Europe, but it now arguably uses the language of liberal secularism more than the language of culture and tradition.… Continue reading

Temporary Foreign Workers – Why Now?

I admit to being a bit surprised about how just how the temporary foreign worker program hit the front pages over recent weeks. For migration policy wonks, the myriad problems with temporary foreign worker programs are well known, and usually do not centre on putting citizen workers out of jobs.

I’ve been mulling it over and have come to the conclusion that the current uproar might even have been deliberately provoked to provide a politically palatable way to end to the most progressive aspect of the temporary foreign worker program.

Temporary foreign worker programs are not new. Canada has relied on temporary foreign workers off and on for much of the last century. Many other Western democracies have done the same.

The basic idea behind a temporary non-citizen worker program is to create a category of workers who have fewer rights than citizens or permanent residents. This framework ensures that the workers can be directed to particular employers or sectors, and can be compelled to leave when their work is finished.… Continue reading