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April 21, 2011

Why the "ethnic vote" must vote out Harper?

Scott Stockdale

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In a recent press release, leading immigration lawyers, practitioners and academics refuted the arguments of the Harper's Conservative Government that their policies have been favourable to new Canadians.

They noted that the Conservative Party has been telling visible minority immigrant communities, which it calls the "ethnic vote", that it is improving the immigration system. A review of their record shows the contrary.

The facts indicate that the Harper government has actually increased suffering for Canada's immigrants:

In 2006, 20,005 visas were issued for parents and grandparents. This year 11,500 will be issued, a reduction of 8,500 or over 42 per cent.

Meanwhile, the total processing time for these visas has increased by anywhere from nine to 30 months, depending on the visa post. This will only cause a greater backlog and even longer waiting times.

“New Canadians who hope to be reunited in Canada with their parents or grandparents, or who have any empathy for families that want to be reunited, should vote for another party,” according to the press release signed by a long list of academics, lawyers and other practitioners who specialize in immigration law and human rights.

And this is as result of the policies of the party which is constantly promoting itself as the protector of family values, and with some success – opinion polls have shown that Canadians see the Conservatives most favourably of the three leading political parties when it comes to family values.

However, it's become increasingly apparent that Harper's concern for family values does not include immigrant families.

Under the ruse that the government is targeting “marriage fraud,” every immigrant couple will face additional, harsher, longer and more invasive scrutiny as the Conservative government is proposing to make it harder for spouses to unite by introducing conditional visas for a period of two years from arrival in Canada.

If a visa officer denies a family sponsorship application, there will be a delay of several years before an appeal can be heard, further delaying family reunification.

And those who entered  marriages in good faith, may feel compelled to remain in potentially abusive relationships during the two year conditional period.

As the example of Kairos – a Christian church organization who's funding was canceled when International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda inserted the word “Not” in a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) document approving Kairos funding – indicates, the Harper government decides funding applications based on political considerations, providing funding to those groups that support it and denying funding to those that do not.

As a result, many well established groups that help immigrants settle in Canada have had their funding cut. And the cuts will continue.

In December, the Harper government cut $53 million from the 2011-12 budgets for programs that offer support and integration services for new Canadians. The Conservatives have also held back more than $200 million of promised settlement funding for Ontario during the last 5 years - before the cuts were made.

This is precisely the kind of ideologically driven policies that inflict additional hardship on the disadvantaged, while giving corporate tax breaks to the wealthy, that those who work in the immigration field are condemning.

In their press release they state:

As academics and lawyers and other practitioners who specialize in immigration law and human rights, we are firmly committed to basic Canadian values of equality and respect for all Canadians, regardless of country of origin. We believe that the rule of law should not be undermined by political ideology. We value the wealth and wisdom of our multi-cultural society and understand that we will thrive as a country by cultivating our common Canadian qualities and not by exploiting our differences for partisan gain.

Despite claims that the Conservative government cut the backlog of skilled workers, the backlog that was 487,000 in 2005 and is now 508,000. The overall backlog has grown by 173,000 on the Conservative’s watch. The lawyers and other immigration professionals who have to deal with this situation on a daily basis say what is actually being done to process any type of application remains a guessing game for many applicants.

In keeping with its scaremongering “tough on crime” stance, the Harper government promises to get tough on human smugglers, but its bill targets the refugees, not the smugglers. The bill will require mandatory detention of all persons who arrive by boat for one year – including women and children. Even legitimate refugees will be denied permanent residence and family reunification for five years, for no reason other than their mode of arrival. Moreover, while continuing to claim to be sympathetic to refugees who follow legal procedures, the Harper government just announced plans to cancel the only program allowing Canada to protect refugees from within their own countries.

If Harper – with a minority government - can make life this much more difficult for immigrants to Canada and their families, imagine what he will be able to do with a majority government.

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