Immigration could be a toxic issue in the upcoming October federal election.
Just the talk of anti-immigration by politicians is enough to trigger attacks on some of society’s most vulnerable members.
When presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigned against immigration, the effect was immediate. Thugs took to the streets. Hate crimes went up 20 per cent in Chicago, 50 per cent in Philadelphia, and 62 per cent in Washington DC. After Trump’s election, the hate crimes continued (hate crimes include attacks against all identifiable groups, not just immigrants.) According to a study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism from California State University, the effect persisted after the election with a 13 per cent increase in hate crimes across America’s ten largest cities.
The Conservatives are gearing up the anti-immigration issue. After the Parliamentary Budget Officer warned that asylum-seekers walking across the Canadian-U.S. border at “unauthorized points” could cost the federal government more than $1-billion over three years, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer immediately tweeted: “Parliamentary Budget Officer: Illegal border crossings cost Canadian taxpayers up to $34,000 per person.”
Scheer ramped up the talk further by saying he strongly opposed Mr. Trudeau’s intention to sign a UN agreement on a multinational approach to migration, saying – ominously but incorrectly – “it gives influence over Canada’s immigration to foreign entities.”
Frank Graves of EKOS and Michael Valpy from the University of Toronto wonder who’s buying this talk: “So why is this happening? For whom is Mr. Scheer beating the drum? (Globe and Mail, December 18, 2018).”
There has been a shift in public opinion on immigration, perhaps fuelled by anti-immigration anger in Europe and the U.S. and rage-about-everything on social media.
Frank and Valpy are puzzled: “On the suddenly inflammatory topic of immigration, Canada has become a paradox.”
In ordinary times, Canadians support immigration. But peel away the anti-immigration rhetoric and you find racism at its core. EKOS research indicates that on the surface, rationales are sensible. Canadians favour immigrants that arrive in an orderly fashion, as opposed to those who arrive unannounced at borders or walk across the border, by ten percent. Not a great difference when you consider the attention that border-crossers get. However, when researchers asked whether they’d prefer to live beside a white newcomer from Europe or brown or black newcomers from somewhere else, “the differences balloon to 200 to 300 percentage points.”
Conservatives tapped into this irrational fear of the other when they ran an ad depicting a black man walking toward the border with his suitcase on little wheels from the U.S. They withdrew the ad but the message lingers: dark-skinned immigrants are scary.
Will racism disguised as anti-immigration bring the Conservatives to power? They will have to tap into fear in supporters from other parties. As it now stands, 40 per cent of Canadians think there are too many visible minorities being admitted to Canada. Of those, 65 per cent identify as Conservative supporters, 20 per cent as New Democrats, and 13 per cent as Liberals.
Perhaps the Conservatives can recruit the fear-mongers organized on Facebook under the banner of “Yellow Vests Canada” which has 107,000 members.