With one exception in the last decade, Canada’s integration of immigrants and refugees has been the envy of the world. Policies help but stories sustain success.
One measure of policies is the Migrant Integration Policy Index. The index comes up with a score after considering eight factors: labour market mobility, family reunion, education, health, political participation, permanent residence, access to nationality, and anti-discrimination.
Canada’s score has been steadily rising since MIPEX started monitoring in 2006 except last year because of the Harper government. “Canada’s lower MIPEX score raises serious questions about the intentions and impact of the government’s new turn on immigration policies,” said Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group in Brussels.
In spite of the Harper Government, Canada has remained relatively successful. Canada ranks sixth out of 38 countries, compared to Australia (eighth), Sweden (first), U.S. (ninth), and Ireland (ninetieth).
Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement points to areas in need of improvement.
“On the question of whether Canadian citizenship and status is ‘secure from state arbitrariness,’ Canada scores a meagre 23 points, well below Australia, New Zealand, the United States or the European average,” says the director of the centre in the Toronto Star.
The stories we tell ourselves about the immigrant experience are more difficult to measure than policies but important nonetheless. Those stories form a self-fulfilling prophecy that promotes further integration of new Canadians into the fabric of society.
Kamloops city Councillor Arjun Singh told a meeting at city hall that his grandmother became a refugee after the partitioning of India in the 1940s. “I am looking forward in our community to welcoming people from Syria,” he said. “We’re going to be giving them their freedom … a real ability to start again,” Singh told News Kamloops.
As we successfully integrate more refugees and immigrants, the more those immigrants will tell their success stories. It’s the opposite of a vicious circle; it’s a virtuous circle.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city and son of immigrants, told one such compelling story to MacLeans magazine. He tells of a community forum on refugees he attended in which he expected a lot of anger. When a First Nations woman stood up, he thought she was going to point to all the problems that reserves face. Instead:
“What she actually said was, I need some help. Because I need to understand how and when they’re coming because I want to make sure, … we have an opportunity to have the elders there to drum them in and to do a smudge ceremony so we can welcome them to this land… I might have lost it at that point.”
Canada’s new Liberal government faces challenges in keeping us from slipping further. Canada’s MIPEX rating should improve with the 17 Indo Canadians MPs recently elected, five who wear turbans, one who is minster of defense. It will take time to repair the damage of the Harper years but as sure as day follows night, jubilant stories will keep the narrative alive.