What should new arrivals know?


Cover detail of Canada’s new guide for immigrants.

Immigration is certainly back in the news. Politicians, analysts and voters wrestle over what to do with people who enter a country in violation of proper procedure. Tighten borders? Deportation? Guest worker program? Amnesty?

Even for applicants who closely following legal requirements, debate continues about which categories should be welcomed and invited in. (More or less family reunification? More or less targeting of skilled applicants?)

By the way,  just as I wrote this post, I noted that the Associated Press has changed its style guide for common language on this issue. “Illegal alien” is to be avoided.

…use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Not everyone is happy about the wording shift. I get the problem. I just wish the solution was less unwieldy, prose-wise.

Compared to the U.S., Canada is practically empty. Canada is the second largest country on earth (after Russia) but ranks 35th in terms of population, with just 35 million people. The U.S. ranks third in land area and population, with 315.6 million. (Wikipedia figures).

Not surprisingly, Canada actively courts immigrants. But even people-hungry nations won’t accept just anyone.

Canada typically uses a point system, favoring factors like language proficiency, age, education, skills and employment experience. I wish I could link to one specific site that summarized the point spread, but it’s in flux at the moment with changes set to take effect this May. CBC has an interactive “would you qualify?” quiz based on 2012 standards.

A guide for new immigrants was released in Canada this past week. This version of “Welcome to Canada” replaced the inaugural such booklet, which came out in 2007.

Naturally, curious minds wonder what officials think new arrivals should know. As reported in the National Post it reads as:

… a new guide for immigrants just arriving in Canada that emphasizes the country’s relationship with the Queen of England, the role of the Canadian Forces and the marriage customs that newcomers should consider forbidden.

Topics singled out for specific mention included: marriage fraud and human smuggling (both under heightened government scrutiny).

Some immigrants to Canada grew up in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Some hail from countries that recognize polygamy. Coming from those cultural norms, it must seem as if gender and sexual politics are flipped in Canada, as seen in these “Welcome to Canada” snippets:

(page 35) Our laws protect all Canadians, including gays and lesbians, from unjust discrimination. All Canadians enjoy the same access to education, health care, jobs, housing, social services and pensions, regardless of their sexual orientation. In 2005, Parliament passed a law extending the right to civil marriage to same-sex couples. At the same time, the law protects religious freedom, so that no person or organization can be forced to act contrary to their conscience, religion or beliefs in respect of marriage.

That is closely followed by this:

(page 36) Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender- based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.

More on marriage:

(page 44) Marriage is a fundamental institution in Canada, the foundation of family life for many Canadians, and one of the basic constituents of a strong and prosperous society. In Canada, there are laws against being married to more than one person at a time. You cannot come to Canada with more than one spouse even if you were married to more than one person in the past.

The laws also prohibit you from marrying someone in Canada if one of you is already married. It does not matter where or when that marriage took place. In Canada, you can only remarry if you are legally divorced or if your spouse has died.

According to longstanding moral principles, which are codified in Canadian law, it is illegal to force anyone into marriage in Canada. A father or brother cannot force his daughter or sister to marry against her will. Women who are pressured into marriage should contact public authorities such as the police, who will protect them.

Clearly, Canada can – and should – establish its own laws and standards. As set forth in this booklet.

But – just to play devil’s advocate – some of the things listed above present interesting questions in terms of cultural norms.

Marriage is presented as a “fundamental institution” – even though marriage rates across Canada are at historic lows and marriage seems almost passé in Quebec. Or consider circumcision. Carving up female genitals is 100% bad – as proven by the use of strong language: “barbaric”, “mutilation”. Rightfully prohibited by the state. But all that male circumcision, totally common in the west? Well, that’s either a non-issue or a private decision.

Please know I am not saying “bully for female genital mutilation!” or “we must ban all male circumcision!”. I simply find it interesting what cultures accept – or reject – as settled issues, without being terribly open to thinking about their own inherited customs. ‘Our’ ways are normal and proper. ‘Your’ ways might be strange or uncivilized. (C’est la vie.)

I fall into the New Canadian club, having waded through this process myself while becoming a dual-national some years back. Personally, I’d give the new “Welcome to Canada” guide a grade of  “B”.

Yes, I can quibble with a few sections. But no guide will satisfy every reader. It seems well-intended and stands as a fairly reasonable effort.

Allow me to heap special praise on page 32, highlighting libraries as treasure troves open to all comers:

Public libraries are an excellent source of free information for newcomers. Most offer Internet access and a variety of resources on many different topics. Many libraries also have book and newspaper collections in a variety of world languages. Staff can help you find the information you need. Some libraries have settlement workers who offer a range of services specifically to assist newcomers. For a list of local libraries, look in the Blue Pages or search the Internet.

The U.S. has a “Welcome to the United States” guidebook too, available in 14 languages. (Thankfully, I aced those qualifications at birth.)

Do you think your country still needs new immigrants? If you were designing the admission program, what would your standards be?

Tags: , , ,

1 Comment on “What should new arrivals know?”

  1. just say no says:

    hmmm, nothing about parking 15 cars on your front lawn, or throwing mcdonald’s happy meal remains into the street when preparing the car seat for baby, dropping one’s transmission in the street and performing autoshop car repair in the public street, moving the cars on the lawn to both sides of a narrow street when it snows so the snow plow has no conceivable way of making down the road, cutting down every tree in the yard in fear the jungle has followed them here and will swallow them alive……………..a lot left off that list…

Comments are closed.