Sun Sea Welcome

“Queue-jumpers!… unfair to those who have applied and waited patiently to come to Canada!… illegals!… human smuggling!… why should we have to pay for these people!… why do we allow these people to come into Canada without following the rules!… it has to Stop!”

So go some of the many voices of anger raised stridently against our newly arrived MV Sun Sea refugees.

But the unassailable fact is this: while their departure was clandestine, as you might expect when escaping persecution, their arrival was not, and they most certainly were not even attempted to be “smuggled” into Canada. They sailed directly to a legal port of entry in broad daylight and the full spotlight of the public press, and were compliantly escorted to a berth. We even knew for weeks they were coming. Not much of a smuggling operation.

Not only was there nothing secret or evasive about their arrival, it was consistent with correct protocol for entering Canada – though usually a private vessel isn’t met at sea. The usual practice is to berth while her master reports the arrival to the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), all others remaining on board until receiving authorization from CBSA to disembark, which they did.

Similarly, while there may be some issues regarding paperwork – and it’s not unreasonable that people fleeing a government that they contend is persecuting them haven’t been supplied “proper” travel documents by that government – there was no illegal entry. Again, they sailed straight into a legal port of entry, and at their first opportunity correctly presented themselves – just as any legitimate international traveler would and must do. There was no “not following the rules” here.

But, more importantly, there is simply no way for people outside of the country to apply to come as refugees. The process is, in fact, that such claims must be made in-country and are otherwise typically rejected out-of-hand. The rules are that they have to get here to make the claim, and, oddly, if in going through the usual channels we think they might make such a claim when they get here, we stop them from coming. So, far from “breaking the law” or “not following the rules,” they were in fact following the rules precisely the way they’re designed, and in full compliance with Canadian and international law.

And, as refugees, there is, simply, no queue to jump. There is no refugee quota, no refugee queue! How do you put a quota on desperate need? Refugee claims are not part of the normal immigration process. By definition, refugees are in fear of their lives or safety; their need is urgent and not at all consistent with a bureaucratic immigration process unfolding over years. Refugee claims are entirely separate and distinct from the normal immigration process; they do not affect that “queue” or quota, and take nothing away from other people involved in that process. There is no “queue jumping” here.

And then there’s the cost. The undercurrent of discontent here seems to be that helping “these people” is a waste of money that we should better be spending on “our own people.”

The facts again differ. If “these people” run true to form, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t, once they get a leg-up in Canada they will in fact be our own people, becoming full and energetic partners in the Canadian adventure. They will get jobs, they will even make jobs, and on balance they will return more to this country than any initial assistance we provide to them. It’s an old story, tried and true; it’s the story of Canada.

We accept without hesitation our government’s current pledge of “an additional” $31 million for flood relief in Pakistan. We proudly point to millions upon millions of dollars of earthquake relief in Haiti, or tsunami relief in Indonesia and similar disasters around the world, and billions of dollars around the world on on-going foreign aid projects. But we get all pinch-faced and snarly about spending a few dollars to help a small band of people fleeing a country that has just spent more than a quarter of a century embroiled in a vicious and violent civil war, where atrocity, abuse, and terror were weapons wielded by both sides, where, though the war is over, the reasons behind it remain and people even now live in fear.

It’s one thing, apparently, to be needy far away, but to be needy at our very door is outrageously ill-mannered, even downright rude, and just “has to stop!” I think Canada is better than this. And if we’re not, we need to be.

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