In “Keeping ‘em Out: Gender, Race and Class Bias in Canadian Immigration Policy,” Yasmeen Abu-Laban explores raced and gendered aspects of Canadian immigration policy. She traces the history of immigration policy in Canada to show how it has changed over the years, and how it has stayed the same. Abu-Laban also explores the connections between immigration and the Canadian economy.

Abu-Laban discusses the idea of ‘substantive citizenship.’ Substantive citizenship refers to the level of equality of opportunities, quality of life, and participatory involvement within a state. For many new citizens, this substantive citizenship has not followed from formal citizenship. Abu-Laban writes, “In short, being a citizen is no guarantee of equality; real equality is hampered by inequities resulting from membership in stigmatized and minoritized groups.” An example of the attitudes that lead to exclusion from real participation in Canadian political life can be found in the actions of Ontario MP John MacDougall, who questioned Sunera Thobani’s ability to speak for Canadian women and characterized her as an ‘illegal immigrant’ (she is a legal citizen of Canada) when she became head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

The purpose of Canadian immigration policy is to exclude the majority of the world’s population from settling in Canada. Canadians are constantly hearing that our country is the greatest, the fairest, and the best place to live. And it is pretty good, but underlying this discourse of patriotism is the idea that other places in the world are not so good, and if we allow people from such places to enter our country it will be destroyed. Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, only immigrants who can easily be assimilated should be allowed into Canada. Multiculturalism is all well and good when one is looking for authentic ethnic food, but ultimately ‘they’ ought to become like ‘us’.

This may be an explanation of some of the gendered aspects of Canadian immigration policy. Because it is women who often do the work of sustaining culture, it is then desirable to keep immigrant women isolated and uneducated through a lack of language courses or to deny entrance in the first place, so that women cannot institute true multiculturalism.

Immigration policy has often been dictated by the needs of the economy. When the economy is booming, many workers are needed and immigration is opened to skilled workers. When extra labour is no longer needed, immigration is restricted. The different rules that apply to domestic workers (we let them in to do our dirty work, but don't give them a chance of staying) are an example of ways in which the concept of the ‘skilled worker’ is gendered.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, but it is too easily forgotten in a sea of white faces that the title to this land is not the white man’s birthright. The first illegal immigrants in this country were the European explorers who came to conquer a ‘new’ land, and the settlers who didn’t notice that this land was already occupied.

If Canada is ever to become as multicultural as we like to think we are, then an open and inclusive immigration policy must be enacted.

And gee.. it wouldn't hurt if we stopped discriminating against the only legal inhabitants of the land: the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

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