Canada’s own immigration ban

Canada is trying to be an example for the world by welcoming refugees, but its doors are still not open to Roma.

While the world is outraged, and rightly so, by recent policies south of its border, we are quick to forget that not too long ago the Canadian government imposed its own ban of sorts, one that aimed to restrict entry into the country of a specific group of people fleeing persecution.

It did so on the premise that these people were “bogus refugees” undeserving of Canada’s protection and explicitly targeted them as “criminals”.

Earlier this month, Anthony Housefather, Member of Parliament for Mount Royal delivered a poignant speech during the emergency debate on the executive order signed by United States President Donald Trump to ban refugees and immigrants of Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

Housefather shed light on Canada’s own issues of xenophobia and the politics of fear. From the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the rejection of Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis, he cited example after example of the darker side of Canada’s past.

Immigration to Canada

And although these historic examples rung strong and true, where was mention of the more recent instances of injustice and discrimination in Canadian immigration policy?

In 2013, financed with Canadian taxpayer money, the government initiated a billboard campaign in the predominant countries of origin of Roma claimants.

It sought to deliberately deter Roma from seeking asylum in Canada, stating that “people who make a [refugee] claim without sound reasons will be processed faster and deported faster.”

The billboards were placed in countries such as Hungary, a country which is still listed as “safe” under the current government.

Until the federal court deemed it unconstitutional in 2015, refugee claimants from the Designated Country of Origin (DCO) list were denied their right to appeal in cases of rejection, so as to avoid “abuse” of the system.

The Conservative government’s policy and rhetoric targeting Roma asylum seekers as “bogus and fraudulent refugees “undeserving of Canada’s protection” were not only effective in blocking Roma from entering the country.

They also served to embed in Canadian media and political discourse the very stereotypes and hate Roma were seeking to flee in their countries of origin.

In this climate of animosity and hostile attitudes towards Roma, many Roma refugee claimants were being taken advantage of by their legal representatives and subjected to biased decision-making at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Despite increasing refugee acceptance numbers under the current administration, Canadian authorities continue to practise racial profiling against Roma. In 2015, dozens of Hungarian Roma with valid travel documents were prevented from boarding flights to Canada for allegedly lacking proper documentation to enter the country due to their Roma ethnicity. Read More: aljazeera

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