Imagine, No Countries…

Posted on February 8, 2011


One fairly prominent deficiency of this blog is its limited perspective. I am a white, educated, upper middle-class dude who has spent his entire life to this point dealing mostly with other white, upper middle-class people. This means that there are issues that I cannot hope to fully understand, and if I ever forget that fact and pontificate on something which is neither my expertise nor my business I invite you, dear reader, to call me out on it in the harshest possible terms.

For this particular post, however, I am going to take some advantage of this limited perspective. Given that I and most of my friends share the same limited Western perspective, and that most of the readers of this blog are probably my friends, I am going to make a slight logical leap and assume that many of this blog’s readers share my limited perspective. If you are reading this and you happen to be more worldly than me, then I apologize for the assumption. At any rate, I am going to employ a little hypothetical scenario that I think is particularly potent when applied to those who, like me, are probably blind to some of their privilege.

Imagine that you commit a few petty crimes. Nothing big; just the kind of stuff that most of us get away with in high school. Now imagine that you are caught for a few of these minor infractions, and receive some minor sanctions as a result. You come to your senses after a few years of this unwise but largely non-injurious behaviour, and leave that phase of your life behind to become a productive, functional member of society.

Then then government decides to forcibly send you to Chile.

I can say with confidence that if this happened to me, I would be incredibly confused and angry. I would probably use the words “cruel and unusual punishment” to describe it. And yet, while this treatment is certainly cruel, it is far from unusual. It is currently happening to one lifelong resident of Montreal

Victor Morales has lived in Montreal for 32 years, and is the father of three Canadian kids. Yet when the Chilean-born musician, who is the primary caregiver for his terminally ill Canadian mom, applied for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) rejected his application, citing petty crimes the Montrealer committed years ago. He now faces deportation to Chile, a country he has never once visited since he was six years old, when his family fled the terror of the Pinochet regime and were accepted as refugees to Canada.

This is not the only case like this in recent memory. Daniel Garcia, a gay Mexican teenager who fled to Toronto to avoid homophobic violence, was left to navigate the legal labyrinth of the refugee process all by himself, and when he failed to succeed, was deported back to Mexico and to the prospect of more violence.

And let’s not forget our government’s morally bankrupt attitude towards the Tamil refugees arriving on our Pacific coast aboard the MV Sun Sea. Those people, including women and children, are now sitting in jail for the audacious crime of fleeing from a war zone without first visiting a Canadian Consulate and waiting months to be turned down for a visa.

All of these horrendous decisions have been justified on the grounds that the affected parties are not from Canada. Rather than being allowed to have the slate wiped clean after serving his punishment for his petty infractions, Victor Morales is having his whole life forcibly uprooted and being sent to somewhere he has never called home, because on paper he is Chilean. Daniel Garcia is being removed from a promising future in Canada and sent back to face possible violence because he happens to have come from a different country. And the refugees who arrived on our shores this summer were imprisoned because their nationality and skin colour made them a prime target for the conservatives’ demagoguery about terrorism.

The obvious problem here is that nationality is not an ethically relevant consideration. Whether or not a person has an expensive little booklet with the Queen’s signature in it makes absolutely no difference to the degree to which they deserve a livelihood with security, dignity, and self-determination. This should be obvious. And yet any xenophobes who read this post will probably brush it off with the knee-jerk statement along the lines of “they are not my problem”. Despite the fact that such a statement would instantly lose somebody all their friends if it was made about a Canadian who was being unfairly targeted for physical or economic violence, it is considered alright if the person was born on the other side of an imaginary line.

It is up to the xenophobes, including those in our current conservative government, to justify the importance of said imaginary line and expensive booklet. I don’t think they can to anybody’s satisfaction but their own. Nationality makes an excellent way to divide people and diffuse empathy when it is politically expedient to do so, but it has never had any actual ethical value. Nations and citizenships and elaborate permissions to move about in the world are all things we made up-nothing real will be harmed if they are disregarded. The violence, deprivation, and other forms of physical pain that are faced by the foreigners we abuse every day, however, are real.

This should be an election issue. The Conservatives have already made it abundantly clear that they intend to stoke the flames of toxic nationalism in order to rally their base, so the more sensible two thirds of the country should have nothing to lose by vying for the different kind of immigration reform. Going into a spring election campaign, opposition leaders should consider providing an alternative, so that Canadian society is no longer culpable for crimes like the three listed above.