How to debate immigration without distorting facts and foes

October 1, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

Canada is one of the few advanced countries that can’t seem to hold an authentic public discussion about immigration policy.

Canadian boosters of high immigration and those who oppose it are mutually contemptuous. Their verbal boxing matches are dominated by sloganeering and name-calling.

If Ottawa is ever going to take seriously public opinion to fine-tune its immigration policies, the combatants need to follow a few rules. They may need a referee, who acts fairly when others are losing their heads.

Andrew Griffith may not realize it, but he has just stepped forward to be the mediator between those who advocate more open borders and those who seek greater restrictions.

The high-level Immigration Department official, who has helped draw up the country’s citizenship policies, took early retirement to undergo cancer treatment.

But his time away from the bureaucracy has inspired him to write books and a compelling essay just published by the journal Policy Options, titled, “How to debate immigration policy in Canada.”

I’ve experienced Griffith’s diplomat-like poise. Occasionally, I’ve tried to get him to air stronger opinions, yet he doesn’t take the bait. He’s committed to even-handedness.

But he’s also realistic. To use an edgier phrase than he might, Griffith realizes Canadians are pretty pitiful at openly discussing immigration issues.

Like others, Griffith suggests fear of being labelled xenophobic is the over-riding contributor to Canadians’ unusual silence on mass migration, which has arguably defined this country more than any other.

It doesn’t help the cause of dialogue that almost no politician, and few academics, will critique how Canada’s approach to the complexities of immigration affects the host society.

As Simon Fraser University’s Sanjay Jeram recently said, Canada needs politicians, and the public, to more thoroughly air varied views on how migration impacts economic issues, especially salaries, housing prices, rental costs, traffic congestion and the social-safety net.

Before explaining Griffith’s incisive guidelines for how to fight fairly, it’s worth mentioning the source of Canadians’ too-hot-to-handle avoidance of immigration issues.

In the 1990s, I assumed people who complained about political correctness were mostly just opposed to social-justice causes. But, increasingly, even the left wing has grown frustrated by PC over-protectiveness.

A recent Angus Reid poll found seven in 10 Canadians say political correctness has “gone too far,” leading them to routinely self-censor. That’s higher than even in the U.S.

Four of five Canadians, especially millennials, also agree: “These days it seems like you can’t say anything without someone’s feelings being offended.”

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