The Gauntlet

Do human rights stop at our border?

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Even if you don't count Victoria's untreated sewage, there has been a lot washing up on the British Columbia coast lately. Like boatload after leaky boatload of Chinese would-be immigrants. It's beginning to become a bit of an issue.

The problem isn't that people want to come to Canada. The leaky boats aren't so great, but they're not the problem either. And if you said that the problem is that it focuses too much media attention away from Monica Lewinsky, you need to get your head checked. The problem is that these are people essentially circumventing the system and jumping the immigration queue. Most of the Chinese boat people have been trying to claim refugee status. Very few are likely to ultimately qualify. But in most cases, they are given a slip of paper telling them to report back at some future date for a hearing on their claim. Then they are released. When you consider that at a future hearing most of the claimants will likely be deported, it should perhaps not be surprising that most of them go AWOL and disappear.

There have been several proposals intended to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. One that was printed last week in this paper was for Canada to give China enough foreign aid that nobody would want to leave. Hello out there! There are over one billion Chinese. There is no way that Canada could ever invest enough money to pull that one off. No matter how you stack it, it is unlikely that China's standard of living will surpass Canada's any time soon. So scratch that solution.

Preston Manning suggested that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should not apply to such immigrants. This only shows how little he appreciates the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Charter. The Charter wasn't meant to give rights to people; it was meant to recognize the rights that they inherently possess. Ergo their status as rights. Selective application of rights such as life, liberty, and security would not make Canada the kind of place I'd want to live in. I can go to East Timor to get that.

While there don't seem to be any cure-alls out there, there are a couple of things that could be done to get things running better. The immigration process could be sped up and streamlined, for example. By cutting down the number of appeals and investing a little more money, the Immigration and Refugee Board could get through its backlog and expedite the whole process. That way you wouldn't get people going AWOL for six months before anyone realizes they're gone and no longer available for deportation.

There's clearly more work to be done on the diplomatic front, too. Much of the problem could be resolved on the Asian side of the Pacific if the Chinese government would crack down on the snakeheads who enrich themselves by shipping the masses. Canada needs to raise a bigger diplomatic stink than it has so far. That way, the Chinese government might actually do something to stop the problem. A novel concept, I know.

The very fact that we even have to deal with this issue should be seen as a hearty endorsement of Canada and its citizens' way of life. Things are so good here that people are willing to risk their lives by signing on to perilous Pacific voyages with amoral people-smugglers to get here. So I guess we can pat ourselves on the back, just as soon as we take care of this illegal immigration problem.