Limits of multiculturalism


Immigration: Success?
Syrian Refugee Initiative
Multiculturalism Today
Limits of multiculturalism
Aboriginal Peoples' Past
Aboriginal Rights Today

The limits of Canada’s model of multiculturalism and integration


  • A pragmatic approach based on national self-interest and economic prosperity

To borrow the terms of a recent New York Times article, the Canadian model is “ruthlessly rational” (Tepperman 2017). Its main priority is national self-interest. Economic prosperity of the country is at the core of the model: “immigration under Canada’s skilled worker point system (…) is a cold calculation based on domestic economic requirements with little consideration for humanitarianism” (Khan 2017). 79% of Canadians think that Canada’s immigration and refugees policies should give priority to Canada’s own economic and workforce needs, while only 21% think it should give priority to people “in crisis” abroad (Angus Reid Institute October 2016). The government recently announced that Canada would admit nearly 1 million immigrants over next 3 years. However, the economic class will make up about 60% of the newcomers; the Canadian Council of Refugees has deplored the fact that the share for refugees was only increased slightly from 13% in 2017 to 14% in each of the next three years (Harris 2017). But even refugees are chosen with future economic prosperity in mind. Canada’s choice to primarily target Syrian families for the resettlement was a “generational investment” (Kantor and Einhorn 2017). Almost 50% of the Syrian refugees resettled in Canada are children under the age of 18, from large, uneducated families, primarily farmers. While the parents may find it hard to adapt to Canadian society, the children will benefit from the Canadian school system, a system geared toward the integration of immigrant children, where language acquisition and social integration are emphasized (Friesen 2017). The same thing happened in the late 1970s, when Vietnamese “boat people” were resettled in Canada. One former immigration officer from that period remarked that choosing which refugees to take in was best done by looking at the task “as an investment in the future”. In the same way, the 2016 Syrian refugees were chosen “as a generational investment” (Harper 2015).



Angus Reid Institute. 2016. “What makes us Canadian? A study of values, beliefs, priorities and identity”. 3 October.

Friesen, Joe. 2017. “Syrian exodus to Canada: One year later, a look at who the refugees are and where they went”. The Globe and Mail, 5 January.

Harper, Tim. 2015. “Refugees as a long-term investment in the country.” Toronto Star, 11 November.

Harris Kathleen, Chris Hall and Peter Zimonjic. 2017 “Canada to admit nearly 1 million immigrants over next 3 years. CBC News. 1 November.

Kantor, Jodi and Catrin Einhorn. 2017. “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13’.” New York Times, 25 March.

Khan, Adnan. 2017. “Canada’s immigration system is no kinder than America’s”. Maclean’s, 11 August.

Tepperman, Jonathan. 2017. “Canada’s Ruthlessly Smart Immigration Policy”. The New York Times, 28 June.


  • Official refugees versus irregular asylum-seekers: the double standards of Canadian generosity

Irregular asylum-seekers, who apply for protection in Canada after arriving on Canadian soil, most of the time illegally, receive a much colder welcome than legal immigrants and refugees who apply and are processed abroad. Since January 2017, when US President Trump signed several executive orders that restricted the rights of immigrants and refugees, in particular access to asylum, Canada has had to deal with an increasing number of asylum-seekers who fear being turned away by the United States and illegally cross the border to Canada.


Refugee Protection Claims referred to the Refugee Protection Division














Source: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). 2018. Refugee Protection Claims Statistics.


This table shows that the trend towards an increase of asylum claimants in fact predates Trump's election. It's important also to note the gap between the number of claims deferred and the number of claims accepted by Canada. Note also the very high number of claims pending in the following table. All this points to the fact that the issue of asylum claimants is a far more difficult one for Canada than that of planned immigration.

Complete data with lists of countries of origin on


 Refugee Claims by Country of Alleged Persecution 2018
















** All claims, referred between December 15, 2012 and December 31, 2018, that have not been finalized.



At first the Liberal government seemed willing to take in asylum-seekers turned away from the United States. PM Trudeau tweeted that Canada would welcome those “fleeing persecution, terror and war, regardless of your faith” (Trudeau, 28 January 2017).


But he was later forced to backtrack on his January tweet. In August 2017, he stated that: “Canada is an opening and welcoming society (…). But let me be clear. We are also a country of laws. Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage. There are rigorous immigration and customs rules that will be followed. Make no mistake.”


Source: Lampert, Allison. 2017. “Canada’s Trudeau warns against entering country ‘irregularly’.” Reuters. 20 August.


Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency launched an aggressive Twitter campaign to dispel the false information about refugee status in Canada.


The Liberal government’s backtracking was no doubt in part the consequence of Canadians’ negative view of asylum-seekers who cross illegally from the US into Canada. An April 2017 poll revealed that Canadians were more likely to say their country should be “concerned about the threat posed by these arrivals” (37%) than “focused on the opportunity to help” them (24%). 52% of the respondents thought that available resources should mostly be used on border monitoring and security rather than on assisting the arrivals (25%). To the question: “It’s not fair that people can cross into Canada illegally and apply for refugee status here”, 72% agreed and 28% disagreed.


Source: Angus Reid Institute. 2017. “Canadians prioritize border security over aid to those crossing illegally”. 10 April.


angus reid institute border angus reid border survey angus reid border survey




Some militant associations and academics point out that Canada, a settler-colonial state that was created by destroying indigenous populations, purses the same politics of discrimination and exploitation towards immigrants. For example, Jen Bagelman, a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Exeter and a specialist of the sanctuary movement (through which cities choose not to cooperate with state authorities in enforcing immigration laws), referred to “indigenous peoples whose lands were stolen by the very colonial powers that bomb today and then fail to unconditionally welcome the refugees it produces tomorrow”.

Bagelman, Jennifer. 2015. “Foucault & the “Current” Refugee Crisis”. Open Democracy. 13 November.


Nonetheless, it is important to remember that the immigration policy of the present government of Canada does conform to the long Liberal tradition that has built a relatively generous immigration and integration system since the 1960s, although admittedly for pragmatic reasons, rather than pure humanitarianism.


We can note, for example, the fact that although it will not throw the border with the United States wide open, the present Liberal government is making an effort to reduce popular prejudices against irregular asylum-seekers. Instead of leading the charge that they are “queue jumpers” who take the place of more deserving and disciplined refugees, as the Conservatives did, the present government created a page on the IRCC website to dispel this “myth”.