immigration

What Would Happen If Canada Shut Its Borders?

We’d be screwed without immigrants.

by Manisha Krishnan
10 February 2017, 5:00am

Illustration by Jane Kim

Just two days after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, six Muslim worshippers at a Quebec City mosque were shot dead.

The alleged killer, Alexandre Bissonnette has been described as a xenophobic, right-wing troll. The response has been righteously furious. Thousands of Torontonians rallied outside the US Consulate Saturday, and in the days since, more than 4,000 people joined the newly-founded Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia, a group that says it wants immigration reform in Canada. Among its demands:

  • Open the Canadian border to refugees and immigrants being rejected by the US
  • Canada scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement which says that refugees can either claim asylum in Canada or the US, but not both
  • Stop the detention of immigrants
  • Grant pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

Seemingly in response to Trump's Muslim ban, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted "those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you." However, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen later said Canada will not be increasing its refugee quotas for the time being.

As it stands, Canada accepts around 250,000 immigrants per year, with the goal of taking in 300,000 in 2017. By 2036, immigrants could make up a third of Canada's population, according to Statistics Canada, and half the population is expected to be either an immigrant or a child of an immigrant.

Graphic by Jane Kim

Not everyone is happy with Canada's fairly open immigration policy, however. Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch said she is in favour of screening immigrants for "Canadian values" and of abandoning immigration quotas.

But what would actually happen if Canada shut down immigration outright? VICE reached out to a bunch of experts to ask what the fallout of such a decision would be.

We'd die off

Canada's population was at 35,151,728 in 2016, according to Statistics Canada, an increase of 5 percent from 2011, with two-thirds of that coming from immigration and one-third coming from fertility. With Canada's birth rate at 1.6 kids per woman (the replacement rate is 2.1), we're no longer making enough babies to replenish our population. If we stopped immigration, we would literally start to die off as a population, which would lead to a whole host of problems, such as:

Economy will tank

"Immigrants are the economically active part of the population," said Arne Ruckert, a researcher at the University of Ottawa's Institute of Population, pointing out that many immigrants are in the 19-45 age range, who contribute to the work force. Without them, " the economy would essentially come to a standstill or decline."

Ruckert, who moved to Canada from Germany in 2002, said Canada's GDP with decrease 2 percent if we ceased immigration for just one year. (There are about 500,000 temporary foreign workers here at any given time.) Certain careers, including nursing, domestic work, technology, and low-wage, precarious jobs particularly rely on immigrants.

"Canada just does not produce enough graduates in certain areas."

Immigration also makes it easier to facilitate trade with other countries and garner foreign investment.

"We'll actually need more immigration than today," Ruckert noted. "If we don't have it, we'll simply have an economic collapse like they have in Japan."

Read more: Could Americans Claim Refugee Status in Canada Due to the Trump Presidency?

Cuts to social assistance

Because we would have fewer workers in the labour market, there would be less money going towards social welfare programs like pensions, health care, and employment insurance, said Phil Triadafilopoulos, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

"There'd be a lot of stress on our social welfare system," he said. "The money that would be put into the system would be to pay for an increasing number of older people."

Retired folks require more support for medical and at home care, and without immigrants, we would fail to meet those demands.

More racism, isolation, and violence

Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Refugees, told VICE shutting our borders would hurt immigrants already here with family overseas.

"Refugee families often don't have an opportunity to make plans and often times families are separated. How do you manage through the kind of trauma that shutting the borders would cause, especially if you're family is in places where they're not safe," she said.

While Canada's view of itself as a "cultural mosaic" is an oversimplified cliche, Triadafilopoulos said stopping immigration in a country like ours would send a clear and negative message: "you're saying something's wrong with immigration which means you're saying something's wrong with immigrants."

He points out the fear and uncertainty that immigrants in the US are experiencing under Trump, with many expressing that it's the first time they've felt unwelcome.

"It emboldens people. It sends a message that being a racist or a bigot is acceptable because the person who has the highest office in the land goes on this way."

Douglas said there is already a growing sentiment of Islamophobia, and some immigrants are seen as "more deserving" than others. Leitch's vetting for values proposal is emblematic of that, she said, but cutting off immigration entirely would worsen the racial tension.

"I can very much see it growing social incohesion, which often leads to violence."

Innovation and culture would suffer

Immigrants make up 40 percent of academic chairs in Canada, said Rucker, and without them we'd see a massive decline in innovation.

In terms of culture, immigrants win a disproportionate number of literary and arts prizes, according to the Conference Board of Canada, accounting for 23 percent of Giller Prize finalists and 29 percent of winners. As well, immigrants make up 23 percent of Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.

While Canada typically performs lower than other rich nations when it comes to innovation, it can make up for that by bringing in highly educated immigrants.

Plus, our cities and towns (Toronto's population is 50 percent immigrants) would straight up be more boring without the shops and restaurants that come with diversity.

Other countries would be like 'WTF'

Nipa Banerjee, a University of Ottawa professor at the School of International Development, said Canada is admired around the world for its perceived diversity.

"The impression that people have is that Canada is a very open country, their values are to be cherished," said Banerjee, who often travels for work. "They bring up the subject of our prime minister who is looked up on as a person who is very humanitarian, a people's person."

She said we only need to look to America's plummeting reputation in light of Trump to see what would happen here.

Triadafilopoulos said Canada has remained pro-immigration, despite growing resentment in places like Europe and the US, so barring it would cause other countries to "be wondering what the hell is going on."

"It would signal something has gone sideways in our political system," he said. "It would feed into this trend and be the final exclamation point."

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