This isn’t satire.
One of the topics this site most frequently satirizes is the antipathy many people greet those who are attempting to move across international borders with. Specifically, I do this from an angle that pokes at the anger and fear with which some citizens of Western nations greet or discuss those who would join their countries to try to build a better life; or by deriding the brand of political leader – increasingly common in the world today – who attempts to inflame their voters’ distrust of others to fuel their own political ambitions.
Occasionally these posts strike a nerve with people who like these leaders, or dislike the idea of humanitarianism (especially when it’s hard), or both. Offended, these readers will sometimes challenge me on my views. While I frequently have to decline these invitations to debate, beginning as they often do with suggestions that I eat a large penis because I dared to suggest that people are of equal worth no matter where they are from, I thought I’d take a moment to state my general position on the subject here. This way, in future, I can just provide a link to this post, allowing me more time to shop online for the bags of dicks that I’ve been told I simply must try.
As a white kid from a middle-class, Canadian family, when I set out at 20 to see the world I was welcomed in every place I travelled to, frequently without needing a visa, and in many cases being allowed to work after a basic application process. Some places, like the Cayman Islands, St. Maarten, and Palma De Mallorca, Spain, I stayed in long enough to become an “expat.” But that word has always rung strangely for me. Were I of a different colour, and from a different place, I would be called a migrant. If I were even allowed in at all.
As I still spend six months of the year working outside of Canada, by definition, I remain a migrant worker. You are unlikely to assign that me label though, because my hands lack callouses, and I sail through borders like a wealthy person enters Harrod’s. Like I belong.
Over the years I’ve encountered my share of potentially serious issues at the boundaries of other countries, overstaying a visa in Vietnam, not having a pre-arranged one for Nepal, and arriving by boat into St. Lucia one evening too late to clear in, and then flying out the next morning for a family emergency before the customs house opened, just to name a few.
But I’ve encountered no holding cells. I was pulled off no planes. These problems were all quickly resolved. That they wouldn’t have been had my passport said Syria, or Venezuela, or Sudan on the cover, has always seemed unjust. Because the particular parcel of land I landed in at birth has been able to maintain favourable relations with the other parcels of land – partly through foreign aid funded by an economy that is built primarily on selling that land’s resources, partly on being far enough from most conflicts to avoid taking offensively serious sides, and partly from having participated willingly when sides did have to be taken – I have been welcomed, and given a pass where others haven’t. And I’ve personally done as little to deserve that as the average Sudanese has contributed to their civil war. How have we, as a civilization, stood on the moon, but a given citizen’s ability to traverse from one place on this planet to another is still largely governed by sandbox politics beyond their control?
My position on the importance of migration is also informed by having grown up surrounded by signs of improvement. I was raised in an incredible place in Canada: Scarborough, Ontario. Best known for its massive parking lots, poor transit coverage, and undying strip malls, what makes Scarborough – and many Canadian suburbs – exceptional, is that it is populated by people from all over the world. Amongst my childhood friends things were as they are for all kids, with the occasional difference that made us all aware something special was happening there in our modest neighbourhoods. We rode bikes. We argued about who was which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. We skipped school to eat fries in suburban shopping plazas. And every year at school, when it would snow for the first time, I’d volunteer to be one of the students who got to take the newcomers, who had never seen the stuff before, outside to stand in the yard. There they’d raise their faces to the sky, mouths open as the flakes landed and melted on their more equatorially-accustomed tongues. A sharing thing, in the freshly paved and sodded vastness of a broad new nation.
What might surprise some, especially those who have lately harnessed the divisive language of difference to argue that this large, underpopulated country should only accept certain types of people, are that the newcomers I grew up with are today more Canadian – in the sense that this word is used in these discussions – than me. By a landslide. I’m a terrible skater, the worst skier who ever pointed waxed slats down a hill, and couldn’t name five Toronto Maple Leafs to save my life. Many of the kids I grew up with could do all three of these things with ease, and you know what else? They didn’t skip out on this country for a dozen years like I did, larking about on sailboats and surfboards while trying on other people’s accents. They stayed right here, and finished their diplomas and degrees, got jobs, started companies, contributed to the economy, and sang the national anthem with gusto. They were super-double-plus Canadian. For those of you who are keeping score at home.
Additionally, my wife is an immigrant. But again, you’d be unlikely to call her that if you were describing her. She is white, and speaks with an English accent. We met on a boat, and before we got married the conversation was never about which country would have either or both of us when we settled down. It was always about which country we would like to live in. That is an increasingly rare privilege in this world. One I believe everyone should get to enjoy. Some might respond to this by saying that letting anyone who wants to migrate do so, is asking too much. To that I say: Fine. But we should at least allow everyone who needs to.
This is my perspective on the migrant situation. I realize it’s a personal take, and that no matter how well I describe it, I am unlikely to affect the opinions of others with my own experience. Which is why I would add that whether you are using your head, your heart, or both on this issue, welcoming newcomers to Canada – of all cultures and backgrounds, particularly those from the most desperate areas of the globe – is clearly the right thing to do.
From a simply analytical perspective the majority of Western nations currently have close-to, or less-than replacement birthrates. In a country like Canada, not bringing in new citizens from elsewhere is guaranteed to impact growth. That’s why even our Conservative governments allowed over 1/4 million people a year to immigrate here during their recent terms in power. And for those who rail about refugees and new arrivals simply looking to take from the system and replace Canadians in their jobs, this is factually untrue. Together with not generally competing for the same positions as native workers in their new countries, immigrants are statistically more likely to engage in entrepreneurial job creation, and open up new markets for local businesses by working with their places of origin, as outlined in an article written by the Brookings Institute in June of this year, entitled, “Why accepting refugees is a win-win formula”.
Regarding the oft-stated concerns about global security, education and improved quality of life is the only permanently effective combatant of terrorism yet invented. The Troubles in Ireland ended when the jobs and prospects of Irish Catholics began to improve, and the presence of British troops were lessened. To put it brutally, and in the language of this decade: people with promising roads ahead of them generally aren’t that interested in blowing themselves up. There isn’t more violence in the Middle East and Africa because of their religions, or cultures. There’s more violence in those places because they are poor. And apart from being a morally-bereft position, relying on oceans and seas to keep the residents of the worst of these places trapped in a vicious cycle, no longer works.
This is a good point to mention two things I have learned in my years of roaming around, one obvious, the other maybe a little less so. Everyone on earth is essentially the same in terms of basic motivations, hopes, and dreams. And only the most privileged of people leave home for fun.
Helping migrants and refugees won’t open the flood gates, emptying Nigeria into England, or Yemen into Canada, or Honduras into the United States. The attachment we in the West feel for our homes is felt equally by everyone else on earth. Easing the current migration crisis and reducing the existing pressures that are driving people into leaking boats and tear-gassed caravans, is obviously a complex process. But two things that are clearly needed are: Astute, large-scale, proactive, and expeditious immigration policies to allow those from the developing world a clear avenue of access to the developed world. And properly enforced fair-business practices amongst our multinational companies to help ensure the economies of these countries become fully realized – and not just places where wealthy corporations from Western nations squeeze out profit for themselves and their shareholders, while leaving the local populace in poverty.
Nationalism won’t do either of these things. Increasing border controls while not addressing the forces that drive people to them is as foolish as putting drywall over a leak in your ceiling without going upstairs to check on your neighbours.
I would take the time here to offer a few pre-emptive rebuttals to the main arguments/responses I tend to get on these views, such as this being a form of virtue signalling (are we really at a stage where a substantial amount of people think accusing someone of asking for a fairer, more equitable society is an insult?) or the odd demand that – because of my stance on immigration – I must now be ready to invite strangers into my own home. A conflation that is similar to asking someone who is interested in having a barbecue if they plan on marrying all the guests – there are levels of intimacy involved that simply don’t compare. But perhaps that is all best left to open debate.
So there you have it. My position, in general, for those who are interested. I’m happy to talk about how we can manage the details of this situation. But discussing if we even should, is as ridiculous to me as debating if we should rid the earth of trees to prevent forest fires, or whether the future really matters since we’ve only ever lived in the present.
Writing can obviously be an exceptional vehicle for change, and I think satire – which is this site’s bread, butter, and plate – offers an especially powerful tool. That’s why I started this page, and while there is also plenty of unchallenging entertainment published here, I’m afraid that if that’s all you’re looking for, this small outlet will consistently disappoint you. There is, after all, so much in the world today that needs improving. The only way I can see that happening is if those of us who are fluent in the current language of power start speaking up. And this is what I have to say.