There has been a recent increase in the number of people crossing the U.S.-Canadian border seeking asylum in Canada. In the first six months of the year, 6,500 asylum seekers crossed the border from New York state into Quebec and the rate has been increasing, with more than 7,000 arriving since Canada Day. Right-wing nationalists in Quebec and Conservatives in English Canada have been using this question in a disgusting manner to sow fear and division, claiming that the border is a “sieve” and that “we shouldn’t have to pay” for the influx of refugees, etc. These very same people maintain the hypocritical stance of supporting corporate bailouts and cuts to public services while claiming that there is no money to help people fleeing the racist demagogue south of the border. They also conveniently ignore the dastardly role that Canadian imperialism played in destabilizing Haiti.
The vast majority of the border crossers are Haitian nationals who sought asylum in the US following the horrific earthquake of 2010 which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Many have been motivated by the anti-immigrant policies of Donald Trump and the seemingly friendlier stance taken by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. These pressures were further aggravated in May when the Trump administration announced that the special temporary protected status which was put in place under former U.S. President Barack Obama would end in January 2018 for approximately 58,000 Haitians living in the United States. In addition, the U.S. government recently revealed that it is now reviewing the temporary protected status for a total of 320,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and Syria.
The immigrant bashing continues
These asylum seekers have been forced to flee their countries due to war, terrorism, imperialism and natural disasters. Now they are fleeing the racist anti-immigrant policies of Donald Trump and are being subject to the racist dog-whistle politics which have become all too common. Instead of welcoming and supporting these poor families fleeing Trump, nationalist parties like the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec (Coalition for Quebec’s Future) are fear-mongering and using Québécois identity for opportunistic reasons. New Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer is using similar fear-mongering arguments in English Canada.
In August, the leader of the right-wing CAQ, François Legault, stated that “resources are limited, just like our capacity to integrate immigrants into the francophone majority.” Once again, Legault and PQ leader Jean-François Lisée are trying to outdo one another, each taking a jab at these asylum seekers with the supposed purpose of protecting Québécois identity and the French language. Lisée used the occasion to say that an independent Quebec would have tight border controls, stating that “an independent Quebec would respect its borders” and that Quebec shouldn’t have to pay for “Trudeau’s guests.” Lisée also counterposed the Liberal austerity measures and the cost of the asylum seekers, stating that “The government tells us that it cannot provide a second bath in CHSLDs (old age homes) and that costs $30 million. But how much will it cost, eight, 10, 15,000 asylum seekers who stay in Quebec for three years? Surely it’s more than $30 million.”
But these statements by Legault and Lisée shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is just another symptom of the “identitarian” turn that the Québécois nationalist movement has taken, with the PQ and the CAQ being more concerned with attacking immigrants and muslims in order to supposedly protect Québécois identity. In reality, this is an endless attempt to distract people from the fact that these parties do not have a fundamentally different economic program from that of the hated Liberals. In order to do this, they constantly point to some supposed danger, whether it is a burkini or a poor Haitian family fleeing a racist demagogue.
Germinating within this constant vitriolic debate are burgeoning far right groups like La Meute (the Wolf Pack), who claim to have tens of thousands of members. They took the occasion to organize a demonstration against the asylum seekers on Sunday, August 20 in Quebec City, which led to clashes between an anti-fascist counter-demonstration and the police who were protecting La Meute.
As is tradition, the Journal de Montreal has led the charge in the media with the most ridiculous attacks on the asylum seekers. Richard Martineau, a regular JdeM columnist wrote an article on August 12 titled “A thank you would be appreciated” where he uses the example of accepting a neighbour into your house if their house was ravaged by a fire. He says that most people would obviously temporarily agree to take someone in under these circumstances. He then asks the question, “But if they wanted to come and live with you just because they thought that your house was nicer than theirs, would you still welcome them into your house?”
This is the way in which right-wing ideologues like Martineau stoke the flames of hatred among a section of the population for immigrants and refugees of all types. But this is a false analogy. U.S. and Canadian imperialism have played a key role in making Haiti what it is today. A much more accurate analogy is the following: “If you and your friends repeatedly ransacked your neighbour’s house, stealing their things and leaving the place in a mess, would you then not feel like a complete hypocrite for refusing to help them after they realized that they could not continue to live there any more?” This is in fact much closer to the reality of the relations between Haiti, Canada, and other imperialist powers. In his usual vitriolic fashion and as the title insinuates, Martineau ends the article by making the completely unsubstantiated claim that the Haitians are not thankful for any help that they have received in Canada—help that Martineau did not want to give them in the first place!
But these sorts of arguments aren’t only limited to Quebec. Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently attacked Trudeau for having “done nothing to stop the flow of illegal border crossings.” He then went on to use an identical argument to the right-wing nationalists in Quebec and said that Canadians “are angry that people are trying to take advantage of our generous system.” He continued by saying, “On Trudeau’s watch, thousands have walked in, encouraged by his irresponsible comments that ‘everyone will be welcomed,’ when he knows that it is not true.”
When confronted by such disgusting arguments coming from the right-wing nationalists in Quebec and the federal Conservatives, many Canadians are happy to have the “progressive” Trudeau at the helm. For example, in January of this year, a day after Trump placed a four-month ban on refugees from several countries, Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror, and war, Canadians will welcome you.” But when we look beneath the surface of his opportunistic statements, Trudeau is simply continuing to play the same two-faced game which has become so typical of the Liberals. While Trudeau never seems to miss an opportunity to appear “progressive”, when push comes to shove, we see his true colours.
Now that there are thousands of people fleeing Trump headed for Canada, Trudeau is changing his tune. In a classic liberal identity politics move, Trudeau activated Liberal Haitian MP Emmanuel Dubourg, who traveled to Miami to “counter misinformation” which has driven thousands of Haitians to flee to Canada. “It’s important to tell them that before they sell their things, before they take any kind of decision (to come). They have to know full well what can happen,” said Dubourg. In other words, the Liberal government, while opportunistically positioning itself against Trump when he says something bad, does not want to materially help anyone affected by his policies.
Criminally, the Trudeau Liberals have refused to cancel the tragically misnamed “Safe Third Country Agreement” with Trump’s USA. This treaty deems anybody coming from the USA, or any other listed “safe” country, as ineligible for refugee status. Canadian officials then turn them back over to the “safe” country regardless of whether or not they are actually safe there. This has forced those fleeing Trump to cross at unofficial border crossings, risking frostbite in winter. The entire system is inhuman and irrational. We say that no human being is illegal.
The treacherous role of imperialism in Haiti
All of these arguments against the asylum seekers ignore the roots of the problem. Yes, Haiti is a poor country. According to the United Nations, Haiti ranks 163rd on the Human Development Index. Gross national income per capita is just $1,657. In Canada it’s $42,582—27.5 times higher. So of course Haitians don’t want to go back to Haiti. But Haiti is not poor by accident; it has been kept that way through imperialist machinations.
The most recent of these machinations began in 2000 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the liberation theology priest and leader of the Fanmi Lavalas movement, won the presidential election. Aristide, with millions of poor Haitians supporting him, proposed many reforms that angered the imperialists. He rejected the “neo-liberal” policies imposed on them by the imperialists and demanded $21 billion from France in reparations for the money that Haiti had been forced to pay for their “lost property” (slaves) as a result of the Haitian slave revolution of 1791-1804.
Afraid of the masses behind him, the imperialists did not trust Aristide and a plot was hatched to overthrow him and to install a regime more loyal to imperial interests. The World Bank immediately cut hundreds of millions in support that they sent to the previous government. Plunged into a deep crisis, unemployment soared and right-wing gangs terrorized government supporters. The capitalists and imperialists succeeded in completely destabilizing Haiti and this was used as a pretext for military intervention from abroad.
In 2003, Canada’s Liberal government hosted an international conference known as “The Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” with US, French and Canadian dignitaries present. This was a secret meeting (details were eventually leaked later) in which officials from these three countries made plans to overthrow the Aristide regime and install a government more friendly to their interests. Indeed, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, Jean Chrétien, in April 2003 following the Ottawa Initiative, “declared that the ‘international community’ should not have to wake up with Aristide in power on January 1, 2004, Haiti’s bicentennial.” A joint military venture was thus hatched.
On February 29, 2004, U.S. military officials entered President Aristide’s home and forced him to sign a resignation letter. Heavily-armed U.S. marines took him to the airport, which Canadian special forces had just secured. According to Aristide himself, “The coup and kidnapping was led by the U.S., France and Canada. [They] were on the front lines by sending their soldiers to Haiti before February 29, by having their soldiers either at the airport or at my residence, or around the palace, or in the capital to make sure that they succeeded in kidnapping me, leading [to] the coup.”
This is just the latest in the long history of imperialist meddling in Haiti and is the reason why Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. Canada’s role is very clear here. Even the immense damage and death toll caused by the earthquake in 2010 was greatly exacerbated by the fact that imperialism had left Haiti’s infrastructure in a completely dilapidated state. While neighbouring Cuba suffered just four deaths from the same wave of natural disasters that hit the region, the total death toll in Haiti was upwards of 300,000. Cuba, which isn’t a slave to imperialism and capitalism, through its planned economy was able to direct the country’s resources to help the population and minimize deaths, while Haiti, enslaved to imperialism, was left to face the full brunt of the earthquake with next to no help.
It is therefore hypocritical for politicians and journalists like Martineau in Canada to make such ignorant arguments. All of these arguments basically amount to: – “We shouldn’t have to pay for them!” – “They should go back to Haiti!”. These arguments, after Canadian imperialism was directly involved in overthrowing the Haitian government and plunging the country into chaos and disarray, are hypocritical to the highest degree.
Asylum seekers welcome! No one is illegal! Make the bosses pay!
This whole debate shows the absolute rotten state of politics in Quebec. While the Liberals move mountains for their corporate elite friends, the PQ and the CAQ aim their critiques at the most vulnerable in society. When right-wing politicians and pundits make statements to the effect that “we shouldn’t have to pay” for the asylum seekers, what they are really saying is that capitalists do not want to sacrifice any of their immense profits to help these poor people fleeing disaster, poverty, and demagogic racist politicians. Canada and Quebec are some of the richest jurisdictions in the world. In part, these huge profits and the privileged position that Canadian and Québécois capitalism have on the world market is due to the part they have played in the plundering of “Third World” countries like Haiti for cheap labour and resources.
The picture given is as if these people are simply leeches who will contribute nothing to society and will have to take something away from workers here. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Canadian immigrant experience shows that the overwhelming majority want to work and be productive members of society. We shouldn’t be questioning poor people fleeing persecution, we should be asking: Why aren’t the Canadian and Québécois capitalists prepared to be productive and provide jobs? Why have companies like Bombardier laid off thousands of people after receiving over $1.3 billion from the government? The same politicians who cry foul about there not being enough money to help immigrants tend to be the very same people who fail to bat an eyelash when massive sums are thrown at their corporate friends to keep them afloat. None of this even takes into consideration the massive $4.5 billion dollar surplus the Quebec Liberal government recently posted. It is a lie when these politicians say that we have to choose between taking care of “our” elderly or helping asylum seekers. If these politicians actually cared about the elderly, they would massively invest in the healthcare system and old age services and take the from money where it is – in the pockets of the bosses and bankers.
The real reason behind the demonization of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers of all types is because it is very useful for capitalism to divide workers on this issue and make a section of the working class in Canada feel threatened by them. Indeed, polls in English Canada and Quebec show that around 50 per cent of people think that the asylum seekers should be deported, or stopped from entering. Instead of uniting and fighting against the bosses who are holding us all down and are unwilling to sacrifice their profits to help people fleeing Trump, the capitalists prefer to have workers hating on poor people looking for a better life. As well, it is very useful for the capitalists to have a section of society that they can justify paying low wages.
The way forward is to completely reject this reactionary nationalist (Québécois or English-Canadian) discourse and place the blame where it belongs. Yes, there are parasites who contribute next to nothing and are costing regular working class people, but they aren’t the asylum seekers. The real parasites are the bosses and bankers who profit off the misery of workers, at home and abroad. There is no reason why, in a rich and spacious country like Canada, we could not welcome those fleeing persecution and provide them with good jobs, so that they could contribute to our society. But the vast riches of our society, amassed off the backs of Canadian workers and plundered from countries like Haiti, are not in our possession! We need to take control of our own destinies by liberating this wealth from these corporate parasites! Only under socialism, with collective ownership of the productive forces of our society, could we institute a massive democratic plan of production to welcome the poor and oppressed of the world fleeing natural disasters, war and persecution!
Asylum seekers welcome!
No one is illegal!
Make the bosses pay!