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Russell Wangersky: Gambling with families

Winnie Liao, left, and Ricky Liu chat before the opening ceremony of the P.E.I. Immigration Entrepreneurship Foundation at The Holman Grand Hotel Friday (April 7). Liu, chairman of the organization, hopes to help fellow immigrants settle on P.E.I. by helping them find viable industries in the province to invest in.
Winnie Liao, left, and Ricky Liu chat before the opening ceremony of the P.E.I. Immigration Entrepreneurship Foundation at The Holman Grand Hotel April 7. - Maureen Coulter


Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

With the last name “Wangersky,” it’s pretty clear some parts of my family are immigrants. It doesn’t matter that, on the other side of my family, I can trace my lineage straight back to Tristram Dodge, who fished in Ferryland, N.L., in 1664. It doesn’t matter, because he was an immigrant to North America, too.

I am an immigrant — as most comfortable, anti-immigration critics are, actually, if you trace their line far enough back. I went to grade school in a Nova Scotian classroom where a huge number of my classmates had names that started with “Mc” or “Mac” — and guess what? They were all immigrants, too.

But as someone whose paternal grandparents made their way through the difficult and threatening U.S. immigration system at Ellis Island, and whose father was regularly beaten up on his way to grade school simply because of his Slavic heritage and last name, I can’t help but feel a little sympathy for those who are trying to navigate the immigration system in this country.

The Liberals took a system that was already broken — one that ended up with annual lineups and efforts to be among those whose relatives arrived in the first-come, first-immigrated annual process to reunite families — and made it ridiculous.

How? By taking the admittedly flawed first-come, first served process and replacing it with a lottery.

Instead of 6-49, you win the chance to apply to bring your parents to Canada.

This month, immigrant families are allowed to submit applications for 10,000 opportunities to sponsor the immigration of parents or grandparents to Canada. Last year, there were 95,000 applications in the lottery. Winning the right to apply doesn’t necessarily mean the relative will be accepted; even after winning a spot, potential sponsors have to go through a process to ensure that they are actually fully eligible.

When they changed the system to a lottery last year, the Liberal government argued that they were trying to inject a little fairness into the process — everyone would have the same shot at having their name drawn, meaning there would be no benefit to hiring immigration lawyers to try and move up the queue, or have the benefit of being in larger centres with more supports for stickhandling through the process.

The system certainly needed improvement, but this is not the way.

Making Canadian immigration a carnival win cheapens the process — and, not only that, doesn’t necessarily grant entry to the relatives who are best suited and best able to find their feet here and move the country forward. Nor does it bring the ones who most need to be reunited with their families.

Certainly, Canadian citizenship is a prize. But it’s not a prize that should be awarded on the basis of either luck or your ability to game the system. We need more people to bolster our population, and people want to have their families reunited. The best and fairest system is not simply drawing names at random: consider the applications as they come in, and decide based on the combined strengths of the applications and the applicants, not just luck.

Would you pick members of Parliament or new employees out of a hat?

Of course not. It’s time for more common sense.

(Oh, and for those who will undoubtedly reply to this column with the now-hackneyed, bigoted and regular “We don’t need immigrants…” and “Canada doesn’t need more foreigners,” here’s a little challenge. There are any number of companies, and among them, that will let you have your spit tested and your DNA analyzed. Take the test and send me your 100 per cent North American results before you even start to tell me how awful immigrants are, or I’ll just consider you yet another immigration hypocrite.)

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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