Academic journal article Refuge

Refugees Who Arrive by Boat and Canada's Commitment to the Refugee Convention: A Discursive Analysis

Academic journal article Refuge

Refugees Who Arrive by Boat and Canada's Commitment to the Refugee Convention: A Discursive Analysis

Article excerpt


This paper offers a comparative analysis of official discourse surrounding three incidents of asylum seekers arriving in Canada by boat: the Komagata Maru in 1914; the Sri Lankans who arrived in Newfoundland on lifeboats in 1986; and the Ocean Lady in 2009. The objective is to assess Canada's commitment to protecting refugees at these three points in history and evaluate academic contentions that the concept of the refugee is being eroded. The selected incidents trace the emergence and decline of the notion of the refugee in Canadian official discourse. Even during the peak of Canada's commitment to refugees in the 1980s, the discourse reveals blurriness between the ideas of the "refugee" and the "illegal migrant." However, the characterization of asylum seekers as "illegals" is more intense now than in the earlier periods. This shift in the discourse warrants attention as we face the prospect of what Audrey Macklin describes as the "discursive disappearance of the refugee."


Le present article propose une analyse comparative du discours officiel entourant trois cas de demandeurs d'asile arrivant par bateau au Canada : l'incident du Komagata Maru en 1914, les Sri-Lankais qui sont arrives a TerreNeuve sur des embarcations de sauvetage en 1986 et l'incident du Ocean Lady en 2009. L'objectif est d'evaluer l'engagement du Canada a proteger les refugies a ces trois moments de l'histoire et d'evaluer les arguments theoriques voulant une erosion de la notion de refugie. Les incidents choisis suivent l'emergence et le declin de la notion de refugie dans le discours officiel canadien. Meme au plus fort de l'engagement du Canada envers les refugies dans les annees 1980, le discours se revele flou sur les notions de <> et de << migrant clandestin >>. Cependant, la caracterisation des demandeurs d'asile comine << clandestins >> est plus intense aujourd'hui que par les periodes anterieires. Ce changement dans le discours justifie qu'on y porte attention alors que nous faisons face a la perspective de ce que Audrey Macklin decrit comine la << disparition discursive du refugie >>.


In Humanitarianism, Identity, and Nation: Migration Laws of Australia and Canada, Catherine Dauvergne argues that Canada has an international reputation as a country with generous immigration laws and a history of offering protection to refugees. Contemporary Canada, says Dauvergne, has to some extent been "created" by immigration and the mythology of immigration forms an integral part of Canada's national identity. (1) Compared to other "immigrant nations," such as Australia, Canada has a strong tradition of granting protection to those who meet the definition of "refugee" in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (hereafter the Refugee Convention). (2) This tradition, says Dauvergne, is linked to humanitarianism, which is a value that Canadians as individuals are willing to honour by upholding the country's commitment to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution. (3)

In recent years, however, immigration and refugee scholars have observed that Canada is becoming more hostile to asylum seekers than it was in the past. (4) In "Disappearing Refugees: Reflections on the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement," Audrey Macklin argues that the very concept of the refugee is being eroded in Canadian society and replaced with the image of the illegal migrant. Macklin explains that this "discursive disappearance of the refugee" is propelled by growing concerns about national security and the rise in interdiction measures. As developed countries like Canada make it more difficult for asylum seekers to enter their territories, individuals fleeing persecution are forced to cross borders secretly, often with the assistance of human smugglers, in order to avoid being detected by authorities. Macklin notes that while it is widely recognized that millions of people are living in situations that would make them eligible for refugee protection under Canadian law, as soon as they cross the Canadian border they become illegals. …

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