Academic journal article Review of Constitutional Studies

A Failed Discourse of Distrust amid Significant Procedural Change: The Harper Government's Legacy in Immigration and Refugee Law

Academic journal article Review of Constitutional Studies

A Failed Discourse of Distrust amid Significant Procedural Change: The Harper Government's Legacy in Immigration and Refugee Law

Article excerpt

This paper examines two legacies of the Harper government in immigration and refugee law. The first is a discursive legacy, that is, a legacy pertaining to the government's particular characterization of claimants for refugee and immigrant status seen through a series of its legal initiatives. The government engaged in a "discourse of distrust" with respect to claimants, repeatedly identifying them as persons trying to fool or take advantage of Canada's immigration and social welfare schemes. The second legacy pertains more to a number of institutional and procedural changes in the immigration system. These initiatives have not received the same attention given the higher profile measures that comprise the discourse of distrust. However, they embody trends in Canadian immigration law toward enhancing the authority of executive government in administering the country's immigration programs, together with a consequent loss of security for the prospective and recent newcomer to Canada.

In the end the discursive legacy of the Harper government appears to have outweighed its institutional legacy. The Conservative Government took a sword to many of the long-established understandings that informed Canada's immigration law--and it seems that the Government's truculence in matters dealing with immigrants and refugees served as one of the bases on which the election of October 2015 turned. For the foreseeable future, political discussions about immigration issues in Canada will start from a different place than the distrust and fear of the stranger.

L'auteur de cet article examine deux heritages du gouvernement Harper en immigration et en droit des refugies. Le premier est un heritage discursif, c'est-a-dire un heritage se rapportant a la caracterisation particuliere des demandeurs du statut de refugie ou du statut d'immigrant par le gouvernement, vu par une serie de ses initiatives juridiques. Le gouvernement s'est lance dans un << discours de mefiance >> a l'egard des demandeurs, en les identifiant a plusieurs reprises comme des personnes essayant de berner le gouvernement ou de profiter des projets d'immigration ou d'aide sociale du Canada. Le deuxieme heritage se rapporte davantage a de nombreux changements institutionnels et des changements de procedure dans le systeme d'immigration. Ces initiatives n'ont pas recu la meme attention etant donne les mesures tres mediatisees qui constituent le discours de mefiance. Elles donnent egalement forme a des tendances en droit de l'immigration canadien a accroitre l'autorite du gouvernement executif en matiere d'administration des programmes d'immigration du Canada, conjointement avec une perte de securite consecutive a cet accroissement pour les eventuels nouveaux arrivants au Canada ainsi que pour les nouveaux arrivants recents. En fin de compte cependant, l'heritage discursif du gouvernement Harper semble l'avoir emporte sur son heritage institutionnel. Le gouvernement conservateur a attaque de nombreuses vieilles comprehensions qui influencaient le droit de l'immigration du Canada et il semble que son agressivite relativement aux questions touchant les immigrants et les refugies a servi d'une des bases sur lesquelles a repose l'election d'octobre 2015. Dans un avenir previsible, les debats politiques lies aux questions d'immigration au Canada auront un autre point de depart que la mefiance et la peur de l'etranger.

I. Introduction

The Government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was remarkably active in the areas of refugee and immigration law throughout its nine years in office, and especially after attaining a majority in the federal election of 2011. This paper examines two legacies of the Harper government in immigration and refugee law. The first is a discursive legacy, that is, a legacy pertaining to the government's particular characterization of claimants for refugee and immigrant status seen through a series of its legal initiatives. …

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