Academic journal article Refuge

Creating Human Insecurity: The National Security Focus in Canada's Immigration System

Academic journal article Refuge

Creating Human Insecurity: The National Security Focus in Canada's Immigration System

Article excerpt


This paper explores the processes through which Canada's immigration system creates human insecurity for newcomers to Canada. With a focus on the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and post-September 11 security measures such as the Safe Third Country Agreement, I argue that the immigration system draws on and reaffirms national security discourses. Measures designed to create national security, in turn, create human insecurity for migrants and refugees. Using a feminist approach that explores how gender, race, and class oppressions intensify experiences of in/security, this paper suggests that the new national security measures within Canada's immigration system will likely have a disproportionate impact on classed, raced, and gendered asylum seekers.


Over the past year, Canadians have witnessed a dizzying array of changes to the laws, policies, and practices aimed at policing and regulating "foreigners." In the interests of national security the Canadian government has initiated a series of measures designed to police borders and restrict access to Canada, especially for those from the developing world. An overhaul of the Immigration Act represented the first of these reforms, and constitutes major changes to Canada's immigration policies. The new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA or Act) was introduced to Parliament prior to September 11, and received Royal Assent on November 1, 2001. While the Act itself wasn't directly influenced by the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, it nevertheless contained reforms interested in curbing the potential dangers that refugees allegedly pose to Canada. The accompanying final Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (Regulations) for the new Act were released on June 11, 2002. Post-September 11 jitters have also resulted in several new national security measures aimed at newcomers, including the proposed Safe Third Country Agreement, which will go even further in limiting the rights of asylum seekers to meaningful representation, due process, and protection.

In this paper I argue that as Canada draws its borders tighter in the name of national security the human security of asylum seekers is being put at risk. As Canadian immigration practices and policies illustrate, "nationalism as an ideology and the national interest as an objective of state policy are often opposed to the satisfaction of general human needs." (1)

Defining Human Security

Security concerns of Western states have traditionally focused on the primacy of territorial security and sovereignty and on the belief that a state can achieve security through arms and deterrence. This external security focus heavily relied on military security, and the activities of the state's intelligence community. (2) During the Cold War security policy was based on the assumption that international politics were a threat to peace and welfare. Communism, in particular, was seen as a threat to the nation and capitalist economic interests. (3) This point is well illustrated by the actions of the RCMP during the Cold War, as they kept tabs on about eight hundred thousand Canadians thought to be communist or sympathetic to communism. (4) In response to the perceived threat that communism posed, a militarized conception of state security was entrenched in the West (5) that was concerned with nuclear deterrence, military strength, power blocs, and interstate relations. (6)

However, recognizing that traditional security concerns did not create peace or stability in the world, public interest groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and activists transformed the concept of security into a concern with human security. In Canada, human security entered the vocabulary of the Liberal government in the mid-1990s (7) and would soon become the central focus of Canadian foreign policy. (8) However, the state approach to human security differs widely from the definition of advocates, activists, and academics. …

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