Canadian group scapegoats immigrants for environmental degradation

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New anti-immigration “center” has strong ties to the ruling Conservative Party

by Cameron Fenton

Reposted, with permission, from The Dominion, November 17, 2010.
Related C&C article: The greening of hate, Canadian-style

MONTREAL—The Centre for Immigration Policy Reform (CIPR), a recently launched immigration reform lobby group based in Ottawa, is using environmental arguments and “green” rhetoric to push for more restrictive immigration policies in Canada.

“High immigration levels make it more difficult to achieve Canada’s environmental objectives and inhibit efforts to reduce the extraordinary size of our ecological footprint,” according to the front page of the CIPR website. Critics say this is painting a green veneer on an old picture.

The “greening of hate” is a phrase coined by Betsy Hartmann, director of the US-based Population and Development Program. In her 2010 essay, “The Greening of Hate: An Environmentalist’s Essay,” she writes about the anti-immigration lobby’s growing tendency toward “the scapegoating of immigrants for environmental degradation.”

Environmental arguments can lend respectability to arguments in favour of restrictive immigration policies, says Ian Angus, editor of the website Climate & Capitalism and the book The Global Fight for Climate Justice.

“It is harder today than it was forty years ago for someone to stand up and say, ‘Canada should be a haven for white people who speak English,’ but you can say, ‘We want to protect Canada’s environment, so let’s keep our population down.’”

Canada is both a major greenhouse gas emitter and and a major recipient nation of immigrants, facts that—until recently—were rarely discussed in the same sentence.

“Most immigrants [to Canada] come from developing countries, and their ecological footprint is somewhere between four and ten times larger in Canada than in their own country,” says Martin Collacott, Secretary of the Board of Directors and a spokesperson for the CIPR. He argues that limiting immigration would thus decrease global greenhouse gas emissions and help Canada cap its own emissions.

“[The argument] that, because Canada has such a rotten record on greenhouse gas emissions, we should prevent people from Third World countries from coming here is outrageous” says Angus. In his eyes, Collacott’s argument scapegoats immigrants for problems they have little or nothing to do with. Canada’s carbon footprint is a result of unsustainable production, consumption and trade driven by corporate-led globalization—and not immigration, according to many climate experts.

Angus adds that the CIPR’s argument is deeply hypocritical, “given that so much of [Canada’s] affluence is the result of ripping off those countries [where immigrants often come from].” Historically, Canada’s support for and direct involvement in trade programs, military operations and political manoeuvring in the Global South have been of great financial benefit to the North and of great detriment to people in the South.

Collacott’s argument is flawed in a number of other ways, continues Angus. He points out that Collacott’s claim that immigrants generate huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions upon arriving in Canada is based on per capita emissions. Per capita calculations, which average 16 tonnes per person per year in Canada, include industrial and transport emissions—the largest emitters in Canad—yet fail to attribute them to their source. In fact, the average person living in Canada emits roughly five tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year; the Alberta tar sands emit 27,000,000 tonnes in the same period.

“This twisted logic would suggest that we should deport all the poor people from around the world to ‘developing’ nations while allowing the rich to live together with their greenhouse-gas-intensive life styles,” says Harjap Grewal, an organizer with No One Is Illegal Vancouver.

“Forward-thinking climate activists know that now is a critical time to ensure that the precedent for immigration policy protects human rights because immigration is going to get a lot more common,” says Joshua Kahn Russell, a trainer with the Ruckus Society, a network of environmental and social-justice organizers.

Fifty million people will have been displaced by the end of 2010 due to climate change and related impacts, rising to between 200 million and one billion displaced people by mid-century, according to Mesa 6, the migration working group of the Cochabamba People’s Summit on Climate Change.

This has led many people to argue that climate debt—the concept that historically polluting nations bear a financial responsibility to those nations with the least culpability for climate change—needs to extend beyond simple financial reparations to include political and social obligations. The final text from the Cochabamba People’s Summit includes a call for a global human rights treaty to ensure the freedom of movement of climate-displaced people. It also proposes structures to hold major polluting nations accountable for the physical, emotional and cultural trauma caused by mass internal and external displacement, both within and from nations in the Global South.

Currently, Citizenship and Immigration Canada “does not recognize persons displaced by environmental change or disaster as refugees.” Immigration policy has strict definitions for people allowed access to Canada—definitions that limit access to Canada to persons facing danger imposed by state, military and other external human forces.

Karen Shadd, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told The Dominion, “There are no plans to amend these definitions.”

“It makes no sense to say that we should fill up Canada with people from poorer countries,” says Callicott. “I think we can do more by keeping our country in good shape and helping those countries in other ways, through aid and trade arrangements.”

Syed Hussan, an organizer with No One Is Illegal Toronto, points out that “aid and development projects that follow [climate disasters] result in further dislocation and economic disadvantages.” The scope and distribution of aid projects often leave frontline communities confronting more obstacles. Examples of this include the challenges faced by some residents of New Orleans attempting to return to their homes after Hurricane Katrina, or the current struggles for community reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

Groups working to further limit and control immigration to Canada are nothing new, but the political clout of an organization like the CIPR, along with anti-immigration precedents being set around the world, has Angus worried.

“[The CIPR] are people with a substantial amount of influence in the Conservative party in particular,” says Angus.

The board and advisory council of the CIPR are made up of a number of prominent figures of the Canadian right, including James Bissett, the former director general of the Canadian Immigration Service, and Peter White, former executive of Conrad Black’s Hollinger newspaper group. Derek Burney is a member of the CIPR’s advisory board. He played a key role in brokering the 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, and currently sits on the board of media conglomerates CanWest and Quebecor as well as energy giants Shell Canada and TransCanada Inc. He is also a long-standing advisor to the Conservative party, having worked as Chief of Staff to Brian Mulroney and as head of the Conservative Transition Team following the 2006 federal election. He was recently appointed as Chair of the Selection Committee for the current government’s Canada Excellence Research Chairs program.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has identified the CIPR as “among the range of stakeholder groups that [they] deal with.” Citizenship and Immigration Canada has never considered community organizations and immigrant justice groups as “stakeholders.”

Governments around the world have already begun to take steps to limit immigration based on “green” arguments.

This summer, Britain announced it would be implementing an “Immigration Cap,” citing environmental reasons as a major influence behind the decision. Australia renamed the position of Minister of Population to Minister for Sustainable Population, appointing Tony Burke to oversee potential immigration policy reforms to protect the Australian environment. The emergence of a powerful group like the CIPR in Canada has organizers worried that the type of anti-immigration sentiment and legislation appearing in other nations is coming to Canada.

“[Anti-immigrant think tanks] are very dangerous,” says Hussan. “They produce ideas of hatred couched in reason which they push into university research programs and into government policy.”

“The fight for free and just movement of people is the fight to end war and occupation, the fight to end ecological destruction,” Hussan explains. “Environmental justice movements need to challenge the racist rhetoric of organizations like the CIPR with facts, with stories, with creative and direct actions—as organizers, it is critical that we anticipate and win the battle of hearts and ideas.”

Cameron Fenton is a former intern and Membership Coordinator with The Dominion and a community organizer in Montreal.


  • Actually I think they are right – if all the immigrants and children of immigrants left – so that there was only indigenous peoples left I think things would be much better for the Environment.

    So go home Europeans and those of you with your destructive European industrialized cultures.