Boat People


On Sunday 1999-09-12 Rex Murphy considered the problem of illegal immigrants arriving on rusted out old hunks off the coast of BC. On his national CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio show, Cross Country Checkup, he asked What should we do about the boat people?

I was in the studio audience and had a few seconds to explain my point of view on the air. Later the CBC interviewed me to elaborate for the National TV news and a magazine show. I did not explain myself well at all. Here is my attempt to say clearly what I meant to say for that interview.


As I see it, there are three concerns:
  1. Some people are jumping the queue and getting into Canada without obediently leaping through the appropriate bureaucratic hoops.
  2. We are being invaded with immigrants.
  3. Chinese peasants are selling themselves into slavery and prostitution to pay the snakeheads (human smugglers) back for the favour of getting them into Canada.
I consider the last issue the most important. Slavery is not acceptable in this day and age.

Hoop Jumping

I have great sympathy for queue jumpers. I tried for years to bring my Indonesian lover to Canada. We jumped through the hoops and paid the fees. They insisted the application be hand delivered in Singapore, a country where neither of us lived. They would not accept the bank draft — it was not from one of the banks on their approved list. Yet in the end, nothing happened. They would not let him even visit. He is a skilled computer programmer, speaks three languages, has no diseases or criminal record. I had met him while he was on a student visa in Canada.

It is really rather arbitrary who we do let in. Does it really make all that much difference if the person is a queue jumper or one willing to patiently play the immigration game for decades.

Personally I find it repugnant the way Canada steals talent from third world nations. A poor nation like Thailand or Ghana spends millions educating a doctor, then Canada steals them away. We should take a cross section of all economic strata, not scoop the cream from countries who can least afford it.

Being Overwhelmed

There have been three ships of would-be refugees arrive off the BC coast. There are reputed eleven more coming. Racists paint an image of a tsumami of yellow flesh swamping Canada.

Let us put this in perspective. So far there have been a total about 500 boat people arrive. Five of them have disappeared. The rest of them are awaiting a hearing. One estimate is that only 10 of them will be allowed into Canada as legitimate refugees.

In contrast, in the period 1995 to 1998 there were 829,000 immigrants and 103,000 refugees accepted into Canada. Of course, many times that number applied.

People are terribly worried about the costs of processing illegitimate boat people refugees. The media’s zoom lenses are making a mountain out of a molehill. The costs of processing those boat people represent only a drop in the bucket compared with the costs of processing the applications of everyone who legitimately applied for immigration.

Racists want to send the boat people back to China without a trial. They resent the burden to the taxpayers of the hearing. These fools are willing to toss away the right to due process for a few pennies. Is not the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty worth more than that?

Further, there are some legitimate refugees in those boats. Don’t we owe it to them to give them a fair hearing? If the Viet Nam boat people are any indication, those we do let in will pay back to our country in taxes over the coming decades many many times what we spent deciding whether to let them in.

Ecological Concerns

There is a legitimate ecological concern about being overwhelmed with immigrants.

The population of Vancouver is expected to double over the next decade, largely from immigration from other parts of Canada and other countries.

Immigrants coming to Canada naturally like to settle in cosmopolitan centres like Vancouver where they can find familiar foods, newspapers and people whom they can speak with in their native language. More that half the students in Vancouver have English as a second language.

Where do you put all those people? Where can we fit their automobiles? How do we process all that extra sewage. There is a limit to the number of people who can comfortably live on a square kilometer. Vancouver’s streets are already choked with traffic. We can’t possibly double it.

Immigration puts undue pressure on a few urban centres. Oddly, you will find the people of Vancouver much more tolerant of immigration than a Saskatchewan farmer. We Vancouverites love the cosmopolitan flavour of our city. You can travel the world just by walking down the streets of Vancouver.

Solution 1: Custody before Hearing

If you are really concerned about discouraging queue jumpers is to hold all illegal immigrants in custody until the hearing. After the hearing:
  1. Allow the legitimate refugees in.
  2. Send the illegitimate ones back (who will then have the misfortune of still owing money to the snakeheads.)
  3. Put the snakeheads in jail.
Word will get back to China there is no point in trying to jump the queue.

We may be forced to use refugee camps for detainment. For legitimate refugees this is no great inconvenience considering what they were fleeing.

The important thing is to be consistent. People must know that unless they are legitimate refugees, there is no hope at the end of the boat ride.

The government heard and has already implemented this policy. Immigration Canada is being much more careful with the second and third boatloads of people. No one from those has vanished.

Solution 2: Undercut Snakehead Prices

Put the snakeheads out of business by undercutting their prices. The people using their services pay $40,000 to $60,000 for a trip in a rusted out scow filled with feces. These are not rich people. They pay almost nothing up front. They sell themselves for three or more years after the trip into slavery or prostitution working for criminal gangs.

The key is relax the immigration rules and tighten the refugee rules. If Canada helped the Chinese peasants with applying for legitimate immigration, they might be less inclined to use the services of snakeheads.

Canada could act as a more humane, cheaper snakehead. The Canadian government could require repayment over the years in the form of income taxes. If the immigrants we provisionally let in don’t pay (e.g. go on welfare without just cause), they could be sent back.

Solution 3: Witness Protection Plan

Anything that interferes with the repayment to the snakeheads will take the profit out of the game and the snakeheads will stop bringing over more boatloads of people.

We need a sort of witness protection program for people who have used the snakeheads’ services to ensure their victims never have to pay back.

We need to free those working in the snakehead sweatshops and brothels. This will be more effective than focusing on directly stopping the boats.


European countries and the USA have been dealing with boat people for years. If there were simple quick solutions, I’m sure they would have told us. For some reason, Canada has been spared dealing with this awkward issue up to now.

The media have inflamed the public over the wrong aspects of the issue. Slavery and forced prostitution are far greater evils than queue jumping. To fight the slavery and prostitution requires long term solutions to take the profit out of it for the snakeheads.

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