OTTAWA – Canada’s immigration minister says he wants to look into the “issue” of discrimination and unconscious bias within the department tasked with triaging and approving immigration requests to Canada.
“Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve become aware of this issue, and it’s something that I personally want to look into,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Wednesday as he entered a Liberal caucus meeting.
“There’s no secret that over the course of Canada’s history, unconscious bias and systemic racism have been a shameful part of Canada’s history over different aspects of the government’s operations. One of the things that we want to do is make sure that … this kind of unconscious bias doesn’t discriminate against people who come from a particular part of the world.”
Fraser was responding to questions on a recent report in Montreal newspaper Le Devoir that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is increasingly refusing foreign student applications from francophone African countries to Quebec, whereas English-speaking applicants are increasingly approved.
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Immigration lawyers quoted in the report stated that IRCC recently refused applications from nearly 100 per cent of students from Maghreb and Western African countries applying to study in Quebec.
Fraser says he’s certain that the department was not consciously discriminating against those countries, but he still wants to look into it to make sure no other factors than those set out in immigration legislation are being considered when assessing requests.
“I certainly don’t think that there’s been a decision actively to pick one country over another. I think there’s certain factors that IRCC officials assess when they’re trying to admit more newcomers to Canada,” Fraser said.
“But it would be silly if I were to stand here and say that in a department of 11,000 people, if you look at the different operations of IRCC, to say that there is no discrimination,” he added.
He also promised to look at ways to bring more, not less, French-speaking students into Canada.
“International students are one of the groups that successfully integrate more and more so than just about any other group of newcomers,” Fraser said. “That’s a good thing, not just for the newcomer to Canada, but for our economy as well.”
Reporters then asked the newly-minted minister if it was ironic that there would be issues of discrimination and conscious or unconscious bias in the department tasked with handling foreign immigration.
“I think there’s a big distinction between what should be and what is,” the minister responded. “I think we need to constantly be looking to make sure that the public has faith in the system.”
In a follow-up statement, Fraser’s press secretary noted that the minister intended to continue the work already launched by IRCC to “eradicate racism” within the department, including creating a task force dedicated to the task “full-time,” mandatory unconscious bias training for employees and executives and appointing an “anti-racism representative” within each sector of the department.
Earlier this year, IRCC published a report based on focus groups of its employees that revealed that there were multiple and repeated reports of racist incidents within the workplace.
“Experiences of racism at IRCC include microaggressions, biases in hiring and promotion as well as biases in the delivery of IRCCs programs, policies and client service,” reads a summary of the findings, which were first reported by CBC last month.
“In addition, employees paint a picture of an organization fraught with challenges at the level of workplace culture” and a “history of racism going unchecked.”
For example, the report notes that an IRCC team leader was said to have “loudly” declared that colonialism was “good” and that “if ‘the natives’ wanted the land they should have just stood up.
In another case, non-racialized employees and supervisors were notoriously known to refer to parts of the department employing a higher number of racialized employees as “the ghetto.”
Participants also noted “widespread” internal references to certain African nations as “the dirty 30.”