News/Canada: Illegals push limit of B.C.'s hospitality

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Subject: News/Canada: Illegals push limit of B.C.'s hospitality
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Thu Sep 02 1999 - 11:09:47 EDT

Illegals push limit of B.C.'s hospitality
Mark Hume In Vancouver
National Post, September 1, 1999

Out on British Columbia's rugged coast, where people carve a living out of
an unforgiving landscape, the residents of Port Hardy know the value of
hard work and self sufficiency. And they don't like it when people cheat.

Some of them booed when illegal immigrants from China came ashore earlier
this summer and they displayed similar sentiments yesterday, when they
learned that another sorry human cargo was headed their way.

"People are upset. They see them as queue jumpers, as cheaters," Russ
Hellberg, the mayor of Port Hardy, said.

Polls show Canadians are losing their tolerance for an immigration policy
that is so soft it is now seen to be attracting illegal immigrants
literally by the boatload. So far this summer, more than 400 have arrived
on the West Coast in three ships.

Despite the growing resentment, felt most deeply here on the West Coast,
where the ships just keep arriving, the community of Port Hardy rallied to
help when federal officials told the mayor a shipload of smuggled aliens
was being tracked in nearby waters.

"We always help people in need," Mr. Hellberg said as he awaited word from
authorities on whether the ship was coming to his town or headed for Gold
River, another community used as an off-loading site this year. "But we
don't like what's happening. "

Mr. Hellberg made a few calls yesterday, and pretty quickly the community
had set up cots in the local arena, warmed the coffee maker and put food in
the kitchen.

Food. Warm blankets. A loving embrace. That's how Canada has traditionally
responded to immigrants.

The illegals attempting to slip ashore in B.C. this summer are getting all
that. But, as the boos in Port Hardy showed, there is also a deepening
anger in the land of easy entry.

"I think I speak for just about everybody here -- they should be sent back
home right away," Mr. Hellberg says bluntly.

Many Canadians now feel the same way, particularly in B.C. -- which may
seem surprising for a province that has a large Asian population and a long
history of immigration from China.

The first Chinese immigrants to the West Coast arrived in 1788, as part of
an aborted effort by British fur traders to establish a permanent
settlement in Nootka Sound, near Gold River.

Thomas Hutton, in his book The Transformation of Canada's Pacific
Metropolis, points out that ever since then Chinese immigrants have played
an important role in building B.C.

"Chinese immigrants played a key role in the development of Vancouver and
B.C. in the second half of the 19th century, during the gold rush of 1858
and then in the construction of the B.C. portion of the Canadian Pacific
Railway, which linked Vancouver to other Canadian cities and brought B.C.
into Confederation," he writes.

That influence continued, leading to Vancouver's eventual emergence as one
of the key Pacific Rim cities of the modern era, with a population that is
more than 20% Asian.

Fears raised by the return of Hong Kong to China spurred a wave of
immigration earlier this decade that injected into the B.C. economy an
estimated $4-billion in new income and helped the province escape the
recession that racked much of Canada at the time.

People here know that Asians have meant growth and prosperity in B.C., and
there is nothing racist about the boos in Port Hardy, or the hard polling
numbers that show Canadians, and British Columbians in particular, are
getting fed up with illegal immigration.

"This country welcomes immigrants. Hell, it's what built this country,"
says John Reynolds, a B.C. Reform MP and former foreign affairs critic.

"But what people are saying is, let's make it legitimate. We can't have
people coming in like this."

Mr. Reynolds said Canada needs a tougher immigration policy, one that
allows authorities to quickly return illegals who come from countries not
recognized as legitimate sources of refugees.

"The fact that 56% of British Columbians don't want them even given due
process -- they just want them sent right back where they came from --
shows you that people are getting pretty angry about this.

"We clearly need a change in policy," he said.

Robert Bedeski, a professor of political science at the University of
Victoria and an expert on international security in northeast Asia, agrees,
and says that unless Canada acts promptly, the situation will damage
relations with the United States, the ultimate destination of many of the

"If this continues, the U.S. will start looking at Canada as a weak entry
point -- and it will become increasingly difficult for all Canadians to
cross the border," he said.

And Prof. Bedeski argues that Canada's "humanitarian" approach to the
problem is harmful both to legal immigrants and to those who buy passage on
a smuggling ship.

"We are enabling this very vile trade in human suffering," he said, noting
that evidence suggests many of those who come as illegals pay their debts
through indenture to prostitution or other criminal activity.

"It is wrong to suggest that people who are critical of Canada's refugee
policy are being racist," he says. "Ethnic Chinese are more concerned about
this than anyone, more angered. The Chinese who arrived here legitimately
are very concerned. They know it reflects poorly on their community. And
they know they are the ones who will mostly likely be victimized by the
criminals who enter illegally."

Prof. Bedeski said he expects shiploads of illegals will keep arriving on
B.C.'s coast as long as the weather and the immigration policy assures safe

"The reception the first ships got has sent a signal that even if you get
caught, you will be treated lightly," he said. "Canada is known as a soft

Meanwhile, an "immigration industry" has built up on both sides of the
Pacific. In China, organized criminals, with the complicity of local
authorities, organize the shipments of human cargoes. Here in B.C., a
network of lawyers and social workers wait to greet them after the RCMP and
the Coast Guard have helped them land.

In Port Hardy they turned off the coffee pot when authorities diverted the
latest ship to Gold River.

Maybe it's time for all of Canada to do the same thing.

Melanie Orhant

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