Message From Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada
One-on-One with Minister Chris Alexander Having had the chance to meet with him briefly once before, I had already known about the calm and relaxed nature of Minister Chris Alexander. His composed demeanor gives those interacting with him a sense of comfort. He is a very approachable individual. With the questions I had lined up for him in mind, this made it easier for me to get started. Early in the evening, the Minister had gracefully accepted us in his Toronto offices for a chat about general issues regarding immigration and the immigrant communities in Canada, and to also dig into what his thoughts were on the Canada-Turkey relations, which at times did have its fair share of rockiness. Taking us back to years ago, I began by asking the minister of what had remained with him from his time in Afghanistan. After all, he was there for quite some time, and it was of interest to me to find out what he had carried-along with him since then. After having asked this, it was quite interesting to hear that having witnessed the dramatic changes that took place in the country during his time there, and having witnessed the gains made in terms of democracy and human rights, Minister Alexander continues to take these experiences in how to build a functioning state and democracy and how to instill the respect of human rights into a society, to his heart. Looking back fondly to his time there, he points out how important his experiences there are to what he does today as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
Seeking Asylum in Canada
The question about his time in Afghanistan had naturally led me to another relevant question; his position on refugees and Canada’s role in providing help to them. Having seen the poverty and devastation brought on by years of war must have had some sort of an impact on him and it would be interesting to see his response. The Minister strongly believes that Canada is already doing a very good job in terms of accommodating those applying for asylum in the country. When talking about the recent changes the government had undertaking with regard to the application process, he insisted that this was for the benefit of the refugees themselves, and the objective was to weed out those whose intent is to cheat the system fort their won gain. Moving on, the Minister insisted that the system revolved around the actual needs of asylum seekers and stated that the efforts of the government should not be skewed or misunderstood.
Integration vs. Assimilation
When discussing immigrants, it is difficult not to delve into this age old question. On the surface, the approach the Canadian state has taken has always been different with regard to the American one. There has always been a clear distinction between how newcomers are greeted in these two countries. While the United States has argued for the ‘melting pot’ approach, Canada has always been proud of its ‘mosaic’ dynamic and the strong presence of multiculturalism in the country. After all, for many, multiculturalism is how they define Canada; it has truly become a Canadian cultural icon. The Minister feels no different about this than many other Canadians. He is an ardent supporter of multiculturalism, and wants immigrants to feel safe and at home. He wants them to feel comfortable with their own culture and identity and believes that being Canadian will naturally come as part of living here. He doesn’t hesitate to add however that being a member of this society, brings with it some responsibilities. He states that he is against devaluing our identity and citizenship, and that the only way to make sure of this is through rigorous system in which those who betray this country, or attempt to betray this country are duly punished.
To this question the Minister gave a frank response; immigrant representation both at the federal and at the provincial level could be better. He put the onus on the immigrant communities however, and encouraged them to do more to take part in Canadian politics. He insists that the Canadian system is open for immigrants of all political stripes and strongly rejects that there is any systemic discrimination in Canada towards visible minorities, especially in the political arena. The Minister says that he wants to see more members of visible minorities in the parliament
in the years ahead, and that this can only be achieved through the hard work of immigrants themselves. While he admits that getting a start in politics is no easy task, but states that this should, in no way, be a valid reason for staying out of politics.
Canada-Turkey Strategic Partnership
After asking about where the two countries currently stand, the Minister responded by stating that more had to be done, and both countries had to take their relationship to the next level. He specifically insisted on the role of the Turkish Canadian Chamber of Commerce in bringing the countries together in the field of business and international trade, and also pointed out the strength of not just Turkey, but also the Turkic world as a whole in making important gains in the Canadian market. He stated that they are actively trying to make the process increasingly faster and easier for those wishing to come to Canada as economic immigrants and that the Canadian government is interested today more than ever on foreign investment into the country. Pointing out the young and dynamic population of the country, the Minister outlined the key sectors in which they are actively asking for immigrant applicants. Furthermore, the minister insisted that the importance of strong trade links between the countries goes beyond just economics, but also serves to improve and strengthen the cultural ties between the two countries and encouraged more young Turks to apply to come to Canada either to pursue their careers or to invest in the country.