In an opinion article, John Ibbitson claims there is no border crisis; nevertheless the federal government has a growing problem for which he suggests several solutions.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Question to Explore:

  • Does Canada have an immigrant/asylum-seeker crisis?

New Terminology:

Asylum, refugee, Third Country Agreement, incoherent, incendiary, draconian, triage

Materials Needed:

Globe articles, Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Over the past couple of years, thousands of asylum-seekers have crossed illegally into Canada from the U.S., ostensibly afraid that the Trump Administration will deport them to their home countries, where all claim—with or without merit—that their lives would be in danger. Statistics on these crossings indicate the flow has eased, with lower numbers now being reported. As well, the federal government claims all those who enter illegally are being documented and treated as illegals, and that none are escaping the system.

The federal Conservative Opposition in Ottawa has seized on this as a wedge issue, most likely to be used against the governing Liberals in next year’s federal election. Anti-immigrant/refugee/asylum-seekers posts have been appearing throughout social media, where most students access information about the world. In this lesson, students will critique aspects of John Ibbitson’s article with the goal of achieving a balanced and informed opinion on the subject. They will work in groups to respond to selected segments of each article, develop a report and deliver it orally to the class.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Engage students in a short discussion about the current public discourse on immigration, illegal and legal. Some questions to focus the discussion:
  • Show of hands: Who feels that immigration is out of control and that Canada is accepting too many immigrants annually? Who feels immigration is reasonable and under control?
  • What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum-seeker? (An  asylum seeker seeks international protection but has not yet had his/her claim for  refugee status determined. A refugee is someone who has been recognized under the 1951 Convention to be a refugee)
  • How is an immigrant different from a refugee? (Refugees feel the need to flee their home countries, whereas immigrants have more of a choice)
  • Why are asylum-seekers entering from the United States, since it is part of the Third-Country Agreement? (Under this agreement, Canada and the United States are deemed safe for asylum-seekers, and therefore a claimant cannot legally enter from one safe country to another. However, asylum-seekers who have entered the U.S. now feel the political climate there will force them to be deported, hence their flight to Canada. If they were to attempt to enter legally, they would be turned back, but when they enter illegally they are taken into custody, where their claims are assessed)
  • How has the number of immigrants per year changed under the Liberals compared to the Conservative years in power in Ottawa? (Except for 2016-2017, when we received 323,000, the overall numbers have changed very little. 2017-2018: 272,000; 2010: 270,000. Source:
  • Why doesn’t Canada turn away illegal asylum-seekers? (Canada has an obligation to process any illegal crossers. It does deport asylum-seekers whose claim to be a refugee is denied. In a sample of 3,462 assessed claims to March, 2018, 47% were accepted, 36% rejected, and 9% were abandoned or reclassified)
  • Introduce a group activity, in which students will critique aspects the attached article. Provide these worksheets:

Work Sheet

You are to read the article by John Ibbitson. When you have finished, respond to the questions regarding these excerpts:

“Despite the increase in the number of border crossers last month, the Liberal government appears to have brought the situation under control. The Conservatives are wrong: There is no crisis.”

  • This is Mr. Ibbitson’s main claim. Read the next five paragraphs and then discuss whether he proves his claim. Provide numbers and evidence in support of your conclusions.

But then someone figured out the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States.

  • Describe this “loophole”

“But Mr. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and draconian enforcement policies deter people from seeking asylum in the United States, sending them north to Canada. Lessening the flow of people from the United States into Canada depends on the Americans solving their own border and immigration issues. Don’t hold your breath.”

*What do the terms “incendiary” and “draconian” tell you about Mr. Ibbiton’s opinion of President Trump, as well as his comment ‘Don’t hold your breath’?  Do you feel these characterizations are justified?

“It’s time to give the process of accommodating these unusual refugee claimants a name and a budget. Let’s make border crossers a recognized component of Canada’s immigration policy. Then, as much as legally possible, let’s speed up the process of assessing their claims. And let’s start publishing monthly deportation statistics. Because most of the people who are entering this country by gaming the system shouldn’t be allowed.”

  • What do you think of these suggestions? What would be gained by publishing monthly deportation statistics? Would this help the Liberal Government or would it strengthen or weaken the current claims by the Opposition Conservatives that Canada has a crisis? Give reasons.
  • How would you feel about the current asylum-seekers/refugee issue if all claimants came from Ireland or France? Would this change your opinion? Give reasons.
  • Do you think The Globe and Mail is a left-leaning or right-leaning newspaper, as understood in everyday terms? See:
  • Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

Report your findings to the group with an oral report.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students present and discuss oral reports on their findings to class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can explain the differences between immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. They can offer an informed opinion on whether Canada is in crisis mode on these matters.

Confirming Activity:

  • Ask students to note postings on social media that take one side or the other and present them to class along with a critical assessment of their merits.