New Study Reveals Misconception of “Imported Conflict” in Canada

by Sam Wollenberg, M.A. Candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Sam is an intern at The Mosaic Institute for the Summer of 2014. 

The debate surrounding immigration policy and reform is one that is never far from the surface in Canada. Recent controversies that garnered significant public attention include the increasingly obvious failures of the Temporary Foreign Worker program, the designation of Hungary as a “safe” country for the Roma population, ultimately deeming them ineligible for asylum, and the most recent refusal of visitor visas to ten Ugandan gay activists over the fear that they will remain in Canada and seek asylum after their participation in events associated with World Pride and human rights at the end of June in Toronto. Thankfully, one significant portion of the immigration debate can now be laid to rest, particularly in regards to immigrants or refugees from conflict areas, with the release of The Mosaic Institute’s study entitled The Perception and Reality of ‘Imported Conflict’ in Canada. The study, funded by the Kanishka Project from Public Safety Canada, marks the completion of two years of research involving almost 5,000 participants.

The Mosaic Institute strove to examine domestic security threats in a unique and constructive way and in the process shed some light on the concept of imported conflict itself, which is located a broad spectrum ranging from tangible, violent events to subtler socio-economic and community dividing tensions. The organization did so by surveying 4,500 Canadians and conducting nationwide interviews and focus groups of another 320, with these participants in particular selected from communities associated with 8 regional conflicts: Afghanistan; Armenia-Turkey; the Balkans; the Horn of Africa; India-Pakistan; Israel-Palestine; Sri Lanka; and The Sudans. The majority, or 57%, of Canadians surveyed, assumed that when individuals or communities from conflict affected areas move to Canada, they import aspects of the violent conflict with them, propagating violence or ethnic tension domestically. This opinion is also reflected in aspects of the debate on immigration policy, most currently in regards to Muslim-Canadians with another prevalent example being the Sri Lankan community.

In reality, however, the most resounding and policy influencing finding of the study contradicts this assumption and reveals overarching and complete repudiation of violence as a viable means of responding to conflict domestically once they become Canadian residents. Even the rare opinion of those surveyed who stated violence was still an effective means of achieving their aims in ongoing conflicts from whence they came, their framework for conceptualizing the conflict domestically quite rapidly assumes a Canadian lens or approach, one that encourages dialogue and understanding. Furthermore, the report reveals, the adoption of such values is made much more rapid when social, economic and political inclusion of immigrant communities is enhanced, a point I made in my first blog post, and yet another policy affecting implication of the study.

One of the other significant findings to come out of Perception and Reality was what those who leave conflict zones do import­­­­—trauma. Understandably, and even obviously to some, whether those interviewed had direct or indirect experiences with violence, trauma was a common thread that linked participants experiences across conflicts. By ignoring or neglecting this fact when implementing public policy, both federally and provincially, it places at risk not just those experiencing the effects of trauma, but also greater communities and potentially the public at large. This in turn can stigmatize entire communities, leading to cycles of racism and exclusion. Providing adequate mental health and trauma related services to immigrants from all countries, but particularly those in which violence is prevalent, will undoubtedly be beneficial for the Canadian government and its citizens.

The Mosaic Institutes report serves as an important reminder to policy makers and security analysts everywhere, including fledging ones such as myself, that a perception’s prevalence does not negate it as a misconception. Studies such as these with robust participation and methodology further our country’s ability to operate and thrive with the values that we have embraced for so long, which in turn strengthens Canada’s security and social cohesion. Poorly focused policies, such as profiling the individuals from conflict prone regions themselves, rather than the trauma they have experienced, only propagate distrust and animosity, potentially becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. And, while numerous aspects of the immigration debate must still continue to wage on, Canadians can rest assured and even proudly proclaim, that we have fostered a culture in which largely peaceful means of resolving conflict prevail and violence is checked at the door.

What other policy implications does this study hold? What are some other areas where security and immigration merge that could utilize similar studies and methodologies? Has this study changed your perceptions?

The Perception and Reality of “Imported Conflict’ in Canada, along with its methodology and 15 policy recommendations, can be accessed in English and French here.

Image by  Mustafa Khayat via Flickr.

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