U.N.’s Global Compact for Migration
Defining our common humanity
by Hon. Rey D. Pagtakhan, P.C., O.M., LL.D., D.Sc.
The Canadian Press and the CTV News brought to public attention on December 4, 2018 that “Trudeau and Scheer clash over Canada signing UN compact on migrants.” Even before the signature of the Government of Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was affixed to the agreement, the Tory leader took the contrary position and vowed: “A Conservative government under Andrew Scheer’s leadership would immediately withdraw Canada from this Global Compact on Migration (GCM).”
Most certainly this would be one important campaign issue during the forthcoming Canadian federal election that is barely 10 months away. The Canada Elections Act anticipates the election will take place on or before October 21, 2019; the exact date becomes known when the writs of election are formally issued.
To inform myself on this issue, I read the full GCM document. I noted the reported opinions of experts on the subject and examined the reasons given by countries opposed to the agreement. Also, I took into account their publicly known views on immigration as a national policy for their respective countries. As an added value, I canvassed for media’s fact-checking report.
Immigration as instrument of wisdom and compassion
This commentary reflects my analysis and conclusion: I am proud and grateful as an immigrant-citizen that Canada is one of the signatories to the United Nations-sponsored GCM – an international agreement that defines our common global humanity. Indeed, I see in the signatories their resolute acceptance of immigration as a nation’s instrument of wisdom and compassion.
I humbly share with our readers my commentary in the hope it would help them ascertain the merits of contrasting positions and claims on this issue when it is debated during the election campaign and, thereby, help all of us make an evidence-based decision come voting time. I have quoted freely from my references for greater emphasis, validation, and abundance of clarity.
What is the GCM?
GCM – the acronym for Global Compact for Migration, the short version for Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – is “the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations and aimed at improving co-operation between countries.” It was adopted in Marrakech, Morocco on December 10, 2018. “A total of 164 countries among the 193 UN members (84.97%) approved the agreement by acclamation.” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen signed on behalf of Canada.
I emphasize the word “negotiated” for it implies collective sharing of resources on the part of signatories (1) to acknowledge the magnitude of the global challenge posed by worldwide migration, (2) to search for the most practical and humane solutions, and (3) to apply them with decency and civility.
Magnitude of worldwide migration
The worldwide population of migrants comes to 258 million, of whom 36 million (close to 15%) are children. They include, as defined by the U.N. International Organization for Migration, “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (i) the person’s legal status; (ii) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (iii) what the causes for the movement are; or (iv) what the length of the stay is.” This magnitude of migrants comes to just about seven times the 37-million population of Canada – a truly tall challenge to our common humanity.
U.N. and Canadian laudatory roles
That is why I would like to underscore the vital role of the United Nations – always a beacon of peace and humanitarian leadership. As Canadians we can take pride that Canadians’ sense of justice and humanitarian duty was on full display once more when we become fully aware that “the GCM is the result of two years of hard negotiations led by Louise Arbour,” a former Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It is truly sad to hear arguments from non-signatory country and political leaders that condescendingly alludes to the U.N. as simply a non-elected body, as if an elected office confers an unfettered license to claim superiority in wise counsel and decision-making.
Anti-immigration bias of non-signatory countries
It is even more painfully sad to learn that the incumbent President of the most powerful democratic and freedom-loving nation in the world had also refused, together with a few other countries, to add their signatures. I have discerned that most of these non-signatory countries, with the USA foremost, share equivalent bias against immigration, particularly from certain countries. Their anti-immigrant bias would naturally make immigrants and descendants of immigrants feel less than co-equal in worth with all their fellow citizens, independent of country of birth, professed religious faith, inborn colour of skin, and different accents when they speak.
Press freedom and national sovereignty
It is my hope that the current opposition of the Canadian Tory leadership to the GCM does not, wittingly or unwittingly, reflect the same anti-immigrant bias. In fairness, however, to his policy stand, I concur that the need to ensure press freedom, freedom of expression, supremacy of national sovereignty, and Canada’s ability to set its own immigration policy are important imperatives. But none of these imperatives is extinguished or threatened by the GCM.
Careful reading of the document and its objectives, with full regard to the whole document for context and language, should re-assure him that his concerns have been answered as experts on this subject have confirmed in media quotes alluded to them (Craig Damian Smith, an associate director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, Christina Clark-Kazak, an associate professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, and Christopher Waddell, a professor at Carleton University’s journalism school).
Moreover, the Canadian Press’ “Baloney Meter” – “a project that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians” – gave “Andrew Scheer’s comments on UN Migration Compact’s Effects on Media” a rating of “A Lot of Baloney,” that is, “the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.” Also, former Tory Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is quoted saying, “Andrew Scheer is ‘factually incorrect’ about the UN’s global compact.”
Adopt and embrace
In light of the foregoing observations, may the Tory leader be bold to throw his support behind the Global Compact. Together, let us embrace this UN Global Compact – even if, admittedly, it is without the force and strength an international treaty brings – for the sake of safe, orderly and regular migration. Let us adopt the optimism of Louise Arbour who oversaw the finalization of this international agreement and “regard the Global Compact as a chance to shift world opinion on the need to address future migration.” In so doing, we help foster national unity and affirm our common global humanity.
Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan is a retired Filipino-Canadian physician and politician; formerly a lung specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, pediatric professor at the University of Manitoba, Member of Parliament (1988-2004), and federal cabinet minister. He chaired the House of Commons Standing Committees on Human Rights (1995-1996) and Citizenship and Immigration (1998-1999). He serves on the Advisory Council of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.