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Immigration Minister Jason Kenny holds a news conference to announce the Conservative government's new reforms on refugees, in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 30, 2010. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Immigration Minister Jason Kenny holds a news conference to announce the Conservative government's new reforms on refugees, in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 30, 2010. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Government says high number of immigrants will help economic recovery Add to ...

The government says the number of immigrants welcomed to Canada last year, the highest number admitted in over 50 years, will help the country's economic recovery.

But critics say the emphasis placed on economic immigrants is hurting other kinds of migrants, including refugees and overseas family members waiting to be reunited with loved ones in Canada.

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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Sunday that in 2010, Canada admitted 280,636 new permanent residents. That's six per cent more than the government had planned to admit.

Mr. Kenney said the high number of immigrants allowed in last year has sharply reduced backlogs in applications among skilled workers. He said it will also reduce wait times for applicants and help meet labour market needs.

"Canada's post-recession economy demands a high level of economic immigration to keep our economy strong," said Mr. Kenney.

"While other Western countries cut back on immigration during the recession, our government kept legal immigration levels high."

The number of newcomers in 2010 is about 60,000 higher than the average number of immigrants admitted annually in the 1990s.

Among those admitted were around 182,000 temporary workers and 100,000 foreign students.

More than 12,000 refugees were also welcomed to Canada.

"While Canada is maintaining its humanitarian tradition of providing a safe haven for legitimate refugees, we will not stand by while our immigration system is being abused by queue jumpers and human smugglers," said Mr. Kenney.

He said Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smuggling Act, "sends a clear message that the abuse of our immigration system will not be tolerated."

But Liberal MP Justin Trudeau called the bill an attack on refugees.

"There's a little bit of a dual message track coming out of the Conservative party," said Mr. Trudeau.

"Why are they then turning around cutting settlement funding agencies, at a time when the needs are increasing right across the country?"

Last December, the government announced it was slashing $53-million in funding from agencies that help new immigrants integrate and become self sufficient.

"The Conservatives have been letting in more people without giving them the tools to their success, which is a bit of a recipe for trouble," said Mr. Trudeau.

Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said recent immigration policy has been dominated by economic concerns.

Meanwhile, refugees or overseas family members waiting to be reunited have been left by the wayside, said Ms. Dench.

"Because of this greater priority to economic immigrants, we're seeing a lot of family members who are having to wait a very long time to be reunited with their families," said Ms. Dench.

"We believe there needs to be a greater priority given to bringing families together, especially reuniting children with their parents."

Recent immigration policies have been responding to employers's needs, said Ms. Dench.

"In some cases it seems like it's to get cheap labour, where maybe if employers were willing to pay more reasonable rates there may be Canadians who would be willing to work in that area," she said.

An immigration reduction group takes a sharply different view, saying that allowing more people into Canada does not make sense economically or environmentally.

Dan Murray, founder of Immigration Watch Canada, says the number of new immigrants is not proportional to the number of jobs available in a country still suffering from high unemployment rates in the wake of the recession.

"There's no economic argument that makes any sense at all," said Mr. Murray.

"All of the federal parties are afraid to talk about immigration in any kind of a negative way. They're all looking for their share of the immigrant vote."

The massive influx of people into the country will also put a strain on the environment by depleting water supplies and creating an excess of human waste, said Mr. Murray.

"It's just madness to be bringing that many people in," he added.

Follow on Twitter: @alexposadzki

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