In the shadow of the arrests, several of us met for a pleasant lunch to talk with Iron Rita about the Netherlands, which Canada must never become.
Rita Verdonk, the Dutch Minister of Immigration, is helping transform the Netherlands from one of the most welcoming countries in Europe to one of the least. She tried to revoke the citizenship of a popular MP from her own party who admitted she had falsified her asylum papers a decade and a half ago.
Tough and popular new immigration rules -- fostered by concerns over the Netherlands large, mostly Muslim, unintegrated underclass -- have cut immigration to that country in half. That's the hand of Iron Rita, as she is known to friend and foe alike.
Ms. Verdonk is visiting Canada, to see how immigration matters are handled here. Everyone in her delegation has been reading the papers: They know Canada is about to plunge into an inevitable and inevitably agonizing reappraisal of its own immigration ethos, in light of accusations that 17 men had allegedly conspired to blow up some of this country's most important buildings, most sacred symbols.
During yesterday's lunch, the minister talked about striking a "new balance" in Dutch immigration policy, based on a "moral contract" to which new arrivals would be compelled to adhere. It would at least involve speaking the Dutch language, but could also encompass Dutch secular values, democratic institutions and citizenship responsibilities.
There may be calls for similar measures here, in the wake of these arrests. For whatever else this alleged conspiracy might be, it is intensely political. Pundits as far away as Australia are predicting it will help Prime Minister Stephen Harper's re-election chances. Some Americans will doubtless demand that Congress accelerate rather than delay plans to require passports for anyone entering the United States from Canada.
Domestic voices on the right will call for a Dutch-like curtailment of Canada's open immigration policies, while those on the left will urge us to understand the alienation that young Muslims feel in Canadian society. Their wackier counterparts will claim the whole thing was a manufactured sting, a frame-up. It's all tripe, on both sides of the argument, but you can't stop people from thinking stupid.
You can, however, hew to the facts, and to common sense. Here's one fact: Muslim Canadians, according to Statistics Canada, constitute less than 2 per cent of the population. The genius of our immigration policy is that we bring people in from everywhere: China, India, Southeast Asia and its offshore archipelagos, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. No one group gets to dominate. There is no apprehended insurrection by radical Islamists that threatens to undermine the Canadian state. There are just a few hundred thousand Muslims in a country of 30 million who, for the most part, are trying to make their way along with the rest of us.
Here, hopefully, is something that you will agree is common sense: Canadians don't need to talk about "a new balance," or "moral contract," for immigrants, any more than we need to restrict the numbers we welcome. We already have a moral contract: it's called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It, the rest of our Constitution, and the body of statutory and common law under which we live, are sufficient for all of us.
Our tolerant and welcoming immigration policy represents Canada' s great competitive advantage over most of the rest of the world. It is why an engineer emigrating from Manila is more likely to come to Vancouver and less likely to go to Amsterdam. To listen to the screeds of those who will exploit these arrests to argue for shutting our doors would be to hand over our single most important public policy success to fools and bigots.
The Dutch may or may not have something to learn from us. But on this particular issue, we have absolutely nothing to learn from them. Let's not forget that, as the inevitable, unhappy debate unfolds. firstname.lastname@example.org