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CONTESTATIONS of migration and belonging in Canada amidst COVID-19

Three people on a city street holding protest signs

Photo credit: FCJ Refugee Centre

The goal of this project is to identify and examine the current state of narratives and politics of migration and belonging in Canada amidst and emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. This period has featured rapidly shifting policies, discourses, and understandings of belonging and who is “essential.” It has also sparked civil society responses to the inequalities and risks experienced by migrants and immigrants. Examining such discourses and approaches is expected to reveal much about the contemporary political migration landscape. 

  1. How are state and civil society projects of migration and belonging from “above” and “below”, highlighted by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. How have political narratives of migration and belonging shifted amidst COVID-19? Have they shifted in inclusive or exclusionary directions?

This project’s goal is to deepen our understanding of narratives and political approaches to migration and societal belonging in Canada by examining dominant, hegemonic and emerging subaltern projects, discourses and movements of belonging and exclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a period of turmoil and rapid change that has prompted state and civil society actors to act and frequently articulate and justify their approaches.

For its part, the Canadian government’s approach to migration amidst the pandemic has been mixed. On the one hand, for example, it has engaged in discourses recognizing the essential economic and social contributions of migrants and immigrants while making incremental and temporary program changes to facilitate access to permanent residence for some. On the other, it has largely closed the Canada-US border to asylum seekers and continues to exclude many migrants from pathways to citizenship. Pushing for a more inclusive society and responding to exploitative conditions – including preventable deaths – civil society responses from below have included small scale to nation-wide resistance, protests and demands. These have included calls for improved working conditions, a comprehensive regularization program, vaccines and “status for all,” and an approach that recognizes that “refugee travel is essential.” Such contrasts demonstrate that commonalities and differences between approaches from above and below are significant not only in terms of discourse and ideology, but because they result in policy prescriptions, outcomes, and social relations of tremendous significance.

This project will exam political and policy discourses of migration and belonging from government and civil society actors through the compilation and analysis of publicly available documents. Sources and developments will include government policies and press releases, government and parliamentary reports and speeches, as well as civil society websites, public statements, and media reports. Relevant secondary literature will also be examined.

Collection and coding of research materials and literature review are ongoing. Results will be available in late 2021.

Spring/Summer, 2022

CERC Migration

migration discourses, COVID-19, political narratives, Canada, immigration, migration