Margaret Laurence Lecture Series Hits the Mark
23rd annual Margaret Laurence Lecture a timely response to proposed Citizenship Act reform
Taking place within hours of the Conservative government’s announcement of comprehensive reforms to Canada’s Citizenship Act, the 23rd annual Margaret Laurence Lecture at Trent could not have been timelier.
Known for its high-profile lecturers and its commitment to topical issues, the series hit the mark this year with its choice of Dr. Audrey Macklin. Professor Macklin, who currently holds a chair in Human Rights Law at University of Toronto, teaches, researches and writes on gender-related persecution and refugee status, the securitization of citizenship and migration, the privatization of migration processes, the role of rights in migration law, and refugee status determination. She is also as well-known for her work outside academia, having served as a member of the Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, and, from 2007 to the present, being involved in the case of Omar Khadr. She was also an observer for Human Rights Watch at the Military Commission proceedings in Guantànamo Bay and represented Human Rights Watch as amicus before the Supreme Court of Canada in two Khadr appeals.
In her February 6, 2014 lecture at Trent entitled "Unsettling Canada: The End of Immigration as Nation Building?” Prof. Macklin argued that our national identity is shifting from that of a nation of immigrants to one in which immigrants are seen as a potential threat. This shift, according to Prof. Macklin, is reflected in ongoing policy changes that increasingly promote immigration as temporary and job-based, rather than as a path to citizenship.
“We thought Prof. Macklin was an excellent choice this year because she has an impressive academic reputation in her field and also 'lives' her commitment to fair immigration and refugee processes through participation in groups like Human Rights Watch,” observed Dr. Joan Sangster, professor of History and Gender and Women’s Studies at Trent. “Prof. Macklin is a well-known spokesperson on these issues. Her area of expertise speaks directly to issues of social justice and the kind of Canadian nation we wish to build, which were of concern to Laurence.”
Prof. Macklin opened her talk with a nod to the beloved Canadian author and feminist, observing that Margaret Laurence is a writer “who captures something about how we make and are made by our country our land, our community. Those are themes that engage me again and again.”
The Margaret Laurence Lecture series aims to engage a broader public beyond the Trent community, and this year’s lecture did just that. Community members and local groups involved with immigration were well-represented in the audience, and engaged the speaker in a lively question-and-answer following the talk.
For Dindin Villarino, coordinator of Northumberland’s online Immigration Portal, the talk provided a much-needed national and global historical context. “I appreciated that she highlighted the special challenges of immigrants in Canada and how, as part of the Canadian system, we must also include them when we use the phrase "Canadian taxpayers," she added.
Immigration consultant and former executive director of the New Canadians Centre, Carmela Valles, felt the talk echoed her own fears about a changing public discourse. “Current immigration and citizenship grants [are moving] towards more temporary, conditional, and revocable, certificates of admission, thereby rendering immigrants and naturalized citizens disposable,” she observed.
For Prof. Macklin, the examination of these issues is now more important than ever, as the changes she predicted in her lecture are fast becoming political realities. What is at stake if Canadians cease to conceive of immigration as central to the nation-building project and to Canadian national identity? “These are not questions for me to answer,” concluded Prof. Macklin, “but rather an invitation for you to join in a dialogue.”
Posted on Friday, February 14, 2014.