In this Aug. 7, 2017 file photo, an RCMP officer informs a migrant couple of the location of a legal border station, shortly before they illegally crossed from Champlain, N.Y., to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec. (Canadian Press/AP/Charles Krupa)

DAVE’S DIGS: As the ranks of billionaires grow, why go after poor migrants?

Legitimate critics of migrant policy must address the problem of xenophobia among their supporters

It’s always interesting to see online reactions to my columns. Last time, I wrote in defence of people who cross the border to seek asylum in Canada. In a nutshell, I argued that it costs the average taxpayer relatively little to manage this flow of people – perhaps $11 a year for someone who earns $40,000, according to one estimate.

Of course, that was for federal spending. One critic said this didn’t account for true costs, because there are provincial and civic resources to consider. Suppose we double or triple the figure. I maintain that it’s not much to ask for the roughly 19,400 asylum seekers (a small fraction of Canada’s population) who last year fell in the category of “RCMP interceptions” between the regular ports of entry.

Besides, the number of billionaires in this country grew last year to reach a total of 46 people with a combined net worth of more than $148 billion, according to Forbes magazine – never mind those with wealth in the tens or hundreds of millions. Why go after the poorest of the poor, instead of those with private jets and cellars full of champagne?

Another reader said that putting the figures in terms of personal income brackets was “unnecessarily complicated” and “a deliberate distortion to sway readers to the writer’s viewpoint.” He asked, “Why not simply state the cost per irregular migrant?”

For the record, as per the Parliamentary Budget Office, the cost per irregular migrant in 2017-2018 for the federal government was an estimated $14,321. It’s true that I hope to “sway readers” – it’s an opinion column, and I think we should welcome these brave and tenacious people who have travelled from places like Eritrea, Turkey or Colombia to build a home.

But I have to disagree that it’s in any way a distortion, or unnecessarily complex, to break down the taxpayer’s contribution by income. So much online rhetoric against asylum-seekers seems designed to tap into economic frustrations of ordinary people, to give them a scapegoat. I sought out these numbers to put things in perspective. I’m mystified about how this vision of international solidarity could be construed as “anti-white rhetoric,” as one critic suggested.

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This “us versus them” mentality can be seen in some of the other online reactions. One suggested that more refugees would mean “less available housing for Canadians” amid a “tough housing market out there for renters.” As a renter, I say demand housing, but alongside refugees, not at their expense.

Some critics seemed triggered by my assertion that much of the rhetoric about asylum-seekers has its roots in racism. Sure, being concerned about national security, spending or “queue jumping” doesn’t make you racist. These are complex issues that intelligent people can disagree about. But let me be more specific.

In particular, I’m thinking about memes that I’ve seen on local social media that feature the Canadian flag or a map of Canada and state: “F— off, we’re full.”

I’ve seen people gleefully displaying their approval of this sentiment online with hearts and “likes” and GIFs of Trump happily building a wall.

Or to take another example: in response to my columns, one troll has repeatedly posted links to the 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech by British politician Enoch Powell. In the speech, Powell promoted racial discrimination, called for immigrants to go back to their countries of origin, and suggested that immigration would cause a race war.

This kind of race-baiting is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the sort of extremist rhetoric that likely inspired Alexandre Bissonnette’s Quebec City mosque massacre of Jan. 29, 2017. Critics of a generous refugee policy should denounce that kind of racist garbage, instead of ignoring it.

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