Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Fooling Canadians About Refugees

SPOTLIGHT: Is there a concerted effort to downplay the number of asylum seekers?

BIG PICTURE: Here in Canada, we welcome 250,000 legal immigrants annually. These individuals follow the rules, jump through bureaucratic hoops, and patiently wait years for their paperwork to wind its way through the system.

But there’s another avenue by which people enter our country – as refugees or asylum seekers. In the four decades spanning 1978 to 2016, an average of 24,000 asylum seekers were processed each year.

Last summer, in response to rising concern about people applying for asylum at the Canada-US border, we were assured that nothing unusual was going on. The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary released a one-page PDF that declared: “Projected values for 2017 are similar to those of 2000 and 2008.” Nothing to see here.

GlobalNews then published a headline declaring: This year’s surge in asylum claimants to Canada isn’t unprecedented: U of C analysis. But that was sheer speculation.

What actually happened is GlobalNews took a guestimate/projection/prediction and blithely compared it to real, hard numbers from previous years:

According to data analyzed at the university’s School of Public Policy, an estimated 36,610 people will come to Canada to seek asylum by year’s end.

That number stands to be only the fourth highest since 2000… [bold added]

But the guestimate was wrong. In fact, a record-breaking 50,445 people applied for asylum. The academics were off by a country mile.

The only year in which more refugee claims were processed was 1989. But that only happened on paper. Prior to launching a new refugee system in 1990, a backlog of cases was bundled into 1989. That year’s total of 80,554 isn’t overly accurate, therefore.

To repeat myself, the average is 24,000 asylum seekers a year. In 2017, we experienced double that. Here’s a line graph of the data. The first spike is the 1989 anomaly. The last spike shows us what happened last year.

click to enlarge

Here’s the same data as a bar graph:

click to enlarge

Sadly, GlobalNews wasn’t alone. The publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), ran an equally misleading story. Titled Surge in asylum seekers coming to Canada nothing new, community groups say, it began this way:

The reasons for a sudden surge in the number of people crossing into Quebec illegally from the U.S. may be something of a mystery, but community groups working with refugees in Montreal say one thing is for sure – the phenomenon is nothing new. [bold added]

A little further down, we were fed this nonsense:

Richard Goldman, a refugee lawyer with 30 years experience in the field, says it’s important to note that such spikes have occurred before…Given the numbers to date for 2017, Goldman says Canada could be on track for a year-end total of around 36,000 refugee claimants.

“Canada has handled this in the past,” he explains. “July may be some kind of outlier month, but overall we’re not in some kind of unprecedented situation.” [bold added]

Here again, the media treated sheer speculation – this time on the part of an immigration lawyer – as credible. With a wink and a nod, it was decided that a lawyer can accurately predict the future. Ergo, there was no cause for alarm.

It’s worth noting that his guess of 36,000 is in sync with the U of Calgary prediction of 36,600. This suggests a concerted effort involving journalists, academics, and lawyers to promulgate a particular perspective.

That perspective misled Canadians. Something historic was, in fact, taking place. But the public was told the opposite.


  • The CBC article discussed above disingenuously implies that the reason for the increasing numbers is unknown. The US-based Pew Research Center, however, sees no mystery. In its words: “in 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a highly publicized tweet that Canada welcomed “those fleeing persecution, terror and war.” (Trudeau made the statement after Trump restricted travel into the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries and paused the U.S. refugee resettlement program.)”
  • Refugee intake data for 1978-1999 appears in this table (PDF) taken from page 4 (p. 8 in the PDF) of this official Canadian government publication. Page 1 (p. 5 of the PDF) confirms that the “Humanitarian” column represents refugee claimants. Shortlink for the full 42-page publication is here:
  • Refugee intake data for 2000-2016 appears in the U of Calgary document (PDF). There is some overlap and minor conflicts with data published since then by the Canadian government (see the last table at the bottom of this webpage).
  • Merging the numbers from the sources outlined above, I plotted the line and bar graphs in Excel. Download my Excel file here.
  • NOTICE: I’m taking a few days vacation. Returning next Friday, September 7th.


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This entry was posted on August 29, 2018 by in media and tagged .