Changing the discourse around citizenship and immigration: A Comparison of the 6 Degrees dictionary and the International Organization for Migration glossary

Part I: Changing the discourse around citizenship and immigration. A Comparison of the 6 Degrees Dictionary and the International Organization for Migration Glossary

In preparation for the upcoming federal election in Canada, this summer the Canadian Council on Refugees (CCR) has issued an open letter to the leaders of Canada’s federal political parties, asking them to agree to a set of principles as they discuss and debate immigration and refugee issues and policy. Specifically, the CCR asks that people “engage in discussions about migration in ways that recognize:

  • Our shared humanity,
  • That Canada finds opportunity through diversity,
  • That refugees strengthen our communities,
  • That refugees help build our economy,
  • That Canada has legal obligations to respect and uphold the human rights of those fleeing persecution”.

In his 2017 Policy Matters article “How to debate immigration issues in Canada”, Andrew Griffith, former director general of Citizenship and Multiculturalism Canada and current prolific blogger at Multicultural Meanderings, called for “more respectful and informative debates”. He argued that “All participants need to be mindful of the impact of their arguments and words and need to formulate their arguments in a manner that fosters informed debate and contributes toward better pubic discourse and policy development”. The core principles shared by the CCR do set clear guidelines, but there must also be agreed upon definitions of the language used in these debates. Fortunately, two well known and respected organizations have recently released some definitions for consideration.

Co-founded and run by The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, 6 Degrees is a program of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). The ICC is the national champion for inclusion and active citizenship in Canada.  Last year, at their annual event, 6 Degrees, they released “The 6 Degrees Dictionary, A User’s Guide to Inclusion”. The 6 Degrees Dictionary focusses on inclusion and supports the notion that as a community, as a society, we all need to learn and use new agreed-upon language when we talk about citizenship and immigration.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is a leading intergovernmental agency providing  governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners with services and advice in promoting humane and orderly migration for all. In 2019, the IOM Glossary was developed “to give definitions for commonly (and on occasion not so commonly) used terms when speaking migration”. The IOM Glossary is clearly intended and written for policy makers, analysts and legislators. But both organizations want to change the discourse around migration and citizenship.

6 Degrees wants to provoke and inspire us; The IOM wants a “correct and balanced approach”. The 6 Degrees Dictionary offers us twelve terms to consider. Six of these terms are also defined in the IOM Glossary, and six are not. This paper reviews the six that are common to both.

Let’s see how their definitions are different, and ask whether the definitions are provocative and inspiring (6 Degrees) or if they help to bring harmony in the way the terminology is used and puts an end to dehumanizing terms (The IOM).

Citizen

The IOM Glossary doesn’t have a definition for ‘citizen’. Instead it refers readers to ‘nationality’, which is defined as “The legal bond between an individual and a State”. A short, decisive definition. The 6 Degrees Dictionary presents, as it does with all its “definitions”, a series of statements, challenging notions about the terms rather than defining them (in this way, I suggest that it is less a dictionary and more of a glossary). This approach lends itself well to being provocative and, some might say, controversial.

The 6 Degrees definition:

  1. Athens! The French Revolution!
  2. The source and guarantor of legitimacy of any nation-state, democratic or not.
  3. Under constant attack and denial by those with power, whether public or private.
  4. Not to be confused with a taxpayer.
  5. The opposite of stakeholder, a Mussolinian term which reduces an individual to membership in an interest group.
  6. Volunteerism is a manifestation of the engaged citizen, not a sector.
  7. The citizen cannot be a client of government services. The citizen owns the state.

immigrantchilren.ca finds much happiness in the fourth definition; “Not to be confused with a taxpayer”. Children, migrant or otherwise, are citizens in the country they find themselves in, regardless of their ability to pay taxes. The notion of volunteerism as a condition of, or a pre-requisite to ‘citizenship’ is a stimulating one. The 6 Degrees final definition of the citizen owning the state is an aggressive challenge to the IOM definition.

Immigrant

The IOM Glossary defines “immigrant” as “From the perspective of the country of arrival, a person who moves into a country other than that of his or her nationality or usual residence, so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence”. It’s very matter of fact. The  6 Degrees Dictionary defines “immigrant” in 6 different ways. After a short, declarative definition, The 6 Degrees Dictionary assigns attributes, effectively editorializing and being intentionally provocative and inspiring in its last five definitions:

The 6 Degrees definition:

  1. An individual who leaves one country to become the citizen of another.
  2. A noble term describing someone with the courage, decisiveness, and consciousness to wish to change their lives by changing their country.
  3. An individual whose qualities enrich their new society through public structures, culture, politics, and economics.
  4. On average, more comfortable with risk than those born in the country.
  5. Tends to be more ferociously loyal to their new country and its ideas of justice than those born there.
  6. An immigrant is to engagement what a citizen is to marriage.

Attributing immigrants as courageous, contributing and (more) loyal and (more) risk-taking in their new country is, again, deliberately provocative and challenging to the status quo view of immigrants taking from the system and wanting accommodation. Not an unpopular view, regrettably but not one the IOM takes either.

Integration

The IOM defines “integration” as “The two?way process of mutual adaptation between migrants and the societies in which they live, whereby migrants are incorporated into the social, economic, cultural and political life of the receiving community. It entails a set of joint responsibilities for migrants and communities, and incorporates other related notions such as social inclusion and social cohesion”.

The 6 Degrees definition:

  1. Probably better than assimilation, but a poor second to inclusion.
  2. Unfortunately assumed to be a benign process by which someone is incorporated into a society.
  3. A step, once understood as the only one necessary for dominant groups to deal with others.
  4. Assumes a list of adjustments that newcomers must make to become acceptable.
  5. Views societies as static and brittle that will crumble upon contact with difference.
  6. Provokes fear under the guise of stability.
  7. Discourages innate human curiosity.
  8. Denies happy human complexity.
  9. Totally wrongheaded.

Migrant

The IOM Glossary defines migrant as “An umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons’.

The IOM takes the opportunity to expand the term and includes a number of well?defined legal categories of people, such as migrant workers; persons whose particular types of movements are legally defined, such as smuggled migrants; as well as those whose status or means of movement are not specifically defined under international law, such as international students.

The 6 Degrees Dictionary begins its series of definitions pedantically with “A bird, animal or butterfly with a regular and circular pattern of movement”, then adds flourishes and texture to the next five, presumably as they relate to humans.

The 6 Degrees definition:

  1. A bird, animal or butterfly with a regular and circular pattern of movement.
  2. In practice, an underpaid industrial or agricultural worker who is expected to return to their home in the off season.
  3. In common usage, a label intended to exclude, marginalize, patronize, and dehumanize. As in, “When you’re finished picking my strawberries, go home.”
  4. A term that is never self-applied, only imposed on others.
  5. Not to be confused with expats or snowbirds.
  6. Used to justify withholding citizen rights from immigrants for one or more generations.

Multiculturalism

The IOM defines “multiculturalism” as “A model of integration policies that welcomes the preservation, expression and sometimes even the celebration of cultural diversity. This approach encourages migrants to become full members of society while retaining their cultural identities. It combines the recognition of varied backgrounds, traditions and ways of seeing the world with certain universalist values, such as the rule of law or gender equality, that override cultural differences and guarantee the same rights for all. The integration relationship is then best captured in the image of a mosaic enabling minority ethnic groupings to live side by side with the majority constituency”.

The 6 Degrees definition:

  1. An Indigenous concept that balances difference with belonging.
  2. A policy devised to explain how people from culturally distinct and diverse backgrounds can live together.
  3. A Canadian invention supporting – in theory at least – notions of equal rights, recognition, and opportunity for all regardless of their roots.
  4. An example of how confused and blissfully optimistic policymaking can become a strength.
  5. Misunderstood, to put it politely, by Europeans and Americans. And some Canadians.
  6. On paper, the opposite of interculturalism. In practice, identical.
  7. An important step on the road to pluralism and inclusion.
  8. A rare unapologetic Canadian mic drop.

Refugee

The IOM uses the 1951 Convention definition of refugee: “A person who, owing to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.

The 6 Degrees definition:

  1. Someone who flees their home to save their life.
  2. Not simply persecuted by others, as the legal definitions insist.
  3. Victim of everything from war and prejudice to drought and economic collapse.
  4. As in, a victim of calamity, human or nature made. It could be you.
  5. Or an identified enemy of the state, for example, someone who speaks up. It could be you.
  6. In both cases, an attempt by those with power to dehumanize those without. It could be you.
  7. Requires courage.
  8. More popular than asylum seekers. Refugees may appeal to everyone’s fear of suffering, but an asylum seeker is a refugee looking for a place to live next door to you.
  9. One who escapes despair, walks across the Sahara, is abused, raped, beaten, used as slave labour, and finally risks their life on a boat only to be categorized by Europeans as economic migrants. A form of persecution.
  10. You don’t want to be one.

Discussion

The 6 Degrees Dictionary calls itself a user’s “guide to inclusion”.  Kudos to them to want to ‘provoke and inspire”. Some of the definitions are stimulating, confrontational and a little cheeky. The IOM Glossary takes a more conventional approach. Both documents are useful, and both are considered “living documents”, offering opportunity to add and edit. I hope we can revisit and reopen the Six Degrees Dictionary at this week’s upcoming Six Degrees event. What do you think of the definitions?

 

Part II: Reviewing the discourse around citizenship and immigration in each of the 2019 federal party platforms.

~ coming soon ~

… home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home anymore than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.

Tayari Jones