Is Immigration Like Joining a Club

When we join clubs, we agree to abide by their rules. These may include dress codes, behavior and in the case of sports clubs the rules of the game. A soccer, tennis or golf club expects members to play the game according to the rules. All sports have some form of referee to enforce rules and apply sanctions where required. Recent World Cup soccer matches were replete with penalty kicks, yellow and red cards which the players accepted, at times reluctantly. When the ball went out of bounds, rules were followed to restart the game with throw-ins or kicks.

Homes are like clubs in some ways. People invited to other peoples’ homes are expected to behave while they are guests and may be asked to leave if they don’t. The same is true for hotels, restaurants and bars where owners may enforce smoking and dress codes. Screening and rules apply to commercial air travelers and are accepted by those who want to travel. Society only works with various rules and sanctions. The alternative is anarchy.

Why then is there argument about the rules that governments, such as Canada, apply to immigration? Here people ask to come and the government has the right to accept or reject them as permanent residents and asylum seekers. The arrivals are the product of different cultural, religious, political and economic backgrounds. Once accepted the government attempts to assist the newcomers to fit into Canadian society. People come for different reasons, usually by choice or because they are forced to leave their countries and enter as asylum seekers. Those who come leave a country (a club) that operates by one set of rules and enters another that has a different set. Applying the club analogy, these newcomers should be expected to behave by the rules of the country that they have sought to join. If they don’t like them, they are free to leave.

What are the rules for entry to Canada as a permanent resident who can later become a citizen? A screening process is applied to applicants for permanent residency and a total of about 250,000 are admitted each year split between economic migrants, family members, business persons and asylum seekers.

Application for citizenship requires that the person be in Canada three of the past four years of permanent residency, that they have an understanding of French or English, no criminal record and a knowledge of Canada as determined by a written test.

Responsibilities of citizenship include obeying the law, serving on a jury and voting at elections. Unlike Australia there is no penalty for not voting. While there is no requirement to serve in the armed forces, in times of emergency this could be a requirement for all Canadians.

Those living in Canada are protected by the rule of law that includes protection of property rights, and by a range of generally accepted human rights. These represent Canada’s club rules and its policy of multiculturalism is aimed at assisting those from other cultural backgrounds to adjust to Canadian societal norms. Where then do frictions arise?

Typical issues relate to dress codes, education, religious holidays, court systems, treatment of females and job certification. Head coverings for Sikhs was an instance that arose and was settled in the case of RCMP personnel. Face coverings for Muslim women are controversial in the case of establishing identity at security checkpoints, in identifying the person when required as in the case of police checks, in determining who the person is taking an examination, requesting a transaction such as an apartment or car rental, or when receiving medical treatment. There can be related problems when a female patient requests a female physician and none is available; the same could be the case for a male patient requesting a male doctor.

In education, the issue in Ontario is public funding for religious schools. The provincial government provides it for Anglican and Catholic schools but not for other religions. Private schools are established by other religious groups financed by fees. These must conform to provincial educational standards and are free to include religious instruction. Freedom of religion allows people to establish and worship in their own institutions.

Some ethnic groups have requested the use of special court systems to try infractions made by members of their own group. Aboriginal courts exist in a number of Provinces and operate within the provincial court systems. For details, see

The treatment of women by some religions is considered unacceptable by Canadian mores, including practices such as female circumcision and polygamy. There is no objection to male circumcision and the right to polygamous marriages is the issue in an upcoming court case in British Columbia. Religious practices in some countries provide sentences of death by stoning which seems to apply more often to women.

The accepted rules of being and becoming a Canadian are being tested in the courts and in public debate. The rules were established when Canada was primarily populated by the two founding races, French and English, both of which were based on immigration, with some accommodation for aboriginal peoples. These too were immigrants at one time. National Geographic research shows that the Americas were populated by people who crossed the land bridge from Europe about 12,000 years ago, see

The rules for joining the Canadian club are clear but not always enforced. At some points they are being tested as is the case for any set of rules. This occurs in sports too. Penalty rules have changed over time in ice hockey and soccer and players can now be suspended if tested positive for certain drugs. However the popularity of these games with players and spectators is due to the enforcement of a prescribed set of rules.

The club analogy works for immigration policy up to a point. A number of countries including Canada permit dual citizenship so that such a person is subject to two sets of rules. Purchasing a fraudulent passport is possible so that some may pose as citizens of several countries and thus clubs. Dual citizens may find themselves subject to rules that differ from those found in Canada and then expect the Canadian government to support them when they encounter difficulties abroad. Having more than one citizenship is like a person being a Christian, Jew and Muslim at the same time.

Treating countries like clubs poses other difficulties. Clubs are formed by people with fairly narrow common interests. Many sovereign nation states were formed in the late 18th century for a variety of reasons, including conditions following the American and French revolutions. Today there are almost 200 nation states from about a quarter of this number after World War Two.

The term sovereign nation state implies a government (state) that has control (sovereignty) over a particular area of land, sea and airspace. It is a nation to the extent that the inhabitants feel they have a common bond due to various cultural, linguistic and religious values. Canada is a sovereign state but the nation is a multicultural society, increasingly so because of immigration.

The Canadian nation consists of French and English settlers, aboriginal peoples who arrived several thousand years earlier and immigrants especially since the late 1800s. The first wave came mainly from the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe. A second included immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. This latter group dominates inflows today. They come from different cultural backgrounds and not surprisingly give rise to more frictions than existed previously.

The challenge is to combine the newcomers with existing Canadian society and the norms that have evolved. If there is a need to amend some of the norms, that would be like changing the club rules. It can be done but will involve lively debate similar to that over the death penalty, abortion, gay marriage and currently the acceptance of asylum seekers.

The increased crossborder movement of people as tourists, temporary foreign workers, legal and illegal migrants is aide by a combination of reduced transportation and communication costs, the policies of some countries to attract immigrants and the push factors in other countries. Nine out of ten post cold war conflicts have not been between countries but due to domestic conflicts which have led to the exodus of people as emigrants and refugees. Examples include the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. The reasons these people leave are different from those who leave willingly to seek a better life for their families.

Some countries such as Australia, France and the Netherlands place a greater emphasis on requiring newcomers to adhere to their national club rules. Canada needs to explain and enforce what it means to say “civis Canadiensus sum.”


2 Responses to “Is Immigration Like Joining a Club”

  1. Larry Willmore Says:

    This post is interesting, but incomplete. It leaves at least two questions unanswered:

    1. Should someone be entitled to citizenship simply because he or she happens to have been born in a particular country, or has parents who are citizens of that country? Is this sufficient evidence that the individual is likely to be a good citizen and follow rules?

    2. What about economic migrants who have no desire to become permanent residents or citizens of the country to which they migrate? Should the rules be the same for them as for permanent migrants?

    On the second point, see Lant Pritchett, _Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on Global Labor Mobility_ (Center for Global Development, 2006). This publication can be purchased (USD19.95) or downloaded as pdf files (no charge) at

  2. cmaule Says:

    Larry Willmore identifies two important issues. The second, following the work of Lance Pritchett asks whether more emphasis should be given to the entrance of temporary foreign workers. This would assist countries that have an ageing population and a shortage of workers, and would benefit those who receive remittances in developing countries where the workers are citizens. It creates a class of persons in a country with different rights from those of its citizens. Singapore is one example of a country that has a high percentage of its labour force as temporary foreign workers. It has procedures for managing them and has no difficulty in attracting workers on the conditions established.

    Canada has moved in this direction. It has provisions for a Canadian Experience Class, which includes temporary foreign workers and foreign students, to apply for permanent residency without leaving the country. Applications are assessed mainly on the basis of education and occupation.

    I am also grateful for comments made by Keith Acheson regarding the club analogy. He correctly points out that clubs are usually much easier to join and to leave/change, and that many organizations operate with unwritten as well as written rules. This is the case for citizenship. The written rules may be adapted over time and altered by the courts.

    Dual citizenship presents problems. For the individual it provides flexibility and is inexpensive to acquire. I am one. Others have more than two passports and are considered citizens of more than one country. For the country it can give rise to costs where dual holders pick and choose when to request diplomatic assistance. These people may also be able to vote in more than one country even when they are not present there.

    The concept of dual citizenship raises questions about the nature of the nation state with the ability of persons to belong to more than one. If it was prohibited, I would select one or the other. Abolishing the ability for persons to hold dual citizenship seems to me to be a reasonable policy for a country to adopt.

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