Blog post by Dr Idil Atak, Ryerson University, Canada


On June 4th, 2020, Canada accepted the invitation by International Organization for Migration (IOM) to become a “champion” country for the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM). Canada was part of the initial 13 champion countries. Today, together with Portugal and Luxembourg, it is one of the three countries from the Global North participating in the initiative.  


By becoming a champion country, the Government of Canada has committed to continuing to work with the United Nations Network on Migration and other States in the promotion of the GCM’s 23 objectives. In addition to advocating for the implementation of the GCM and for building positive migration narratives, the tasks for champion countries include:  generating and disseminating key insights, guidance materials and tools, and promising practices, and demonstrating support for the GCM through their leadership and engagement in the multilateral processes.  


In this blog post, I discuss Canada’s role as a champion country and its contribution to the implementation of the GCM objectives. I explore how Canada considers its obligation of a champion country and the value of such a label. I argue that the designation confirmed Canadian leadership in international cooperation on migration. It offered a platform for Canada to showcase and share its expertise in selected areas. However, progress in the domestic implementation of the GCM objectives remains to be seen. My findings partly draw on a field research I conducted as part of the PROTECT The Right to International Protection: A Pendulum between Globalization and Nativization project. From March to August 2021, 14 semi-structured interviews were organized with stakeholders in Toronto, including lawyers, representatives from immigrant serving and non-profit organizations, the City of Toronto staff and municipal government officials, to assess Canada’s implementation of the GCM. Toronto was chosen as a pilot site for the project, since it is Canada’s largest and most diverse city and the destination for a large number of immigrants in the country. In addition, Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC), two federal ministries responsible for overseeing the implementation, follow-up and review of the GCM in Canada, provided a joint written response to the interview questions.  


A positive voice for well-managed migration


The Liberal Federal Government of Justin Trudeau has been a strong supporter of the Global Compacts (GCs). Prior to the adoption of the GCs, the government called “expert advisory groups” to consult with legal practitioners, settlement agencies and other civil society organizations and NGOs, as well as academics across Canada. The feedback from these stakeholders informed Canada’s contribution to the GC drafts. At the global level, Canada played a key role in the negotiation of the GCs. Speaking of the Global Compact on Refugees, James Milner notes that “Canada achieved its objectives in the development of the text by adopting a role as a norm entrepreneur and leader on issues of gender inclusion, accountability, and inclusive and participatory mechanisms” (Milner, 2020, p. 42). Similarly, during the drafting of the GCM, Canadian representatives advocated for an inclusive and gender-responsive approach to migration management modelled on Canada’s policies. As a research participant put it,

Canada cares about its perception in the international arena. As a mid-size, mid-power country, there aren’t many ways for Canada to be recognized. Being a responsible member in the international community when it comes to migrants is important to Canada in terms of how it is perceived in the world.


In his remarks at the adoption of the GCM on December 10, 2018, Ahmed Hussen, the then Minister of IRCC emphasized the positive benefits of managed migration:

Adopting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. We in Canada continue to rely on immigration to help grow our economy, which helps grow our middle class and our common prosperity.


This vision was shared by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) which underlined that the GCM provided “a platform for Canada to be a strong, constructive voice on the international stage as we highlight the economic and social benefits of immigration in Canada’s development” (House of Commons (CIMM), 2018). Canada considers the GCM as an instrument that provides leverage for pursuing practices of well-managed migration in domestic and international-level work and engagements (IRCC and GAC, 2021).  


Shaping the global migration architecture


The champion state role offers Canada an opportunity to position itself as a leader in international cooperation in migration management (IRCC, 2021, p. 28). Canada has demonstrated its support for the GCM, through its input and engagement in the regional reviews on the GCM. To cite an example, Canada’s Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and the Minister for International Development were active participants in the two regional reviews, one for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and North American region in November 2020, and the other for the Latin America and Caribbean region in April 2021. Canada shared its progress in implementing the Compact by submitting a voluntary written input in advance of the first regional review. More recently, it provided input to the United Nations Secretary General’s report published in February 2022.  


Importantly, Canada has advocated for a more coordinated and coherent global migration architecture built on and amplifying the capacities of migrants themselves, in particular women and girls. It recommended that the IOM be tasked as lead of a restructured Global Migration Group with membership drawn from a number of other key actors. Moreover, Canada suggested to streamline the regional processes and proposed monitoring of relevant existing norms to prevent erosion of migrants’ rights, particularly in the face of xenophobic and nationalistic pressures (Government of Canada, 2021, p. 5 and 6). In its champion country role, Canada has become an active voice for a reform of the international migration governance.  


Sharing best practices in migration governance


The government of Canada aims to leverage the fora provided by the GCM to share its best practices in the GCM priority areas of positive migration narratives and gender-responsive migration management. Canada serves as co-chair -with Ecuador and GFMD Mayors Mechanism- of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) Working Group on Public Narratives on Migration which involves a global campaign to showcase the positive impacts that migration can have on communities. In line with its Feminist Foreign Policy, Canada has been eager to participate in the development of programs to support migrant women and girls globally. In 2019, Canada became lead of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. It also promised financial contribution to global efforts to improve access to quality education for women and girls in crisis and conflict situations. The Canadian government has partnered with a local civil society organization in Ecuador to support the first gathering place and reference center for Venezuelan LGBTI migrants to access health services and help link them with local support networks (IRCC and GAC, 2021).  


As a champion country, Canada expressed its committed to enhancing capacity-building initiatives to improve border management in order to reduce irregular migration and combat migrant smuggling. Over the last decade, Canada has provided capacity-building assistance to transit and source countries in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Western Africa (Ranford-Robinson 2020). Canadian authorities have contributed to the reinforcement of these states’ capacity to contain asylum seekers and irregular migrants, through personnel training, infrastructure building, and technology transfer. Canada’s actions come with deleterious consequences and raise the question of accountability for rights’ violations in the context of border externalization. The GCM’s support for capacity-building initiatives illustrates how the GCM champion country label can be used as a leverage to further legitimize and reinforce questionable policies and practices.  


Implementing the GCM in Canada


So far, Canada’s attention has been turned toward initiatives to establish its leadership in immigration and refugee protection at the global level. The GCM implementation has not yet been translated into deliberate action in the domestic arena. This should not come as a surprise since both the government and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) are of the opinion that Canadian immigration system aligns with the GC objectives and our laws, policies and programs provide examples of how the principles of the Global Compacts can be interpreted and applied (Chesoi and Naef, 2019). According to the government, “the majority of the almost 200 action items listed under the Compact’s objectives reflect current Canadian practices.”  


Although the government also suggested that Canada works collaboratively at the national and local level to advance programs and policies that are aligned with Canada’s GCM implementation, our interviews revealed that the government did not pursue its collaboration with civil society organizations and other stakeholders in Toronto since the adoption of the GCM in December 2018. Our findings don’t cover other major metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, as mentioned, Toronto is home to the largest number of recent immigrants of any Canadian city and the primary destination for asylum seekers in Canada.  


The Compacts have not had any implications for the already existing multilevel collaboration patterns in Toronto. They have not introduced any new governance actors to the field or changed the implementation of international protection. Participants we interviewed, including those who were consulted by the federal government prior to the adoption of the Compacts, unanimously noted that they haven’t seen any implications in any way for the work that they do or any specific changes in Canadian laws that carry out some of the Global Compacts’ objectives. When they were asked for the reasons, some participants mentioned the non-binding and top-down nature of the Global Compacts. According to a participant:

The Global Compacts … reflect many things. One, reflect a huge polarization on this issue between of the global south and the global north. We are not dealing with the same issues. We don’t have the same interest and the whole thing becomes totally a waste of time when they make it no binding and when they make it a declaration only.


The dual nature of the Canadian law was another reason stated by legal practitioners for the absence of the GGC-driven changes in the field: international law principles have to be incorporated into Canada’s domestic law to produce effects and be implemented in the legal system. The process can be lengthy and complex. Thus, a participant argued that the Global Compacts are not likely to be used before the courts because of the status of international law in Canada. They remarked that even legally binding United Nations instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have not made a big difference in their practice. According to this participant, the lower level tribunals, including the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, typically do not take international law into consideration in their reasoning. Another practitioner said that they are just most focused on the rights of the refugees directly in front of them and that usually relates to Canadian laws.  


As a champion state, Canada committed not only to organizing national consultations with all relevant stakeholders, but also to developing a national GCM implementation. These initiatives need to be implemented quickly to identify and address some of the pressing issues experienced by service providers and migrants, in particular those in precarious situations exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.  


Concluding remarks


Led by the Liberal federal government, Canada has been a strong voice in favour of the GCM implementation abroad. It has been eager to share its best practices and to advocate for a better global migration governance architecture, including an effective monitoring of states’ compliance with relevant protection norms. It is noteworthy that the Conservative Party opposed the GCM, expressing concerns that it can influence Canadian domestic law and suggesting that the Compacts fail to address the cost of uncontrolled migration in terms social welfare payments and integration (House of Commons, 2019: Dissenting report of Her Majesty’s official opposition The Conservative Party of Canada p. 24-25). In this context, the Liberal Government’s advocacy for the global initiatives on positive migration narratives and gender-responsive policies is commendable. The champion country role enhances Canada’s leadership in immigration and its partnerships at the global level. It remains to be seen how the GCM objectives will be translated into concrete action within Canada.    



List of References


Chesoi, Madalina & Naef, Brenda. 2019. Primer on the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Parliament of Canada, Background Paper, 20 May.

House of Commons. 2019. Government Response to the Report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration Entitled “New Tools for the 21st Century – The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact for Refugees: An Interim Report”, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 5 April.

House of Commons, Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration [CIMM]. 2018. New Tools for the 21st Century – The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact for Refugees: An Interim Report  Twenty‑third Report, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, December.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 2021. Canadian Input to the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General  on International Migration for the Secretary General’s Report on the Global Compact For Safe, Orderly, Regular Migration.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 2021. 2021 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 2018. Remarks for the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, at the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Marrakech, 10 December.

Milner, James. 2020. Canada and the UN Global Compact on Refugees: A case study of influence in the global refugee regime. In Samy Yiagadeesen and Howard Duncan, International Affairs and Canadian Migration Policy (pp.41-63), Springer.

Ranford-Robinson, Corey. 2021. Managing ‘mass marine migrant arrivals’: The Sun Sea, anti-smuggling policy and the transformation of the refugee label, PhD Dissertation, York University, Toronto.    



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