THE ADVOCATE 33
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
IMMIGRATION: A PERSONAL STORY
AND A MORAL QUERY
By Nazeer Mitha, Q.C.
As a refugee to this country, I feel as if I won the most valuable
lottery: I live in Canada. However, my good fortune has raised
for me the question of the moral underpinning of a country’s
right to exclude prospective migrants. In other words, is it
morally defensible for states to exclude migrants from entering? What are
the ethics of immigration? Immigration is not just about what is preferred
by a segment of the population. Can a policy of exclusion be justified in
Consider the morality of immigration. We accept that it is wrong to discriminate
on the basis of certain grounds, such as race, ethnicity and gender.
Is discrimination based on citizenship equally wrong? Is the duty we
owe to our fellow citizens more extensive than the one we owe to strangers?
Does the answer to this question tell us about the moral significance of
national boundaries, and indeed that of nationalism?
Perhaps national boundaries help define our aspirations; perhaps such
boundaries tell us about the type of people we want to be—or can be. The
U.S. Constitution speaks of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness. In his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke argued
that, independent of any laws, people have the right to life, liberty and property.
1 “Property”, in Locke’s view, was based on material conditions underwriting
the public good. We might read it as a kind of distributive
entitlement. Thomas Jefferson intentionally changed property to “pursuit
of happiness” as a signal that the U.S. Constitution should be based on
something more aspirational than material conditions.
Similarly, the Canadian Bill of Rights enshrined the right to life, liberty,
security of the person and enjoyment of property. The 1982 Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedoms, however, omitted “enjoyment of property”. I
believe that both the U.S. Constitution and the Canadian Constitution
intended to provide an aspirational moral ideal. As a result, when considering
the ethics of immigration, the question is our moral commitment to the
principle of immigration rather than the economic or material benefits of