Defending the indefensible? The use of argumentation, legitimation, and othering in debates on refugees in the Canadian House of Commons, 2010-2012

Baker, James Thomas Ernest (2015) Defending the indefensible? The use of argumentation, legitimation, and othering in debates on refugees in the Canadian House of Commons, 2010-2012. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

[img] [English] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.

Download (1MB)


The goal of this thesis is to investigate language use among elite parliamentarians in debates related to refugee asylum. It challenges the non-political “taken for granted” notions that many parliamentarians employ in their speeches and, using Critical Discourse Analysis, seeks to understand how argumentation, legitimation, and Othering strategies are used to support and reinforce their positions. While the Conservative government contends that Bill C-11: The Balanced Refugee Reform Act and Bill C-31: Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act are aimed at refugee reform and designed to target “criminal middlemen,” I argue that their approach is actually aimed at restricting refugee asylum, despite the fact that it is an internationally recognized treaty right. To augment my efforts, I frame my analysis around the work of two key theorists: Antonio Gramsci and Zygmunt Bauman. The Gramscian model of cultural hegemony informs my thesis in at least two key ways: first, I argue that language use (specifically, the negative portrayal of asylum seekers) is manipulated for the sole purpose of presenting refugee claimants as criminals; second, by criminalizing certain groups, the Conservative government is able to put forward a particular worldview that portrays certain types of refugees as legitimate, and therefore deserving of protection. I contend, however, that cultural hegemony is insufficient to explain how the Conservatives are able to propagate this worldview given that cultural hegemony is primarily driven by ideology. While contemporary Canadian political ideologies differ significantly, opposition parties nonetheless unintentionally reproduce a Conservative worldview regarding asylum seekers. In its place, I argue that banal hegemony helps to explain this discrepancy. Bauman’s discussion of mobility is relevant given that I assess how asylum seekers are framed as illegals whose ability to seek asylum is restrained. Restricting or controlling mobility is central to the Conservative defense precisely because those who cannot arrive in Canada are unable to make an asylum claim. In fact, over the past few years, there has been a movement to “push the border out.” I conclude that the Conservative defense is not only fallacious, untenable, and prejudicial but designed to portray asylum seekers are criminals, fraudsters, and security threats. This thesis adds to the extant literature on Critical Discourse Analysis from a Canadian parliamentary perspective and describes how politics is constituted by, and through, language. Moreover, it offers a sociological understanding of how parliamentary debates help to produce and reproduce social inequality and prejudice.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 8423
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 344-363).
Keywords: Aslyum Seekers, Critical Discourse Analysis, House of Commons, Balanced Refugee Reform Act, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: April 2015
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Parliamentary practice--Canada; Refugees--Government policy--Canada; Canada--Politics and government; Conservative Party of Canada

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over the past year

View more statistics