Last week, in a small but symbolic gesture, Canada seemed to align with the US on the reopening of the NAFTA. I was disappointed that we didn’t stand with Mexico and criticize the rhetoric coming from the US on an agreement that no one seemed to be seriously questioning before the US election cycle. But I assumed our foreign affairs department had its reasons to keep quiet. What do I know about trade, anyway? I thought.
Then with an Executive Order, the US resurrected the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline plans. And this was spun as good news in Canada. Ok, I thought, maybe there is justification for Keystone, what do I know about pipelines anyway? But DAPL? It was just 6 weeks ago that we saw the protest and standoff tip in favour of the resisters. What was that for if the US was just going to override it with one felt-tipped, angry-handed signature?
And then came yesterday. Massive and seemingly spontaneous airport protests, stranded and detained passengers, confusion as to who the travel-ban applied to. And then a succinct injunction granted at 9:46pm that confirmed my suspicions that law can be witchcraft and a court application is like a spell. If you cast it right, you can change the course of history. Late into the night, videos circulated of arrival doors sliding open and grandmas and grandpas tumbling through. Like it was Platform 9¾.
It was a sad and sobering thing to witness. Distressing, really. The only lightness came from wondering what Trump’s Twitter reaction was going to be. If he can’t handle inauguration reports that conflict with his narrative, how is he going to handle a real defeat?
It’s very strange times when you agree with both David Frum and Michael Moore on the same issues. Even Jason Kenney tweeted constructively, saying Canada should allow anyone stranded by the EO in temporarily on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Although he still hasn’t answered my question.
Given these events in light of the other promises made by Trump during and since the election campaign, it is imperative that going forward, Canada is principled and firm in our protection of refugees and upholding international human rights obligations.
First, we should suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. It recognizes the US as being on par with Canada in terms of human rights protections and a fair asylum process. Which clearly isn’t the case now that Trump has been unequivocal that from now on it is America first, human rights be damned. Practically speaking, the Safe Third Country Agreement means that anyone who has been in the US cannot make a refugee claim at a Canadian port of entry, so people have to sneak into Canada in order to avoid the application of the Agreement and make an inland refugee claim. This is underscored by the fact that the 7 countries banned by the US are all (except Iran) on Canada’s list of non-deportation countries, meaning Canada recognizes there are humanitarian crises of such significance happening right now that no one should be sent back to any of those places.
Second, Canada should implement temporary measures to ensure that anyone stranded by the effect of the EO will be safe, in order of the most vulnerable. So, for example, travel-ready refugees who are overseas awaiting resettlement in the US should be diverted to Canada immediately. The reports of refugees being diverted back yesterday was gut-wrenching. Our refugee resettlement process has ground to a near halt in recent months, we need to get our mojo back.
Third, Canada should create a temporary-to-permanent immigration program aimed at skilled and semi-skilled workers for companies that have a global workforce and want more stable headquarters. We should make some of the various pilot programs (currently or formerly in place for the IT, financial services, health care and digital media sectors) country-wide. The Atlantic provinces just announced a new pilot program but it is not apparent whether this will apply to only to companies already here or reputable international companies looking to establish here. It should.
Fourth, let’s call this what it is. Islamophobia. By naming it, we can try to avoid falling into its trap. I saw Dr. Barakat give this TED talk in San Francisco ten days before the US election, and it is even more jarring now that there seems to be a tacit license to be openly bigoted, if you’re so inclined. The idea that preventing Muslims from entering the United States is somehow fighting the persecution of Christians overseas is false. There is no reason to barter away human rights over a fake threat.
And it’s only been a week.