Of Course it Is a Muslim Ban: What Should Canada Do?
Of course Trump's ban is a Muslim ban; most of the people it harms are Muslim. It is also a ban based on nationality, which bars people from seven Muslim-majority nations and all Syrian refugees from entering the United States. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said on January 30, that the ban discriminates based on nationality and is illegal under international human rights law.
Canada is being applauded by other countries, and by commentators like Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times,1 for welcoming refugees in a time of global xenophobia. It is fine to accept those accolades and to be proud of what we have done for Syrian refugees so far. But, as a country that turned away Jewish refugees in the 1930s even though they faced death, we cannot be smug about our goodness or complacent about the real dangers that refugees confront.
And Canada has its own home‑grown Islamophobia. Two days after Trump's ban, six Muslim men were murdered and 19 others injured while praying in a Quebec City mosque. The debate about the Quebec Charter of Values, the Harper ban on Muslim women wearing a niqab when they take the citizenship oath, politicians proposing “barbaric practices” snitch lines and vetting immigrants for “Canadian values”, and radio hosts; angry anti‑Muslim talk, have marked Muslim-Canadians as “other” and as objects of suspicion. Unfortunately, Alexandre Bissonnette and his murders are rooted here. He is ours, much as he shames us.
However, Bissonnette, and others similarly inclined, have been emboldened by Donald Trump, who, with his ban, has attempted to legitimize fear and hatred of Muslims, and licenced his supporters to express it. Donald Trump affects the moral climate in Canada too.
So there are two reasons for the Government of Canada to step forward now to respond to Trump's ban: first to help refugees who have been stranded and whose lives Canada can help save; second, to demonstrate to all Canadians, including the Alexandre Bissonnettes among us, that, as a nation, Canada will not foster, but rather combat discrimination, hatred and violence against Muslim women and men, wherever they are.
Advocacy organizations, like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have identified practical steps that can be taken to help, and to take out a Canadian position. First, Canada needs to suspend the Canada‑U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which currently bars asylum-seekers who travel through the US from making refugee claims in Canada. The premise of this Agreement is that the U.S. is a “safe country” in which to claim refugee status, so if asylum‑seekers are travelling through the US, they can make their claims there. In light of Trump's Executive Order, the U.S. is no longer a “safe third country”.
Secondly, Canada needs to step up its capacity to process applications from asylum seekers affected by the ban who wish to seek refuge in Canada.
And thirdly, we should remove the cap on the number of privately sponsored refugees that will be accepted into Canada in 2017, so that Canadians can organize in their communities to help individuals and families affected by the U.S. ban.2
There are more steps to be taken, but this would be a start. These are steps that would demonstrate, in concrete ways, solidarity with those who are threatened. They would also show that, in the face of a belligerent and hate‑mongering Trump, Canada will not “duck and cover”, but work openly to respect human rights.
1. Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, “Canada, Leading the Free World”, February 4, 2017, online at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/opinion/sunday/canada-leading-the-fre...
2. The Globe and Mail, “CCLA Calls for Concrete Action from Canadian Government”, February 2, 2017, at A5.
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