When Donald Trump instituted his Muslim ban just one week into his presidency, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemingly had the perfect response. On Twitter, he declared that refugees were always welcome in Canada, regardless of their faith — a move that was seen as an act of defiance on the global stage. But as Trump’s second ban goes into effect on Thursday, it’s worth asking if Trudeau’s actions on immigration have matched his rhetoric.
Trump’s ban initially targeted seven Muslim-majority countries — the revised ban now only targets six countries — but it has created an environment that allowed for the arbitrary questioning, detainment, and even coercion of people not from the targeted countries to sign away their visas and green cards. Canadians do not require any visas to travel to the United States, but since the first ban went into effect, there has been more than one case of a Canadian being refused entry into the United States. Just last week, a Canadian woman of Indian decent was told she needed “an immigrant visa” to enter and was denied entry. The Canadian government has been conspicuously silent when it comes to these cases. In fact, it may soon make things worse.
The Canadian government is proposing a bill that would allow U.S. customs agents to detain Canadians for questioning on Canadian soil. Bill C-23 seeks to enshrine into law a 2015 reciprocal agreement with the United States on pre-clearance and immigration, but introduced on the heels of Trump’s Muslim ban, it has many concerned. Currently, nine airports in Canada have U.S. customs preclearance with stationed U.S. agents, allowing Canadians to go through U.S. Customs and Immigration on Canadian soil. If made law, C-23 would allow those agents greater power to question and detain Canadian travelers, conduct a strip search on travelers if a Canada Border Services Agency officer will not, and even carry sidearms. Many are also concerned that it could allow Canadian customs officials stationed at U.S. airports to deny entry to Canadian permanent resident holders into Canada.
Despite Trudeau’s tweet about Canada welcoming refugees, he is also not doing much to make that a reality for refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States who are afraid.
Since Trump took office, there has been a massive increase in refugees claiming asylum at Canada’s southern border with the United States. These claims are not happening at traditional border crossings, but across desolate fields and small towns. Hundreds of refugees, including families with young children, are crossing into Canada in frigid temperatures, where they are then taken into custody by awaiting police officers. Some refugees have even lost fingers and toes in attempting to cross the border this way.
This is the only way to file an asylum claim if you are coming from the United States. In 2002, Canada and the United States signed the Third Safe Country Agreement. Canada and the United States consider each other safe countries for refugees, and so this agreement stipulates that refugees must claim asylum in the first country they arrive in; as a result people cannot claim asylum at any official border post between the two countries. While the agreement covers official ports of entry, there is nothing preventing someone from claiming asylum once they are officially in Canada. This is why many are crossing over into Canada illegally, even in freezing temperatures.
Some Canadians have expressed alarm at the situation and have called upon the government to repeal this agreement to allow for refugees to safely enter the country at official border crossings. The imagery of hundreds of refugees crossing to Canada is also adding to rising anti-immigrant sentiment, and xenophobic politicians are capitalizing on the situation.
The Canadian government has shown a willingness to deal with the issue however, but not in the way that some would like. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that he would raise the issue of the crossings with his counterpart, U.S Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and discuss how to deal with the flow of asylum-seekers coming into Canada from the United States. But asking the Trump administration to deal with the problem of people fleeing its borders could potentially involve further crackdowns on and criminalization of immigrants. Still, the Third Safe Country agreement, Canada insists, is not up for debate.
Canada of course has immigration issues of its own. Despite being heralded internationally for its acceptance of Syrian refugees, sponsors have complained that the government has stalled the process. Human rights groups have also brought attention to immigrant detention centers, where a disproportionate amount of children are being held, in some cases, without family.
When asked to comment on Trump’s travel ban last month, Trudeau told reporters that it’s not his place to comment on the domestic affairs of another country. For now, it seems Trudeau is just tweets and no action.