Just now, U.S. President Donald Trump has issued a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. This doesn’t just include people coming directly from those nations, but anyone holding a dual-citizenship in one of those countries. This includes Green Card holders with a citizenship in one of the seven countries, and perhaps most importantly for many Canadian Dimension readers, applies to any Canadian citizen who happens to have a dual citizenship with one of the aforementioned countries. In such a scenario, an Iranian-Canadian who has lived her entire adult life in Canada is affected by this policy, and is currently unable to travel to the United States.
Condemnation to Trump’s executive order has been swift from millions of individuals and numerous organizations. There have been solidarity strikes from New York cab drivers, large protests at John F. Kennedy and O’Hare airports, and a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. But of vital importance is the response of Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
Shortly after the policy announcement, Justin Trudeau put out a response that — in philosophical and rhetorical terms — captured the feelings of many Canadians on this issue. Without mentioning a specific policy or a specific U.S. President, Trudeau said the following on Twitter:
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
He also tweeted a picture with a Syrian child refugee and the same hashtag, harking back to his efforts to bring in thousands of refugees in late 2015 and early 2016.
The tweet was elegant and effective, drawing praise from Canadians and people around the world. But a more direct condemnation is required, if not immediately, than as soon as is possible. The reality is that Trudeau’s tweet, however well-crafted, fails to capture the severity of the issue as it stands. As Canada’s head of state, he needs to acknowledge that this isn’t just an issue of people “fleeing persecution, terror & war,” but one about the day-to-day lives of thousands of Canadians, who by virtue of their heritage are now banned from the United States. Whether for business, pleasure, or family, many Canadians have lost a key measure of mobility.
One of Trudeau’s key goals as Prime Minister is to promote and defend the interests of all Canadians at home and abroad, regardless of class, creed, race, or gender. And if he doesn’t use Canada’s full diplomatic weight to defend Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, Sudani, Libyan, and Somalian Canadians, he will have failed in one of his key responsibilities.
In the coming hours and days, Trudeau and his cabinet need to work hard to defend the interests and rights of Canadian citizens, and little should be left off the table in such discussions. Trudeau should consider any or all of the following:
- Direct and public condemnation of Trump’s policy in particular, and its impact in general
- A cancellation of his scheduled meeting with the Trump regime
- A decree that no member of his caucus will travel to the United States until thousands of Muslim Canadians have that right restored
- Refuse to have other important discussions — be they about pipelines or NAFTA — until this issue is resolved
The Prime Minister needs to remain tactful here, and has done so thus far, but the clock on such an issue moves fast, and unless he and his core team are assertive and stalwart in their defense of Canadian citizens, he will deserve condemnation.
Christo Aivalis, a member of the CD web committee, is an adjunct professor of history at Queen’s University. His dissertation examined Pierre Trudeau’s relationship with organized labour and the CCF-NDP, and has been accepted for publication with UBC Press. His work has appeared in the Canadian Historical Review, Labour/le Travail, Our Times Magazine, Ricochet and Rankandfile.ca. He has also served as a contributor to the Canadian Press, Toronto Star, CTV and CBC. His current project is a biography of Canadian labour leader A.R. Mosher.