Foes unite over immigration ban
In closing America’s borders to refugees and banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority nations including U.S.-allied Iraq, President Donald Trump has managed the seemingly impossible; to shove Conservative stalwart Jason Kenney and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, longtime foes, into the same tent.
They’re joined there by Saskatchewan conservative premier Brad Wall, Alberta New Democratic premier Rachel Notley, B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark, Ontario Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto conservative mayor John Tory, as well as federal Conservative leadership candidates Deepak Obhrai and Michael Chong — all of whom spoke in support of helping refugees Saturday, in response to Trump’s move, as did Kenney and Trudeau.
Such an unlikely political agglomeration could only occur under extraordinary circumstances, which these are. Just over a week into his presidency, Trump’s series of jarring statements and draconian executive orders have left federal Conservatives divided, federal New Democrats struggling to find a role and Trudeau’s Liberals carefully threading their way through a crisis unlike any in modern memory.
The abruptness of the White House refugee and immigration ban and its immediate imposition at airports worldwide, and conflicting U.S. government communications in the aftermath, led to a daylong furor Saturday over whether thousands of Canadian dual citizens of the affected nations — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya — would be denied entry to the United States.
The State Department initially said they would be. The Prime Minister’s Office late in the day contradicted this, saying Canadian passport holders, including dual citizens, are exempt. Meantime, late Saturday the American Civil Liberties Union won a judgment in a New York court preventing the deportation of anyone being detained in the U.S. under Trump’s order, who had an approved refugee application, valid visa, green card or other document allowing them legal entry.
The order did not stipulate that the America-side detainees, reportedly numbering fewer than 200, be released. Nor has there been any change in the White House policy, which freezes all refugee entry for 120 days, bars visits from the named countries for 90 days, and suspends refugee entry from Syria indefinitely. Sunday morning, Trump tweeted “our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW.” Reaction worldwide has ranged from bewilderment, to shock, to fury. Spontaneous demonstrations erupted in several U.S. airports Saturday and more protests were expected Sunday.
This leaves Canadian politics, for now, in a kind of limbo, as MPs return to the House of Commons from their winter break. Trudeau’s tweet Saturday shortly after noon (“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcometoCanada”) drew more than 366,000 re-tweets and has drawn broad media coverage in the United States.
Trudeau’s message was in keeping with an emerging strategy of stressing trade and security ties with Washington, while simultaneously asserting Canadians’ openness to immigration and refugees, in contrast to Trump’s nativist position. The PM’s tweet instantly became the subject of debate over whether he had gone far enough, or too far, in poking a stick in the president’s eye.
Mulcair, the NDP’s caretaker leader, has called Trump a “fascist,” which leaves little room for co-operation of any kind. The Conservatives, for their part, are themselves in a jam: Two of their perceived leadership front-runners, Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary, have hitched their brand wagons to Trump’s — Leitch via her hostility to immigration, O’Leary via his brash style and outsider status. With Trump veering into extremity so spectacularly and so soon, those gambits look fragile indeed.
Neither Leitch, O’Leary, nor fellow front-runner Maxime Bernier, had a public word to offer Saturday about Trump’s bans. Sunday afternoon Bernier produced an unprepossessing series of tweets whose substance was, essentially, that it’s none of Canada’s business. Interim party leader Rona Ambrose expressed broad, generic support for immigration. Numerous other typically voluble Conservatives were silent. The NDP, seeking to carve out some kind of constructive role, has called for an emergency debate in the House of Commons — which, under the circumstances, seems a good idea.
But the bottom line is, this is an outlandish scenario, in which there is no obvious path forward for Canada but the one the Liberals have chosen — that is, to seek to preserve U.S. market access, while also asserting Canadian core values, when the White House veers into irrational, unfair, self-defeating or illegal territory. Trump has offered no evidence that any refugees to America, or any visitors from the seven banned nations, pose a threat to U.S. citizens.
In the space of a week, the president who would “make American great again” has dismantled its relationship with trusted ally and vital trading partner Mexico; seriously roiled relations with nuclear-armed China; and smashed its historic status as a beacon of pluralism in the world.
The Trudeau government is threading a needle. It is unclear, at this early juncture, what any mainstream politician of any stripe can add — which explains the eerie quiet.
THERE IS NO OBVIOUS PATH FORWARD FOR CANADA.