Four things Canadians need to know about Trump’s immigration ban

The world spent much of this past week scrambling to make sense
of a new U.S. executive order. What does it mean for Canada?

By: /
3 February, 2017
A woman holds a sign reading "lets unite against hate!" as people attend a vigil in support of the Muslim community in Montreal, Quebec, Jan. 30, 2017. REUTERS/Dario Ayala

This story is developing. Updates as of Feb. 9:

  • On Feb. 3, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart issued an order temporarily blocking aspects of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. Robart’s ruling applies nation-wide.
  • Also on Feb. 3, Nexus memberships belonging to Canadian permanent residents with citizenship in any of the countries included in the immigration ban were revoked.
  • On Feb. 4, the U.S. government officially suspended its enforcement of the immigration ban. 
  • On Feb. 5, the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal against Robart’s order, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has since denied.
  • On Feb. 9, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the ban.

Newly elected United States President Donald Trump has given further indication that he is serious about his campaign promises with the issuance on Jan. 27 of an executive order that temporarily blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

Citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are now banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days. According to the president’s office, the suspension, which does not apply to diplomats, is meant to give the American secretaries of homeland security and state, along with the director of national intelligence, an opportunity to determine what information to gather from these countries to prevent the admission of those who may pose a security threat.

The order also introduces a new screening process for immigrants and suspends the admission of refugees for 120 days. Refugees from Syria, however, are now banned from entering the U.S. indefinitely.

Titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” the executive order is supposedly meant to prevent terrorist attacks similar to 9/11 from happening again in the U.S. Despite this, several media reports have noted that none of the four countries from which the hijackers originated (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon — all Muslim-majority countries) are included in the ban. Additionally, Trump also maintains close business ties with each of the countries previously mentioned, along with Turkey and Indonesia, which are also not included in the ban.

Many have challenged the legality of the order — various American judges have already blocked aspects of it, and some Canadian lawyers and advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, are calling for the repeal of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was created on the premise that the U.S. was a safe country for refugees.

While shockwaves from the order are still being felt across the globe, here are four things Canadians should know about Trump’s immigration ban:

1. Canadians with dual citizenship are not included in the ban — for now.

The Trudeau government received confirmation Jan. 28 that Canadians with dual citizenship from any of the seven countries included in the ban will not be affected by it. This comes despite previous reports from the U.S. State Department that Canadians who are also citizens of one of the countries included in the ban would be among those denied entry for the next three months.

Since the order was implemented, Canada’s National Security Advisor Daniel Jean and other senior officials have been in contact with their American counterparts, including U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. According to Kate Purchase, director of communications for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Flynn confirmed that Canadian dual citizens with ties to any country included in the ban will not be turned away, but dealt with in the usual process, so long as they are carrying a Canadian passport.

Based on a National Household Survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2011, more than 35,000 Canadians possessed dual citizenships from the seven countries targeted in the executive order.

While the likely tens of thousands of Canadians with dual citizenships today may be exempt from the ban, the U.S. government’s shaky implementation provides no guarantee that this will not change.

As soon as news of the executive order broke, the Trump administration said that American legal permanent residents, or green card holders, from one of the seven countries included in the ban were also subject to it. On Feb. 1, however, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said green card holders would be exempt from the ban.

“It’s hard to hit a moving target,” says Jacqueline Lopour, a research associate at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. “For [other governments] to devise reactionary responses when there’s so much uncertainty with what the Trump administration intended [with this order], I empathize with them.”

Despite all the confusion, Canadian dual citizens seem to be in the clear…for now.

2. Anti-Muslim sentiments exist here as well.

While various articles like this one from Slate refer to the executive order as a “Muslim ban,” and ultimately, an attack against Islam, several in Canada have pointed out that similar attitudes towards Muslims are found here, too.

This was starkly seen in the recent attack at the Québec City Islamic Cultural Centre. Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, reportedly shot six men and injured 19 others during evening prayers at the mosque on Jan. 29. (A gift-wrapped pig’s head was found at the doorstep of this same mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year with a note reading, “Bon appétit.”)

Bissonnette, who grew up in Québec City and studied at Laval University, had previously expressed support for Trump online and was not in favour of immigration to Québec.

Oddly, in a press briefing in the U.S., the day after the attack, Spicer used the shooting to denounce immigration and express support for Trump’s executive order. He said the attack was “a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant. And why the president is taking steps to be proactive, not reactive.”

Bissonnette has since been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder, but has not been charged with any terrorism-related offences. Despite this, Trudeau called the shooting “a terrorist attack” during his address at the House of Commons earlier this week. He further condemned the attack in a formal statement.

But alongside the many vigils held across the country in solidarity with those in Québec, the attack remains an important and tragic reminder that Islamophobia exists in Canada too.

For those of us who identify as Muslim, Sunday’s attack challenges what we believe and love about Canada – its acceptance and diversity – and confirms a disturbing undercurrent we’ve suspected all along,” author Kamal Al-Solaylee wrote in the Globe and Mail.

3. Canada is providing temporary refuge but not more spots for refugees.

The day after the executive order was issued, Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

Such a warm greeting hinted as though Canada might increase the number of refugees it plans to accept this year as a response to the ban. However, in a press conference Jan. 31, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen said this would not be the case. The Trudeau government will continue to admit 25,000 refugees in 2017, as originally outlined last year.

However, Hussen did introduce other special measures for foreign nationals impacted by Trump’s executive order. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website, a new policy implemented Jan. 31 allows those in Canada, who had made plans to enter the U.S. but are no longer allowed across the border, to apply for temporary status or to have their current temporary status extended. Applicants are expected to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with application fees being waived. These measures will be in place until April 30.

While the government seems to have taken measures to address the ban, James Milner, a political science professor at Carleton University, says Canada could be much stronger when it comes to improving global refugee policy.

“I think the immediate reaction [to the ban] has been to find replacements for those lives put on hold,” Milner says, with many preoccupied with trying to increase the number of refugees admitted. “[But] I’m more concerned with who will be the new leader for resuscitating the global refugee regime.”

The U.S. has long been a leader in refugee resettlement, he says, but the ban means it is likely to lose that reputation. This leaves room for a new leader to emerge, and while Milner says Canada is more than capable of filling this role, limiting refugee quotas is not the way to do it.

4. Canada’s future Conservative Party leader is likely watching closely.

With comparisons drawn between Trump and some of the candidates running for leadership of Canada’s Conservative Party this year, including Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary, it is likely that the next Tory leader is keeping a close eye on the new president’s actions — especially concerning immigration, an issue already raised by some of the candidates.

Leitch has expressed strong interest in screening immigrants looking to enter the country for “Canadian values.” Candidate Maxime Bernier plans to decrease the country’s annual intake of both immigrants and refugees to 250,000 from today’s 300,000, and end dependence on the United Nations for refugee selection. Candidate Chris Alexander instead hopes to increase Canada’s yearly intake to 400,000.

While there is no real consensus among leadership candidates on what Canadian policies surrounding immigration should look like, a large number of those south of the border seem to be in agreement with Trump’s executive order. According to a recent poll, 49 percent of Americans support Trump’s immigration ban.

While support for the ban in the U.S. could influence Canada’s Conservative candidates, Milner, the Carleton professor, thinks other countries are likely to take a page from America’s book as well. With the U.S. making less of a commitment to help the world’s immigrants and refugees, he says other countries have already done and will continue to do the same.

“What we’ve already seen…is states saying they won’t allow themselves to be asked to do something by a country who isn’t willing to do that itself,” he says.

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