“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau short hours after an executive order from the Trump administration was hastily put into action on Jan. 28.
The order banned more than 218 million people with citizenship from seven Muslim-majority countries entrance into the United States for a 90-day period, and suspended access into the country for all refugees for 120 days. The erratically-implemented ban left thousands of people stranded at airports, separated loved ones and caused mass turmoil for those trying to navigate its arbitrary rules.
Soon after, thousands of people staged protests at major airports across the country, gathering in an attempt to reject the hateful rhetoric and vilification of Muslims, and to advocate on behalf of those being discriminated against. Immigration lawyers set up makeshift offices in airport terminals to represent those who were being detained upon landing. Social media exploded and an international conversation began regarding the travel ban.
In Canada, the conversation initially surrounded unanswered questions for dual citizens as the federal government scrambled to provide answers about the American legislation. While the prime minister’s Twitter statement expressed Canada’s domestic policy regarding refugees, it failed to directly and unequivocally condemn the Trump administration’s actions. Aside from creating confused and misleading headlines, Trudeau’s ambiguous stance left many unhappy and put pressure on the federal government to publically reject the policy.
However, Trudeau was not the only Canadian leader who took to Twitter to speak about the ban. Conservative leadership hopefuls Andrew Scheer and Kellie Leitch interjected their opinions, as well as NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May. All ends of the political spectrum were represented, some in favour of Trump’s protectionist policy, others rejecting it.
In the hours following the implementation of the executive order, Twitter in Canada became a divisive space. Reactions to the various statements by Canadian leaders caused arguments as to whether Trudeau was justified in his statement welcoming refugees, while others vilified Leitch and Scheer for supporting the seemingly-Islamophobic policy.
Among the anarchy, one thing became undoubtedly clear: Canadian leaders must be united when addressing issues of human rights and public safety – something the travel ban has proven to be.
Democracy and the argument for international law
Democracy is built on the principles of fairness, equality, individual freedom and justice. By using rhetoric that targets one group of people, the travel ban managed to infringe upon all those pillars at once.
In her series of tweets on the night of the travel ban, Kellie Leitch pointed to the legality of the travel ban, stating that Canada should not interfere with America’s decision. However, the executive order at its most basic moral analysis violates the paramount principles of democratic policymaking and disregards various international treaties.
In times of real (or in this case perceived) security crises is when it is most important to uphold international law and the moral and legal obligations it carries. As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and subsequent international legally-binding treaties in regards to human rights, immigration and refugees, Canada must be an example in upholding international law.
The Twitter divide in Canadian leadership on the night of the ban bore evidence of a much deeper problem regarding the recognition of international law. Nevertheless, the takeaway from the travel ban should be this: Canadian leaders must unequivocally endorse treaties to uphold human rights, and hold to account signatory states which are not, or risk leaving those in need stranded.
Extreme protectionism and security optics
Conservative leadership hopeful Andrew Scheer’s series of tweets on the night of the travel ban called for ‘stringent security views’ of all refugees wishing to enter Canada. While no rational person would disagree with this, it suggests there is not already an extensive program in place to vet newcomers to Canada. This attitude undermines Canadian security, and suggests Canada’s border security is weak.
Perpetuation of Islamophobia and hate-speech
On Jan. 29, less than 24 hours after the travel ban’s implementation, horror and shock rocked Canada after a Quebec mosque became the target of a vicious attack, leaving six Muslim men dead.
In his response to the shooting, Quebec Premier Philippe Coulliard pointed to hateful rhetoric toward Muslim people as a catalyst for the events.
“When I say that words matter, it means that words can hurt, words can be knives slashing at people’s consciousness,” Coulliard said.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the travel ban, and what is causing the mass hysteria, is the perpetuation of hateful rhetoric and the normalizing of racist and Islamophobic remarks. Following the shootings in Quebec, thousands gathered across Canada to denounce the travel ban, and on a larger scale, send a message to Canadian leaders that the rhetoric used in America is unacceptable in Canada.
Only time will tell if the United States’ constitutional checks and balances will protect those being targeted by the travel ban, but it is evident that in Canada, the issue remains widely divisive.
While almost everything regarding Trump’s travel ban remains in a moral and legal grey area, one thing is clear. Canadian leaders must be less concerned with maintaining their positions on the political spectrum, and more dedicated to creating a united front in order to uphold human rights and public safety.