Many Canadians reacted smugly to Americans shouting that phrase (Build the Wall!) in support of Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. What they could not have foreseen, was that this chant is on the cusp of being shouted by a number of Canadians if they’re given the opportunity, and the wall would be between Canada and the United States.
Asylum claims have been sharply increasing since Trump introduced the travel ban and even though US courts shot it down, a new one is in the works and set for release soon. Just in Quebec alone the number of people crossing from the US has tripled from 424 to 1280 in the past year. The increases are happening in many provinces but Quebec and Manitoba in particularly have garnered much media attention as people make the difficult trip on foot from the US into places like Manitoba and in harsh winter weather with some even losing limbs from frostbite. As much as these heart-wrenching stories elicit sympathy from many, there is a steadily growing sentiment that something has to be done to stop the “illegal” crossings. These crossings are occurring because of the Safe-Third Country Agreement between Canada and the US which stipulates that a person claiming refugee status has to do it in the country they arrived in. This agreement emerged in the aftermath of 9/11 and it was not just to prevent a “clogging of the refugee system” as people have lately claimed. It came about because of American fears of Canadians having a lax refugee and immigration system and the mistaken belief that some 9/11 hijackers entered the US from Canada. The goal was to reduce the number of asylum seekers from leaving the US and entering Canada to claim refugee states. Refugees faced higher levels of refusal in the US and incarceration.
Recent media reports have as many as 1 in 4 Canadians wanting a Trump style travel ban imposed. That’s 25 per cent and that’s not a small number. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. As I wrote in an earlier post, hostility to refugees and immigration is not new in Canada or the US and since the 1980s refugees have also been regarded as a security threat. Canada’s immigration policy and its refugee policy have, for the vast majority of Canadian history, been tied to economic policies and not humanitarian ones. Tony Clement of the Conservative Party even hung up on a CBC reporter this week when he refused to stipulate what he meant when he said the government has to “enforce the law” when it came to illegal crossings. When pressed in the phone interview to describe what he meant he hung up. Why? Because what he may have meant was that the crossings should stop, but he likely knew where that would lead, “do you want a wall?” could have been an obvious next question from his interviewer. Maybe Clement doesn’t want a wall, but he and other similar minded people are probably starting to quietly admire the architecture of walls in general, waiting for someone to give them permission to publicly profess their support for solid structures.
So the question is not if but when will this chant or a similar one like it start emerging in Canada? Remember this Tweet during Trump’s ban?
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
The Tweet, to me, sounded smug, and it still does. As a historian that is quite familiar with Canada’s immigration history, Canada does not have a history of welcoming people and as I wrote in an earlier post, comments like this that were clearly designed to capitalize for political gain, can come back to bite you. What Trump likely knew if he read this, was that it’s all well and good for Trudeau to throw this out there but when refugees start coming we’ll see what happens. Sure enough, when Trudeau was pressed to temporarily suspend the Safe-Third-Country Agreement, so that refugees could claim asylum at a legal crossing instead of getting turned away and having to risk their life in an illegal crossing, he refused. Even the Immigration Minister said that “people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they land in,” a direct endorsement of the Safe-Third- Country policy (of which the government is well aware) that compels desperate people to literally risk life and limb to cross into Canada in an unsafe manner. Strange the government opted not to Tweet this. All it will take is just one negative incident involving a refugee to set off calls for a wall. In the end it’s the current government that, by refusing to suspend the agreement and allow people to safely declare asylum, is contributing to playing up the daily drama of these crossings, contributing to needlessly risking lives, and failing to adequately devote the proper amount of resources to handle the influx. It’s the current government that is doing the most to lay the concrete foundation for the calls that will surely come once hate and fear begin to take over.