This blog is normally limited to digital law and policy issues, such as privacy, copyright and the Internet. Not today. These are not normal times. The events in the United States over the past few days involving the creation of an executive order with a thinly-veiled Muslim ban demand a response. While some politicians have tried to avoid comment by arguing that this is an internal U.S. matter, the far-reaching implications for the world and for the millions of people whose lives are at stake does not allow for such an easy out. There may be a cost to Canada for speaking out – some have suggested that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should avoid angering U.S. President Donald Trump – but if so, it is a price worth paying.
With the exception of the indigenous peoples in Canada, we all trace our family history to immigration. In my case, I am the grandson of holocaust survivors and a family that fled the Nazis by running east to Siberia and beyond. Both families were largely wiped out. My grandfather’s wife and two children were murdered along with virtually all of his siblings, parents, and extended family members. He and my grandmother survived the concentration camps, met after the war, gave birth to my mother, and were given the opportunity to start a new life in Canada. The same is true for my father’s family, who also came to Canada in the early 1950s. My family story is not unique. Millions of Canadians can also tell stories of fleeing war, religious persecution, or searching for new economic opportunity. While we often think that it is health care or hockey that bind us, it is really our common story of a largely immigrant society searching for a better life for future generations.
Canada’s record of admitting Jews during the war, chronicled in the book None is Too Many, speaks to the incredible harm caused by immigration policies focused on race or religion (the same is true for those turned away by the U.S). To see some of this replicated in the U.S. in 2017 is exceptionally painful. I am proud of Prime Minister Trudeau, Jason Kenney, and the many premiers and mayors that have tweeted out Canada’s openness to refugees and immigration. The initial response from Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen indicating that Canada will permit temporary residence for anyone traveling to the U.S. that is left stranded is a good start, but much more is needed.
From the federal government, Canada should consider expanding our refugee target for 2017. There are obviously cost and security constraints, but if the U.S. closes its doors, others will need to open theirs even further.
Moreover, the government should work closely with both the technology and education sectors to expand opportunities for foreign workers and students. Hundreds of people in the Canadian technology community have signed a public letter emphasizing that diversity is our strength and calling on the government to institute an immediate and targeted visa program for those displaced by the U.S. Executive Order. With the U.S. tech sector increasingly vocal in its opposition to the U.S. developments, Canada should stand ready to provide an alternative for global technology workers.
The news is also filled with reports of professors, researchers, and students that are blocked from entering or re-entering the United States. Canadian universities (including my own) have indicated a desire to explore accepting displaced professors and students. We should move quickly to offer visiting professorships as needed and partner with U.S. institutions to allow graduate students to continue their studies in Canada. There is a need to accommodate students that have yet to begin their studies and now find themselves blocked from doing so. Further, universities must consider whether they can continue participating in conferences and joint programs in the U.S. that may bar the participation of their own students.
But even more difficult will be the response to the U.S. government. In the weeks leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump, there was much discussion about the need to create a team that would mesh well with the new president given the uncertainty of new trade talks and policies. No doubt a close relationship based on friendship and mutual self-interest is preferred. However, with Trump signing an executive order eliminating Privacy Act protections for Canadians, the Canadian government must now stand ready to re-consider information sharing programs with the U.S. With Trump signalling his support for torture, the Canadian government must be ready to stop programs that could implicate Canadians in the same activity. With Trump instituting immigration policies that run counter to fundamental values of equality, the Canadian government must be prepared to say so. And when words are not enough, we must be ready to act.