Prior to the election of Donald Trump, the immigration polices of Canada and the United States were similar, although Canada has always had a reputation for accepting and welcoming more refugees and immigrants. At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, the U.S. offered to take in 10,000 refugees. Canada, with 1/10 the population, pledged to take in 25,000.
But since Trump’s election, the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment in the U.S. has grown, putting those who thought they would be accepted into the country at risk.
On February 13, 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Washington for his first official visit with President Donald Trump. Following their visit, they took part in a joint news conference. One of the questions posed was about their policy toward immigration and refugees.
While introducing the question, the reporter noted the difference between the two men, pointing out that while Trump referred to refugees as a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, the Prime Minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms.
The answers between the two leaders couldn’t have been more different. As has become his practice, Trump tried to justify his policy by claiming that immigrants were bad, criminals, drug lords and gang members. He even referred to his electoral win, claiming that, “We won by a very, very large electoral college vote.” Clearly that has nothing to do with his immigration policy, but, as usual, Trump couldn’t pass up the opportunity to remind people of his win, as the self-absorbed person that he is.
“We are taking people that are criminals, very, very hardened criminals, with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems and we’re getting them out.”
“I said we would get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members, and we’re getting them out.”
“We are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones, we’re getting them out and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
“A lot of people are very, very happy right now.”
With the political temperature very high in the U.S. right now, this kind of response from the President only serves to fan the flames of racism, bigotry and xenophobia. There is no evidence to support any of these claims. Instead of trying to bring a country together, encouraging citizens to respond to the refugee crisis by accepting and welcoming these people to their country, Trump acts as the class bully, persuading people to fear, reject and distance themselves from anyone who wants or needs to start a new life, people who have traditionally been welcome into the U.S. – the country that prides itself as a melting pot.
Then there was Trudeau, who was clearly trying to walk a fine line between respecting his host and standing up for his own country’s policy. His response:
“Canada has always understood that keeping Canadians safe is one of the fundamental responsibilities of any government.”
“At the same time, we continue to pursue our policies of openness toward immigration and refugees without compromising security.”
“We have welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees over the past year.”
While the response could have been stronger, and could have directly challenged Trump on his unsubstantiated and unproven words and actions, Trudeau did at least publicly expose the glaring difference between the two men. It was a stark and a symbolic move.
But to deal with a bully, you have to be prepared to stand up to him and tell him he is wrong. Many world leaders have made attempts to do that. Before the U.S becomes even more divided than it already is, let’s hope someone – anyone – can make Trump sit up, take notice and hopefully start acting like a President.
If not, we will all pay the price in the kind of world we live in.
Photo credit – U.S. National Park Service