Late Sunday night, a terrorist atrocity at a mosque on Sainte-Foy Street in Quebec City was the most unlikely of ways for a weekend—one of global pandemonium ignited by the incompetent malevolence of U.S. president Donald Trump—to have come to an end. Just as unlikely was the unintended role Prime Minister Justin Trudeau played in the weekend mayhem, with a heartwarming message that captured the world’s attention, only to end up adding to everybody’s confusion.
But now that six innocent Muslims have been murdered at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec, Trudeau is facing a daunting summons to moral courage that he, and all Canadians, have no choice but to answer. The Quebec City outrage was like some barbaric rebuke to the uplifting message about this country that Trudeau had relayed by Twitter on Saturday: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #Welcome to Canada.”
Retweeted more than 400,000 times, Trudeau’s message to the world offered such a bold contrast to Trump’s Friday afternoon executive order that it was not unreasonably taken to constitute the promise of a specific response to the Trump administration’s suspension of the entire U.S. refugee system and the panic and misery his ill-considered decree had caused among thousands of other innocent people.
“Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a message for refugees rejected by U.S. President Donald Trump: Canada will take you,” the Associated Press reported. The headline on the Public Broadcasting Service news page: “Trudeau says Canada will take refugees banned by U.S.” The BBC’s account: “U.S. refugee ban: Canada’s Justin Trudeau takes a stand.”
Trudeau had neither done nor said any of these things. But now, Trudeau and his ministers must actually do some brave thing.
He might have put a bit more thought into the implications of wading into the hoarse-voiced screaming match Americans were having with one another, but Trudeau cannot be faulted for having been taken the wrong way. In any case, it doesn’t matter now. And Canadians cannot allow it to matter, whether the murderers of those innocents in Quebec City were of the white-supremacist variety that Trump’s electoral-college victory has sent into such triumphalist ecstasies, or of the takfiri jihadist type that has driven so many innocently devout Muslims to the ends of the Earth as ragged, friendless refugees.
No fault can be fairly found in Trudeau’s coolly capable Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees Minister Ahmed Hussen. A Somali refugee himself once, Hussen spent Sunday afternoon patiently explaining the assurances Canada had managed to wring from the dysfunctional White House about Canadian dual citizens, permanent residents and holders of U.S. green cards.
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Neither is there anything amiss in the Trudeau cabinet not having had on hand an immediately robust response to Trump’s presidential order, astutely described by former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney as “a brutal, hamfisted act of demagogic political theatre.” It’s not like Canada was given a briefing about what Trump was going to do. But then neither was Gen. John F. Kelly, Trump’s own Homeland Security secretary. The order was not subjected to any of the ordinary legal reviews. Customs and Border Control staff didn’t get any guidance until 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, and even then the instructions they got were vague and contradictory and weird.
The executive order’s drafting was overseen by Steve Bannon, a notorious crank plucked from the eye-bulging far-right webzine Breitbart News, and it shows. Bannon once boasted: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down.” On Saturday, Trump promoted Bannon to the National Security Council, to a post above that of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
Trump’s Friday executive order suspends the operations of the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, bars everyone but diplomats from Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria for 90 days, and shuts down the resettlement of Syrian refugees “indefinitely.” The result was chaos at airports and in presidential palaces all over the world.
In Canada, politicians across the spectrum closed ranks around Trudeau. B.C. Premier Christy Clark promised: “We will work with the federal government to support stranded refugees.” Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall: “We stand ready to assist fed gov’t re: anyone stranded by the US ban.” Trudeau antagonist Parti Québécois’ Bernard Drainville went so far as to declare that he was “proud” of Trudeau’s stance.
As things turned out, while Hussen was assuring anyone stranded at a Canadian airport that Canada would take them in, there were no reports of anyone in that predicament. But there are people stranded by Trump’s order. There are Syrian refugees who, after having been given hopes of freedom in the United States, are now told they have nowhere to go.
This is just one small, brave thing that Canadians can do that would be rather more useful than being entertained by their politicians composing tweets about what a nice country Canada is. We could take in at least some of those refugees that Trump has turned away.
Over the Christmas holidays, Hussen’s predecessor, John McCallum, quietly capped the 2017 quota of privately sponsored Syrian refugees at 1,000—this after Canadians privately sponsored nearly 14,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. There are about 25,000 Syrian refugees still in the backlog for resettlement in Canada in 2017. Hussen could lift McCallum’s cap on private refugee sponsorships. This is more or less what the Canadian Council for Refugees proposed on Sunday.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 18,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States during Barack Obama’s presidency. Canada has taken in more than 40,000 since November 2015. The United States was set to take in 3,566 Syrian refugees during the first three months of this year. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, 1,318 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States between Jan. 1 and last Friday, when the American door slammed shut. That leaves 2,248 innocent Syrian refugees immediately “stranded,” indefinitely, by Trump’s idiocy. We could take them, at a minimum. We could do this.
Either Canadians are the big-hearted and welcoming people our politicians claim we are, or we’re not. Either diversity is our strength, or it is not.
Piety is one thing. Brave policy is quite another.