Funny how another nation’s sectarian hatred comes seeping over the national frontier of its neighbours. Mexico is now fighting off the US president’s wall mania. Justin Trudeau’s Canada looks squeaky clean compared to America. You can forgive the prime minister’s vanity — Trudeau is now posing Tom Cruise style, eyes narrowed in love towards his wife in her cringe-making Women’s Day photo-op with her husband. Not long ago, the same couple blessed the cover of Vanity Fair. But he’s the guy who walks tall on immigration, welcomes Syrian refugees with affection, tells them they’re “home” and generally makes Trump look like a scumbag.
But the contagion has already arrived in Canada. Inspired by the racism of the Trump regime, we now find that a Canadian Conservative Party leadership contender wants to give newly arrived immigrants a “values” test. “Are men and women equal … under the law?” they would be asked. “Is it ever OK to coerce or use violence against an individual … who disagrees with your views?” “Do you realise that to have a good life in Canada, you will need to work hard to provide for yourself and your family, that you can’t expect to have things you want given to you?”
This tosh is, of course, doubly racist. Since only Muslims supposedly rate women as second-class citizens, this snide question is obviously directed at them. And since the question assumes a Muslim would actually announce that they do not regard men and women as equal, the question also treats them as simpletons. Tory leadership contender Kellie Leitch’s set of “Canadian Values” were released on the very day that Oklahoma Republican John Bennett published his own American questionnaire for Muslim constituents who want to meet him. His question number one was: “Do you beat your wife?” He might as well have asked Muslims: “Do you lie?”
Maybe this is all just a trifle childish, although we might remember that the former Canadian Tory prime minister, whose party leadership Leitch wants, came close to producing laws that would make criticism of Israel a hate crime. Leitch herself obviously regards Muslims as not only violent misogynists but also scroungers — hence the insulting question about whether they realise they will have to “work hard” in Canada and shouldn’t expect any handouts.
But the contagion doesn’t end with Leitch. For only a few days ago, the right-wing National Post in Toronto carried a stunning story whose sectarian thread obviously pushed it onto the front page — but without its racist content being explicitly pointed out by the writer. The first two sentences, however, will certainly alert readers as to what is to come. Trump, the paper announced, “has been single-minded when it comes to immigration, pledging … to keep certain people out, especially if they happen to be from Mexico or some Muslim nations. But a bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives …would actually open the door wider to one group: older Canadians who winter south of the border.”
Faced with an avalanche of tourist cancellations from Canada and Europe now that the Trump regime is settling into a racist border policy, congressmen are desperately hoping that the Promoting Tourism to Enhance our Economy Act will help to keep the cash flowing into America — because it aims to let Canadians of 55 and over who own or rent property in the US stay there for an extra two months a year. The 55-year-old lower age limit for property owners or renters suggests to you that wealthy white Canadians might be the tourists which Republicans (and Democrats, one should add) have in mind.
And you’d be right. Because this is the villainous explanation for the bill — which would allow certain Canadians to spend more time per year in America than in their native land — provided by its co-sponsor, Republican Ted Yoho of Florida: “We want people with good standing to come here and stay as long as they care. We come from similar backgrounds, we believe in the same thing. There’s no assimilation [necessary]. The morals and mores we have are pretty much the same as they have, so it’s pretty much an easy transition.”
Let us dwell briefly on the semantics. “Similar backgrounds” doesn’t sound to me like an invitation to 55-year-old Muslim Canadian immigrants. As for no “assimilation” necessary ... well, no, there wouldn’t be, would there, since those friendly, older, ever-so-similar Canadians would be from the same “background” as older Florida Americans.
Which means that 55-year-old Muslim Canadians and older are not quite the chaps whom Republican Yoho wants to welcome in Florida. “Morals and mores”, well, we know what that means — folks who don’t, in the immortal words of Oklahoma Republican John Bennett, beat their wives. As for “an easy transition”, that pretty much says it all. White non-Muslim Canadians welcome, Muslim Canadians of any colour, don’t waste your time in coming to the border.
In fact, over these past few days, I’ve met quite a few Canadians — regular visitors south of the border — who have no intention of visiting the States for the present — either because they are Muslims or because they object most profoundly to the racist, sectarian ideology now being peddled by the Trump regime. These include a prominent doctor who has chosen not to attend a medical conference in the US, even though he is a 100 per cent Canadian citizen. One Quebec-born Canadian citizen was stopped by US immigration last month and ordered to hand over his mobile phone so that American officials could look through his Facebook page. He was a Muslim.
And this works both ways. While Canadian immigration authorities have the resources to document hundreds of refugees crossing from the US over ice and snow and seeking asylum without passing through official crossing points — if they try to pass through Canadian border posts, they can be turned back on the grounds that the US is their country of first asylum — this could change in the spring. Warm weather will mean easier transit through forests and fields. Canadian civil rights groups now fear that their government will privately urge American Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to enforce restrictions on immigrants trying to reach the border from within the United States. And Kelly is expected in Ottawa within days to discuss this very policy.
That’s exactly how a sectarian anti-Muslim president in one country can infect the lives of thousands outside as well as inside his borders. That an American representative can try to seduce one group of Canadians to holiday in the US while indicating there will be no welcome for another group because they are of the wrong colour, religion or ethnic origin shows not only contempt for Canada but a deliberate attempt to divide a multicultural nation into its constituent parts.
It’s a custom not far removed from the Middle East. When the Sunni Muslim Saudis needed to call upon the Pakistan army — longstanding mercenaries of the Saudi regime when their own Saudi soldiers can’t handle a battle — to help in the Yemen war, Riyadh asked Pakistan to send only soldiers of the Sunni Muslim faith. Shias would not be welcome. The Pakistani parliament rightly expressed its outrage that a Muslim nation (Saudi Arabia) should not attempt to sectarianise its armed forces.
So will the Canadian government now cooperate with any US attempts to prevent Muslims crossing the border to seek asylum in Canada? Will it seek just such cooperation? It’s a very serious question. Canada has every right to protect its own sovereignty. But if by doing so, it assists a malicious and dishonest US president to pursue a policy of racism, it will be forced to decide whether security or morality governs Canada’s “national interest”. Thus does a political contagion slip across a national border even more quietly than the refugees on the ice and snow.
By arrangement with The Independent
Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2017