The View From Here – With the refugee problem, the Canada-US border represents a moral divide

Tom Henihan
It is difficult to reconcile the Canadian government welcoming refugees who have crossed from the US into Canada in remote unpatrolled areas, while it continues to enforce the Canada–US Safe Third Country Agreement at border posts.

Continuing to conform to that agreement, signed in 2002 and implemented in 2004, forces refugees, many of them families with young children, to put themselves in harm’s way as some have already suffered irreparable injury from frostbite.

Clearly, the situation has changed and America is no longer a safe jurisdiction for people hoping to have their case heard to acquire refugee status. Otherwise, people would not risk life and limb crossing treacherous terrain in frigid weather to reach Canada.

Of course, this is not to suggest that Canada is pure as the driven snow. There are many here who laud the mandate Trump is pursuing, as there are many in America who abhor everything he represents.

However, it is apparent that Canada is a safer, more welcoming place where arbitrary profiling and racial discrimination is not entrenched in law or substantially reflected in the country’s body politic.

It appears that racism, xenophobia and the targeting of those who are marginalized and vulnerable, never creates progress but instead drags humanity backwards to the sinister trappings of dark, unenlightened times.

And matters in the US are dark: its society is losing its cohesion and breaking down into extremely polarized factions. Donald Trump and his puppet master Steve Bannon are the instruments of this disintegration and employ every means to exacerbate the situation.

If it truly embraces the values it espouses, Canada has an opportunity here, if not an obligation, to assert those values and confront those who oppose its ideals. There is little to be gained by diplomacy with the US while it is under the sway of an erratic president, utterly consumed with his own diabolical agenda.

The Statue of Liberty’s inscription, almost completely obscured by the recalcitrant mob, deserves repeating: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

How removed from those sentiments is the prevailing mood in American politics.

If the American President is unrestrained in voicing his racist message, the Canadian Prime Minister should be equally outspoken in opposing that message and should add his voice to the millions of Americans who oppose the divisive and regressive agenda that Trump represents.

When Trump describes his policy of deporting millions of undocumented workers and their families as “a military operation,” and relentlessly pursues an effort to prevent Muslims from entering the US, the situation in America certainly looks like a dark vestige of the past.

The Canada-US border, the world’s longest, undefended border, has been for so long a proud symbol of international respect and cooperation is once again beginning to mutate into a line representing a moral and ideological chasm.

Not since the Underground Railroad of the 1800’s, when African American slaves sought refuge in Canada, have people in the US found it necessary to make clandestine attempts to cross the border to freedom.

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