Canada's Justin Trudeau: Refugees are welcome here

After President Trump signed an executive order banning people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed them to Canada.

Ben Nelms/Reuters
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, wave to the crowd at a Chinese New Year parade in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, on Sunday.

To the refugees and other travelers barred from entering the United States following an executive order President Trump signed on Friday: Canada welcomes you.

This is the message Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted on Saturday, and Canada has followed through on the leader’s pledge. It will offer temporary residence to any traveler stranded because of Mr. Trump’s 90-day ban of people from seven Muslim-majority countries, a senior official said on Sunday.

In his first year in office, Mr. Trudeau has welcomed 39,000 Syrian refugees into the country of about 35 million (the United States, with a population nearly 10 times that, resettled 12,587 in its last fiscal year).

“Diversity is our strength,” Trudeau wrote on Saturday:

Canada’s response followed Trump’s executive order barring travelers and refugees from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Libya for 90 days. The measure also indefinitely banned Syrian refugees and suspended the US’s broader refugee program for 120 days.

Trump said the order gives his administration time to develop stricter screening process for refugees, immigrants, and visitors “to keep radical Islamic terrorists out.”

Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a news conference that only a handful of passengers headed to the United States from Canada had been denied boarding.

But Mr. Hussen added that Canada will offer relief to them and others.

"Let me assure those who may be stranded in Canada that I will use my authority as minister to provide them with temporary residency if they need it," Hussen said.

Canada’s pledge to offer temporary homes to stranded travelers follows an open letter, signed by 200 members of the Canadian technology industry, that called on the government to do as much.

"Canadian tech companies understand the power of inclusion and diversity of thought, and that talent and skill know no borders," said the letter. "Many Canadian tech entrepreneurs are immigrants, are the children of immigrants, employ and have been employed by immigrants."

There’s also a practical reason for the call. Canada is eager to attract skilled tech workers from abroad while retaining existing workers and students. More than 300,000 Canadians currently work in Silicon Valley in the United States.

But welcoming immigrants is also built into Canada's national ethos, as the Christian Science Monitor’s Michael Holtz previously reported:

Canada has long been recognized as a world leader in international humanitarianism largely thanks to its refugee sponsorship system, which empowers private groups to resettle refugees on their own. In past times of crisis, the country resettled refugees quickly and in large numbers given its population, now 35 million. Canada took in 60,000 Vietnamese in just 18 months between 1979 and 1980. It did the same with thousands of refugees from Kosovo in the 1990s.

That status faded under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s nine years in office. But his successor, Trudeau, appealed to the country’s welcoming tradition, championing his now-famous plan to receive 25,000 Syrian refugees within months of taking office.

But there’s another key factor to Trudeau’s success, as the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi wrote in March:

It would be impossible to explain the outpouring of support and compassion that allowed Canada to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of weeks without taking into account the impact on Canada’s national psyche of the death of Alan Kurdi. Alan was the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean with his family last September and whose body washed up on a Turkish beach – to be famously photographed as he was picked up and cradled by a Turkish police officer.

The photo of a lifeless Alan face down in the sand, his little tennis shoes carefully tied on his feet, shook the world. But for Canadians it became personal when it was learned that his family had relatives in British Columbia and had been trying to legally immigrate to Canada before giving up in desperation and taking to the sea.

Trump’s temporary travel ban was met by some in Ottawa asking the government do even more. The Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called on the government to withdraw from a Safe Third Country agreement with the United States, under which Canada returns asylum seekers crossing the border. Such a move could be considered diplomatically insulting to the United States, to which Canada sends 75 percent of its exports. Hussen, the immigration minister, said the agreement would remain unchanged for now.

Trudeau is expected to visit the White House soon.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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