Elizabeth May says Canada must welcome asylum seekers wanting to flee the United States because it isn’t a secure country for racialized communities under the president’s leadership.
“We must not turn them away because Donald Trump has made the United States no longer safe,” the federal Green parliamentary leader told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday.
May called the press conference to address the protests against anti-Black racism that have erupted after last week’s police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. The situation has been made more dire by Trump’s incendiary words and actions, she said.
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She noted Trump’s threat to use military action on protesters, his tweets that were flagged by Twitter as glorifying violence, and the National Guard’s use of tear gas on peaceful demonstrators in Washington, D.C. this week to clear a path for a presidential photo-op.
May reiterated her party’s position that it is time for the Liberal government to suspend Canada’s Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S.
“It’s clear that if you’re Muslim, if you’re Black, if you’re Latina, if you’re Indigenous, the United States is not a safe country,” she said.
According to the 2004 pact, Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places for refugee claimants to seek protection. Both countries reject most asylum claims made at land border crossings on the basis that people should instead seek refuge in the first country they arrive in.
However, in what has been called a loophole, the Safe Third Country agreement only applies at official border points. Thousands of people have crossed into Canada from the U.S. irregularly over several years in order to make claims.
In a move that outraged refugee advocates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in March that asylum seekers who try to come into Canada irregularly from the U.S. would be sent back as part of a “reciprocal” arrangement between the countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada has closed the border to non-essential U.S. visitors until at least June 21.
At the time, May also blasted the government for closing the border to those seeking refuge during the pandemic. “If border officials are allowed to turn away asylum seekers at unauthorized points of entry, we might as well just build a wall across the entire country. Whatever happened to our ‘welcoming’ country?” she said in a press release.
May said Wednesday that as long as those seeking asylum adhere to Canada’s COVID-19 safety protocols, they shouldn’t be turned away.
“We’ve been making this point since Trump came to office with his anti-Muslim ban,” she said, referring to the president’s travel ban targeting Muslim-majority nations. “That you couldn’t be a Muslim in the United States and feel safe. It was no longer a Safe Third Country.”
But May said she would not criticize Trudeau or Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for refusing to call out Trump by name over the unrest south of the border.
“It’s clear that if you’re Muslim, if you’re Black, if you’re Latina, if you’re Indigenous, the United States is not a safe country.”
The prime minister stood silent for 21 seconds Tuesday when asked by a reporter to weigh in on Trump’s behaviour. When he eventually answered, Trudeau did not reference the U.S. president by name, but said Canadians were watching what is happening in the U.S. with “horror and consternation.”
May said she wants to give Trudeau and Freeland “the space to navigate” how they deal with the Trump White House, saying they have “different jobs” and roles than she does.
“I just knew I could not stay silent as the president of the United States urged violence and in coded language has been giving… oxygen, for years now, to white supremacists,” she said.
The Green parliamentary leader is also calling for an inquiry to determine to what extent white supremacist forces could be infiltrating police and the military in Canada.
“This is a very dangerous situation. And I do think those of us in other countries should speak out,” she said. “But I won’t criticize the prime minister or the deputy prime minister because the nature of what they have to do in negotiating keeping the border closed for safety, right now, for COVID-19.”
Singh: PM must speak out on Trump’s actions
In contrast, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday that Trudeau needs to speak out forcefully against Trump. Canada cannot be a “passive bystander” as Trump inflames hatred and fuels racism, he said.
“He is acting in a way which is going to put people’s lives at risk,” Singh said of the president. “And it is wrong and it needs to be called out.
“It’s difficult to stand up to bullies. It’s difficult to call out hate. It’s hard to do but it must be done. And it takes courage and everyone has to do their part.”
The NDP leader, who a day earlier in the House of Commons suggested Trudeau was more interested in “pretty words” than concrete action on racial injustice, said the Liberal government should also move to end racially motivated policing tactics and address the over-representation of visible minorities and Indigenous people in prisons.
Singh, the first racialized leader of a major federal party and a politician who has been open about the bigotry he has faced as a turbaned Sikh, recounted how some bystanders would say nothing when he was bullied as a child.
“Silence didn’t stop the blows that I felt. Silence didn’t stop the painful words,” he said.
Trudeau should condemn Trump’s conduct clearly, even if it complicates Canada-U.S. relations, he suggested.
“There are times where we have to be strategic, and there are times where we just have to stand up for what is right,” he said. “And this is one of those times where we have to stand up for what is right.”
With files from The Canadian Press