No borders, no ban: Canada’s complicity in U.S. politics

The morning after the Ste-Foy Mosque shooting in Quebec City, one of my co-workers asked me why I was so invested in U.S. politics, telling me that I should be more concerned about what’s happening in “my own country.” I quickly replied that U.S. politics have implications for us all. Another co-worker, who witnessed this exchange, called my comment “bullshit.” I opted not to engage with their remark, mostly because it was 5 a.m. and I hadn’t had any coffee yet, but also because I couldn’t put my frustration into words.

If I could go back and replace my silence with words, I would have said this:

I want to start by talking about what it means to say “my own country.” A comment like that comes with certain presumptions attached to it – presumptions that are important to deconstruct.

First, it automatically assumes that I have patriotic feelings toward Canada. I don’t. Second, it invokes notions of nationalism, implying that the interests of Canada are more important than those of the U.S. and other nations. It assumes that we can separate the interests of the U.S. from those of Canada. We can’t. And, while pointing toward Trump’s recent Muslim ban as being solely responsible for the Ste-Foy Mosque shooting would erase a long history of Islamophobia and racism in Canada, we cannot deny that the two are related. So, I return to my original comment: U.S. politics have implications for all of us.

I think it’s important to ask ourselves what it means to be “Canadian.” What does it mean to be a patriotic citizen? What does it mean to support Canada’s best interests? Who counts, who matters within those interests? Is it only people who were born on Canadian soil? Or is it every single person living within Canada’s borders? And why does our concern and care for others start and stop with the imaginary lines that have been traced around us? Being “Canadian” means more than chanting phrases like “We The North” and Saturday-night hockey games. It means seeing past “difference” and remembering that regardless of nationality, skin colour and religion, we are all human beings deserving of rights, care and respect.

My interest in U.S. politics stems from my belief that every life is important; that every life should be valued. On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days; refugees, for 120 days; and Syrian refugees, indefinitely. This executive order states the opposite of my belief, that not every life matters, a notion which Canada is complicit in advancing. So, it’s now more important than ever that Canada stands up for human dignity – otherwise, we will remain complicit in our silence.

After Trump signed the executive order, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

Not once did Trudeau explicitly condemn the travel ban. Nor did his government make any effort to actually welcome those who were displaced by Trump’s illegal, racist and Islamophobic order into Canada. It’s dangerous to dote on Canada’s “diversity” and “welcoming” nature but refuse assistance to those who need it most. And it’s not enough to make empty gestures when people’s lives are at stake.

So, while people are busy telling me that my interest in U.S. politics is “bullshit” and that I care too little about “my own country,” I’ll be busy thinking about ways to break our borders down and open them up so that, someday, we really can be the welcoming nation that Trudeau claims we already are.

Natalie Mellon