syrian refugees

Canadians should be deeply concerned about stated plans by the Trump Regime in the United States to expel literally millions of U.S. residents from their country.

In addition to the appalling moral consequences of the humanitarian catastrophe such a policy would almost certainly unleash, it is quite possible it could precipitate a full-blown European-style refugee crisis on our border with the United States.

Indeed, such a crisis already appears to have started. Several Canadian communities are now seeing a growing stream of refugees flowing across the “world’s longest undefended border.” And U.S. customs and immigration authorities south of those same places appear to be all but pushing politically unwanted U.S. residents into Canada.

How many refugees can we Canadians expect to appear on our side of the border if President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to expel more than 11 million people from the United States?

Not all of the victims of this U.S. policy would come this way, but the numbers would be very significant. As a nation of 35 million people, are we capable of dealing with the humanitarian crisis caused here by the irresponsible and inhumane actions now apparently being planned by our next door neighbour and supposed great friend and ally?

It’s all very well for the Pollyannas in the business press to speak enthusiastically about this looming crisis as a business opportunity for Canada, as if every refugee will be a high-tech corporate executive, research scientist or engineer with marketable skills, good health and a pocket full of credit cards.

In the kind of crisis President Trump proposes to unleash on his country’s neighbours, however, we and the Mexicans will not get to pick and choose the refugees likely to be driven across our borders, or the rate at which they come.

With the Trump Regime proposing to deport such vast numbers of human beings, it is not impossible that here in Canada we could face refugee flows proportionally larger than those caused by the people fleeing to Europe from the political and environmental catastrophes of the Middle East and North Africa.

More than 2.5 million migrants are estimated to have crossed illegally into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa since 2014 alone, many of them pushed by the chaos stemming from the U.S. regime-change projects that began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and continue in Syria today. The population of Europe is about 750 million.

Another 800,000 Ukrainians have fled into Russia in the wake of the civil war prompted by U.S.-influenced regime change in that country in 2014, about 600,000 of whom have opted to remain in Russia. The population of Russia is about 150 million.

Now the policies of a new U.S. administration threaten to unleash the same chaos and tragedy in our corner of the world — a profoundly hostile action against both Canada and Mexico by the United States, arguably potentially more serious than the one-sided trade policies promoted by the same administration.

One difference from what happened in Europe is likely to be the cultural makeup of the people the Trump Administration proposes to victimize, for, notwithstanding the publicity associated with his recent unconstitutional ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries and the open Islamophobia of some Canadians, the vast majority of people threatened with expulsion will be Roman Catholics from Latin America.

Has anyone in official Ottawa tried to calculate how many refugees we might have to absorb in Canada? How we would house, clothe and feed them in this climate? Or how long the flow of refugees is likely to continue? You can count on it that an expulsion of humanity on this scale will not be completed in a month or a year.

It’s hard to believe that someone in the federal government hasn’t tried to figure out best-case and worst-case scenarios. It’s troubling that no one seems to have informed Canadians about what they may be.

Has anyone in Ottawa contemplated how we will manage a northbound refugee flow — even if it involves only a few thousand victims of Trump’s policies — while at the same time maintaining normal commerce across our very long border?

It needs to be said that if a modern state has allowed more than 11 million people to live and work for generations on its territory — a convenient, vulnerable, low-paid army of precarious workers — those people have a moral right to stay where they are.

This is indisputably what the United States has done over the terms of several presidential administrations. To expel such numbers now on the whim of the winner of a questionable election and his insecure followers is nothing more than “ethnic cleansing” on a historically unprecedented scale.

Tens of thousands of human beings could easily die as a result. If they do, their deaths will be the responsibility of the United States, even if they die offshore.

This is true even if Trump’s victims don’t forcefully resist. Given the history and cultural reality of the United States, and the role played in it by these Americans — for that is what most of them really are — there is no guarantee that won’t happen.

Such expulsions have happened before and the judgment of history is always that they are profoundly wrong. There is no escaping this — something for our neighbours to consider even if Trump and his alt-right advisors are disinclined to pay attention.

We have had our own mass expulsion in Canada: The deportation of 11,500 Acadians by the British Crown through the decade after 1755. To this day it remains a dark blot on our history. President Trump proposes to expel 1,000 times as many people!

If any other country were seriously considering such a thing the world would now be as seriously talking about an intervention by the United Nations under the doctrine of the responsibility to protect.

Perhaps Trump won’t follow through, as folks kept suggesting through the U.S. election campaign. If he does, it is quite possible he will be removed from office and sanity will be restored before the worst impacts of such a policy are realized.

But don’t count on it. We Canadians had better be planning for the worst case, for a refugee crisis larger, sooner and more protracted than we had imagined in our bleakest predictions even a few months ago.

It will take a deft and steady hand by our government to respond with humanity and decency to a humanitarian crisis that could threaten to overwhelm our ability to respond, provoked by a powerful neighbour that has discarded its moral compass. The temptation will be great to plead powerlessness, and we have our own homegrown bigots and toadies who will demand outright collaboration with Trump’s vile policies.

One thing is certain: the worst case isn’t going to be something we can muddle through, or get what we want by obsequiously crooning, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

But, as Albert Camus famously wrote in the hours after the Liberation of Paris, “the greatness of man lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition.” This is a decision we are capable of making.

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Image: Flickr/Josh Zakary

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...