Given the turbulent times in the United States, Canada needs an emergency safe harbour law to protect vulnerable populations in the short term.
The law would serve as an addition to our normal immigration laws and would serve as a test case for future global emergencies.
It would grant a temporary version of permanent residency, with fewer entry requirements, to people who didn’t necessarily want to immigrate to Canada permanently but who did not currently feel safe at home.
It would also allow US companies to set up or expand offices in Canada for workers from outside the United States who are currently under threat.
Safe Harbour would grant essentially the same rights and protections given to permanent residents to Americans or recent residents of the United States but for a period of two years and not longer than five years. It would not however, require applicants to meet the same criteria as potential Canadian citizens or asylum seekers.
After the first two years in Canada, individuals would have to apply for a renewal of their safe harbour status and show that conditions at home had not changed. At the end of the second two year period, individuals would have 12 months to apply for permanent residency, a traditional guest worker visa or make plans to depart Canada.
During their stay, refugees would be allowed to work and to apply for health coverage after meeting the same residency requirements that permanent residents must meet in the various provinces.
This temporary measure would allow Canada to meet the requirements of the current crisis and maintain our position as a multi-cultural leader in human rights, without making permanent changes to Canadian immigration policies or quotas. It would also help strengthen the unique relationship that has historically existed between Canada and the United States.
Since the American revolution, Canada has provided a safe harbour
to vulnerable Americans. British loyalists came during the Revolution, escaped slaves and free black people came during the years prior to the American Civil War. Later in the century, hundreds of thousands of Canadian farmers helped to settle the Western provinces. During Vietnam draft-eligible individuals who objected to the war found a safe haven, many of them only temporarily and during the George W. Bush era as many as 10,000 Americans per year moved to Canada for ideological reasons.
All of this has contributed significantly to Canada’s relationship with the United States. Despite any temporary differences between the Canadian and U.S. governments, most Canadians have a very positive opinion of the United States and most Americans have a very high opinion of Canada. More than that, thousands of businesses have offices on both sides of the border and many Canadians have family members on both sides of the US border.
Donald Trump is a new element on the American political scene and is, to many, a new threat. The United States has seen a rise in hate speech and hate crimes. People have been subjected to official harassment and worse over their ethnicity, national origin or faith and laws are being contemplated which could put people at risk over their sexual orientation or gender.
This has understandably led to a great deal of confusion and fear among many Americans. This is not necessarily, however, a permanent situation. Many of those who are seeking refuge or who are contemplating doing so, do not necessarily want to become Canadian on a permanent basis. Some simply need time to assess the situation and weigh their options. By allowing them time to do so and to experience life in Canada.
By creating this special immigration provision, Canada would strengthen its historic relationship with America and individual Americans. It would also be a good test case for future crisis in the United States and elsewhere in the world. On January 28, as the response to Donald Trump’s travel ban build up steam, Justin Trudeau Tweeted “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada“
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Now the Prime Minister needs to show the world what he meant. We must send a message to the voices of fear and division in Canada to let them know that theirs is not the Canadian way and a message to frightened and vulnerable people in the United States that their is shelter for them in the North.