Views My Own

America Is No Longer a Safe Country and Canada Should Say So

Canada has a responsibility to call out industrialized child abuse and defend the rights of asylum seekers.

by Drew Brown
Jun 19 2018, 3:06pm

Images courtesy of shutterstock / CP 

Jesus loves the little children. Now render them unto Caesar for warehousing in New Mexico.

Where do you even begin?

An anti-immigrant paramilitary stalks the countryside. The police murder minorities in the streets with impunity while mass shootings are so common that they blur into numbness. Billionaires leverage the country’s vestigial republican structures to wage unending, clandestine wars against the poor at home and abroad. The country’s media ecosystem is poison and its cultural life terminally anemic.

This has long been the bitter fruit of American empire in decline. The deliberate use of family detention to deter migration was inaugurated under President Barack Obama. But Donald Trump has let a hundred thousand barbarous flowers bloom.

The administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy—which has separated 2,000 children from their families already and threatens to rip apart thousands more—is an atrocity. Trump’s caricature leers at traumatized boys above the entrance of a retrofitted Walmart, counselling them with martial wisdom: a veces al perder una batalla encuentras una nueva manera de ganar la guerra. Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.

From above the 49th parallel, it is hard not to feel that the United States is irremediably broken. The fascist trap has sprung. The autoimmune disease has spread too far. It advances three steps forward and a half step back. Once you have everyone on television arguing about whether or not it’s OK to put brutalized toddlers in concentration camps, you are only a few turns out from checkmate.

Even if the administration retreats from this particular horror, US politics is now a shell game with the devil. Satan can cite Scripture for his purpose, and this is literally what the Trump White House has done to defend its wanton cruelty. America’s light has flickered out and been eaten up in darkness. No one with eyes to see or ears to hear can doubt it any longer.

Canada has a responsibility in this. The federal government must suspend the Safe Third Country (STC) agreement with the United States of America.

Under the STC, asylum seekers who arrive legally Canadian land border crossings are often turned back to American authorities without having their refugee claims heard in this country. As long as the United States uses industrialized child abuse as a means of border control, it is not a safe country for refugees, asylum seekers, or other migrants.

As highlighted by Associate Professor Sean Rehaag of Osgoode Hall Law School in The Conversation, it is a crime against humanity and a violation of both the spirit and letter of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. His warning to Canadian jurists is stark and worth quoting at length:

“Regardless of political persuasion, no one who takes Canadian constitutional law seriously can (...) lawfully send a person who meets the Canadian refugee definition to a country where they will be detained, separated from their children and then deported back to the country where they face persecution.

Indeed, it may not be possible for Department of Justice lawyers to even argue in court that the agreement is constitutional without breaching professional obligations as lawyers and civil servants. And any lawyers asked to do so should take a long hard look at the experience of others who have defended the undefendable elsewhere—such as lawyers who argued that torture was a lawful response to national security concerns or lawyers who defended apartheid in South Africa.”

Assuming Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy holds—federal officials anticipate to house some 30,000 migrant children by August—it may be only a matter of time before the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down the STC. But Justin Trudeau and the Liberals can suspend the agreement now without waiting for the courts to force their hand. If Canadian liberalism is still worth a damn, it will proactively prevent vulnerable families from being thrown into a vicious system that separates children from their guardians and often loses track of them entirely.

We are not just bound to act here by the demands of this historical moment. Canada should be acutely aware of the social cost incurred by forcibly removing children from their parents. The ugly legacy of the Sixties Scoop is still playing out in this country and it is foolish to believe we can seriously redress one monstrous crime while actively collaborating to commit it again. (It must be noted that Canada’s current record on Indigenous foster care has rightfully been called a “crisis.”)

Even leaving aside the government’s ethical and constitutional obligations to suspend the agreement, the last seven decades of North American realpolitik have gone out the window. Trudeau tried killing Trump with kindness and the president still decided he was still hungry for a trade war with his democratic allies. There is nothing left to lose in this diplomatic sanction, and Canada taking leadership here helps empower domestic and international opposition to Trump’s immigration policy.

Whether or not Trudeau rises to the challenge of history remains to be seen. The prospects are not hopeful, especially given our own country’s penchant for throwing migrant teenagers in jail. Barely two months ago—after Trump’s separation policy was already underway—the Trudeau government was trying to persuade the US government to let Canada turn even more migrants away under the STC. When pressed about it yesterday in the House of Commons, Trudeau sniffed that while his heart bleeds for the caged children south of the border, it’s important “not [to] play politics” with such an “extremely difficult situation.”

This, from the son of the man who helped bring us the Charter, is truly disheartening. Canada has a duty to put as much pressure as we can on the United States to ratchet back its programme of racist state terror against children.

There is little else to say and even less to do while our neighbours struggle for their souls. But God damn all of us who sit back and do nothing.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.

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