Diversity is our strength, but it’s weakened by empty words.
We are a little over a week into Donald Trump's America, and so far it is as much of an absolute horrorshow as he had been promising for the entirety of his presidential campaign. Every day you wake up to a new fresh hell—The Donald sitting in the Oval Office, ringed by a cadre of ghouls, gleefully signing executive orders to upend global abortion provision or eviscerate financial regulations or build that psychotic, Pharaonic Wall along the Mexican border. There is no State Department and Stephen fucking Bannon is on the Security Council. Welcome to the own zone, population everyone.
Then, to cap off a successful first week, Trump signed an order temporarily banning citizens (and international students, and business travellers, and green card holders, and…?) from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, and putting the intake of Syrian refugees on ice indefinitely. The institutions responsible for organizing or enforcing this order were not aware that it was coming, consigning travellers to indefinite detention in airport customs and sparking massive protests across the country. Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany had to call Trump to explain the Geneva Convention on the rights of refugees. Protests raged across the country. The American executive declared open war on dissenters in its ranks. A constitutional crisis is imminent.
We are—again—less than two weeks in.
Against this backdrop of malicious idiocy, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal marketing machine sprang into action. The prime minister bravely tweeted "to those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is strength #WelcomeToCanada," which sounded enough like a direct, principled response to Trump's travel ban that it fooled a few major international news outlets, but was also vague enough for the Canadian government to avoid having to actually commit to anything. So, in other words, Peak Trudeau. To underscore this point, the prime minister also tweeted a photo of his meeting some Syrian refugees in November 2015, to demonstrate how much nicer of a guy he is than Donald Trump. (If he so chooses, Trudeau can also prove himself braver than the stair-phobic American president by tweeting that video of himself falling down a flight.)
But given Trudeau's willingness to trade on Canada's international reputation as benevolent liberal paradise for a few glowing retweets... The prime minister now has no choice now but to put up or shut up.
All of this conveniently ignores the fact that just a few weeks ago, Trudeau's government capped the quota of Syrian refugees private citizens or groups could sponsor to come to Canada in 2017 at 1,000—a quota which had already been reached by the time Trump announced his ban. As it turns out, the Wizard is always less magnificent when you glimpse the man behind the curtain.
But the universe is off its axis, and hideous irony is the order of the day. Barely a day after Trudeau proclaimed Canada as the world's new multi-culti city on a hill, a Quebec City mosque was devastated by an act of white nationalist terror that saw six people killed and 19 others injured by a masked gunman during evening prayer.
It is a nightmarish act that offends everything good and decent about human life, so obvious it was immediately used by the White House in the most monstrous way possible. The same day the prime minister stood in the House of Commons to offer love and solidarity to Canada's Islamic community, Sean Spicer appeared in Washington to cite the mass murder of Canadian Muslims as a justification for keeping Muslims out of the country. It could only be more cartoonishly villainous if he was literally tying a teenage girl to railroad tracks during the press conference.
Trudeau's government is very deliberately, very carefully, trying to walk a fine line with the new Trump administration. Between the upcoming NAFTA renegotiations, Canada's economic and military dependence on the U.S., Trump's thin-skinned, vindictive malice and his reckless disregard for every American institution at home or abroad, the prime minister is between a rock and a hard place. How does Trudeau stand up to Trump without incurring the president's bottomless wrath?
Diplomacy by its very nature involves keeping your head down and carefully choosing your battles. But given Trudeau's willingness to trade on Canada's international reputation as benevolent liberal paradise for a few glowing retweets—and Trump's willingness to trade on a Canadian hate-crime in order to indulge in America's darkest impulses—the prime minister now has no choice now but to put up or shut up.
Terry Glavin has suggested that the absolute least the federal government can do is resettle the 2,248 Syrian refugees that Trump has stranded in limbo; that is, if #WelcomeToCanada is more than just a cynical marketing ploy. Trudeau can do more—like raising the quota for both privately-sponsored refugees, hiring more people to handle the application backlog, or fulfilling his 2015 campaign promise of scrapping the discriminatory Safe Third Country Agreement—but they should, at the very least, genuinely speak out and help those actively left in the lurch.
Trudeau told us that Canada was back; the idea of Canada as a cosmopolitan wonderland premised on the basic principle that anyone, of any race, creed, language, gender, sexuality, ability, or nationality can live peacefully and cooperatively together. The rusted war machine of our settler-colonial state falls short of this vision every day. But it's the standard to which we hold ourselves, our political process, our identity as Canadians. It is the most valuable idea worth defending as we mark 150 years of Confederation's improbably continued existence in bed with the American Leviathan—now more than ever.
But who are we if we capitulate, if we are pressed into de facto collaboration with Donald Trump's unhinged proto-fascism? Who are we, really, If we choose to just endlessly jerk each other off in one smug hashtag after another while Rome and its citizens and charges burn below us?
Kellie Leitch is rightfully being taken to task for her present role in stoking the fire of Canadian xenophobia, and trying to distance herself from the human cost of playing with political fire. But we can't let Trudeau off the hook either. He is the prime minister. He has the power and the authority and the mandate and the duty to take a stand against Donald Trump, if he really believes any of the things he's spent his political life preaching.
It has been said that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. Personally, I imagine it's more like indefinite cosmic detention inside an American airport.
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