Canadian citizens will be allowed to enter the United States even if they also hold citizenship in countries targeted by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, a top Trump adviser told the Canadian government late Saturday.
The word from National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, relayed to the media by Canada’s Washington embassy, ended a day of confusion and turmoil over a vaguely worded Trump policy that had appeared to ensnare tens of thousands of Canadian citizens and abandon 150 years of border tradition.
“The prime minister instructed our National Security Adviser, Daniel Jean, who was in touch over the course of the day with NSA Flynn to seek further clarification,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office told reporters.
“Flynn confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban. We have been assured that Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports will be dealt with in the usual process.”
The Friday order had left Trudeau scrambling not only to develop an appropriate response but to figure out what exactly was happening. And it left Canadian communities confused, alarmed and furious, reassessing both their travel plans and their sense of their place on the continent.
“Our community is very devastated,” said Osman Ali, director of the Somali Canadian Association of Etobicoke, before Flynn’s clarification.
The policy had seemed to prevent travel by dual-citizen Canadian students and businesspeople living in the U.S., effectively prohibiting them from leaving the country, and dual-citizen Canadians living in Canada who wanted to visit the U.S. The president of the Canadian Science Policy Conference booked his regular flight to a major American science conference in February. Mehrdad Hariri thought he needed to call Air Canada and cancel, and he was stunned.
“Absolutely shocking,” sad Hariri, a dual Canadian and Iranian citizen. “Absolutely shocking. It’s so disappointing.”
Trump’s 90-day ban, which he framed as an anti-terror measure, is not aimed specifically at Canadians. It is designed to forbid entry by residents of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
But to the astonishment of U.S. allies, the Department of Homeland Security announced early Saturday it did not exempt people who are citizens of those countries and also citizens of countries like Canada, France and Australia, which have never been targeted by broad restrictions of this kind. Nor, they said, did it make exceptions for people who hold “green cards,” permanent residents who are rigorously vetted.
It was not the “total and complete” Muslim ban Trump promised during a campaign in which he practiced open Islamophobia. But it appeared far more sweeping and punitive than lawmakers, diplomats and lawyers had expected when the details were leaked earlier in the week.
“There has never been a measure like this before,” said Lorne Waldman, a top Canadian immigration lawyer in Toronto, before the clarification. “One can only assume that they didn’t fully think through all of the consequences of what they were doing in terms of the havoc it’s going to cause.”
“It certainly appears to be unprecedented, and it has certainly been both developed and promulgated in an ignorant and chaotic fashion,” said Robert Remes, a veteran immigration lawyer in Washington, before the clarification.
Some of Trump’s most prominent backers had long suggested that the Muslim ban was mere campaign rhetoric, not to be taken literally. Some Canadian Muslims had assumed the same, then woke up Saturday to learn they had been separated from their families.
“On our end, we were saying, ‘That is ridiculous, that is not going to happen, don’t worry.’ But here we are, and it is happening now,” said Mahmoud Allouch, 26, a University of Toronto engineering graduate from Syria who works for a Toronto non-profit. Allouch, who is applying for permanent residency here, does not have a Canadian passport. Under the ban, he can no longer visit his sister in Washington, who has a green card, but not an American passport.
“There is uncertainty, there is apprehension, there is a lot of ambiguity. So we are playing it safe,” Allouch said. “It is really just weird to see it happen in 2017, after the world was moving towards less borders, less walls, but now we are starting the alienation.”
Iranian Canadian Congress president Bijan Ahmadi said Trump had chosen religious and national discrimination over “any credible security assessment of each case of someone who wants to enter the United States.”
“We believe that our government and all our politicians, all our MPs from different political parties, should be united on this matter, and should condemn this discriminatory policy that the Trump administration has signed and has implemented,” Ahmadi said.
Ali said Trump had targeted the “poor of the poorest, the weak of the weakest.”
Canadian refugee advocates called on Trudeau to consider changes to a 2004 pact, the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits most people who have been in the U.S. from claiming refugee status at the Canadian border. With Trump’s 120-day suspension of all refugee intake, they said, the U.S. no longer qualifies as a safe haven.