Canada is still not a “Plan B” for Americans when our country is going to sh*t
We have to dispel the myth that tricked us in the first place.
by JaLoni Amor Owens
For many Americans, one of the only days that left the nation feeling as hopeless and defeated as it did on November 8, 2016 was the day after. Those on the left, whether or not Secretary Clinton was their first choice for President of the United States and whether or not they had prepared for the Trump presidency, were consumed by a range of emotions after the election results were announced.
Some, including myself, were swallowed whole by a combination of rage and fear—anger at the fact that we now had to reap whatever had just been sewn by White America and fear that we were not equipped with the resources necessary for our survival. Though the United States’ militarism, white supremacist, imperialist violence and participation in human rights abuses is something marginalized communities, especially those of color and those living in the global south and the “Middle East”, have been the targets of for centuries, this still felt different for many of us.
It looked different, too. On November 9, 2016, my New York based college campus looked the way much of the nation felt. Empty. Dark. Gloomy. The dining areas were empty. I did not even bother going to class. The formerly silent Trump supporters on my campus made sure to pull out all of their MAGA merchandise to celebrate. I spent the entire day reading article after article and scrolling through social media looking for hope in the words of journalists and in the actions of the organizers and advocates.
Unfortunately, even those who I believed to be invincible and the wisest of us all seemed to feel the same level of hopelessness and fear as my friends and I. The only glimmer of hope presented in the days following the election could be found in the beginning of what would soon be a trend of pieces centering a potential “Plan B” for Americans: Canada.
Being a citizen of the United States and never having needed to seek asylum, I have had the extraordinary privilege in that my understanding of the immigration processes and socio-political climates of other nations never needed to be comprehensive. So when it came to the “Canada, here we come!” narrative, which lauded the nation as an anti-racist, trans-affirming, pro-immigration, and now weed-friendly, socialist utopia of sorts, I put on the rose colored glasses.
In the back of my mind, however, I was well-aware that Canada is built on as much stolen land and by as much forced labor as the United States is. There was just something about believing there was an alternative to a Trump Presidency less than a 10 hour drive away that brought me comfort I could not find elsewhere.
It was much easier not to critique the op-eds and the Twitter threads and to remain ignorant about the socio-political climate of Canada, especially when organizers across the country including myself were preparing for everything that could possibly come with a Trump White House. I did not possess the time or the strength to analyze, to critique or to combat the resurgence of palatable white nationalism throughout the rest of the world.
As a result, my decision to put the inextricably tied struggle of BIPOC in Canada on the backburner as an act of self care quickly evolved into complacency.
Observing and experiencing the socio-political climate in the United States grow more and more hostile and difficult to navigate for people of color, for queer and trans folx, for immigrants, for disabled folx and for the economically disadvantaged has absolutely been exhausting and painful.
The future of the United States looks pretty grim, which made Canada’s healthcare system, immigration—at least on the surface—read as political erotica to members of marginalized population cohorts in the United States. It is for this reason many leftists have forgiven those of us who allowed ourselves to be swept up in what has been coined the Canadian Utopia Myth, but being forgiven for this gap in our advocacy and afforded the space to grow means nothing unless we dispel the myth that tricked us in the first place.
Police action—and oftentimes, inaction—have had devastating consequences for racial and ethnic minorities in Canada, especially indigenous women and girls. First Nations women of Canada are three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than their non-aboriginal counterparts and over a quarter of murder cases involving indigenous women remain unsolved. Several studies cite bias in policing as a central contributing factor in violence against indigenous women, explaining that police action enabled Canada’s most notorious serial killer, Robert Pickton, to murder mostly indigenous sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside from 1978 to 2001.
Canadian immigration policy has been in the media a great deal this year after Canadian immigration officials confirmed that they are using DNA testing and ancestry websites to help facilitate deportations of immigrants. The story reminded Canadians and their American neighbors that just because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not lead “Build that wall!” chants does not mean Canada is a land of milk and honey for immigrants, especially those coming from African countries.
Members of the TLGBQ+ community, of communities of color and of economically disadvantaged backgrounds are also disadvantaged when it comes to Canada’s policy on allowing HIV+ persons to immigrate for extended periods of time. After photos of Prime Minister Trudeau at a Pride parade wearing rainbow socks and high-fiving a small child in a Wonder Woman costume went viral, Twitter users were quick to highlight this policy and how it disproportionately impacts queer and trans individuals.
This dialogue also exposed the impact of Canada’s medical inadmissibility rules on those with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Though Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has stated that the current medical inadmissibility rules “are over 40 years old and are clearly not in line with Canadian values or our government’s vision of inclusion” and must be reformed, there does not appear to be change in sight.
Canada, like other Western nations, is excellent at ensuring their image is not tarnished by their nation’s history of violence against BIPOC or the continued marginalization of underrepresented population cohorts. Both the United States and Canada are guilty of lauding themselves as melting pots, as progressive and as an example of democracy in action despite the reality being much different.
I believe Canadians and Americans have lost sight of this with the election of Donald Trump and his subsequent attacks on queer and trans BIPOC, specifically since the “great melting pot” narrative has ceased given Donald Trump’s unabashed participation in and encouragement of white supremacist violence.
But, it is important we do not lose sight of the reality and do not waiver in our pursuit of justice just because of a shift in messaging. Anti-black racism and anti-indigenous racism are global and the consequences are devastating. And, wherever it manifests itself we must dedicate ourselves to resisting it and not furthering narratives that it does not exist as a way to comfort ourselves while we experience the same.
JaLoni Owens is a New York based community organizer and freelance writer as well as a rising senior at Hofstra University. Driven by her passion for social justice and politics, she is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree with Public Policy and Public Service as her primary focus of study and Journalism as her secondary focus of and.