Canada had better plan for an unprecedented refugee crisis as U.S. lurches toward ‘ethnic cleansing’

Posted on February 22, 2017, 12:47 am
10 mins

PHOTOS: Austrian police and Syrian refugees crowd a train platform in Vienna on Sept. 4, 2015 (photo by Josh Zakary). Below: U.S. President Donald Trump (photo by Gage Skidmore) and a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey in 2016 (European Parliament photos).

Canadians should be deeply concerned about stated plans by the Trump Regime in the United States to expel literally millions of U.S. residents from their country.

In addition to the appalling moral consequences of the humanitarian catastrophe such a policy would almost certainly unleash, it is quite possible it could precipitate a full-blown European-style refugee crisis on our border with the United States.

Indeed, such a crisis already appears to have started. Several Canadian communities are now seeing a growing stream of refugees flowing across the “world’s longest undefended border.” And U.S. customs and immigration authorities south of those same places appear to be all but pushing politically unwanted U.S. residents into Canada.

How many refugees can we Canadians expect to appear on our side of the border if President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to expel more than 11 million people from the United States?

Not all of the victims of this U.S. policy would come this way, but the numbers would be very significant. As a nation of 35 million people, are we capable of dealing with the humanitarian crisis caused here by the irresponsible and inhumane actions now apparently being planned by our next door neighbour and supposed great friend and ally?

It’s all very well for the Pollyannas in the business press to speak enthusiastically about this looming crisis as a business opportunity for Canada, as if every refugee will be a high-tech corporate executive, research scientist or engineer with marketable skills, good health and a pocket full of credit cards.

In the kind of crisis President Trump proposes to unleash on his country’s neighbours, however, we and the Mexicans will not get to pick and choose the refugees likely to be driven across our borders, or the rate at which they come.

With the Trump Regime proposing to deport such vast numbers of human beings, it is not impossible that here in Canada we could face refugee flows proportionally larger than those caused by the people fleeing to Europe from the political and environmental catastrophes of the Middle East and North Africa.

More than 2.5 million migrants are estimated to have crossed illegally into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa since 2014 alone, many of them pushed by the chaos stemming from the U.S. regime-change projects that began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and continue in Syria today. The population of Europe is about 750 million.

Another 800,000 Ukrainians have fled into Russia in the wake of the civil war prompted by U.S.-influenced regime change in that country in 2014, about 600,000 of whom have opted to remain in Russia. The population of Russia is about 150 million.

Now the policies of a new U.S. administration threaten to unleash the same chaos and tragedy in our corner of the world – a profoundly hostile action against both Canada and Mexico by the United States, arguably potentially more serious than the one-sided trade policies promoted by the same administration.

One difference from what happened in Europe is likely to be the cultural makeup of the people the Trump Administration proposes to victimize, for, notwithstanding the publicity associated with his recent unconstitutional ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries and the open Islamophobia of some Canadians, the vast majority of people threatened with expulsion will be Roman Catholics from Latin America.

Has anyone in official Ottawa tried to calculate how many refugees we might have to absorb in Canada? How we would house, clothe and feed them in this climate? Or how long the flow of refugees is likely to continue? You can count on it that an expulsion of humanity on this scale will not be completed in a month or a year.

It’s hard to believe that someone in the federal government hasn’t tried to figure out best-case and worst-case scenarios. It’s troubling that no one seems to have informed Canadians about what they may be.

Has anyone in Ottawa contemplated how we will manage a northbound refugee flow – even if it involves only a few thousand victims of Mr. Trump’s policies – while at the same time maintaining normal commerce across our very long border?

It needs to be said that if a modern state has allowed more than 11 million people to live and work for generations on its territory – a convenient, vulnerable, low-paid army of precarious workers – those people have a moral right to stay where they are.

This is indisputably what the United States has done over the terms of several presidential administrations. To expel such numbers now on the whim of the winner of a questionable election and his insecure followers is nothing more than “ethnic cleansing” on a historically unprecedented scale.

Tens of thousands of human beings could easily die as a result. If they do, their deaths will be the responsibility of the United States, even if they die offshore.

This is true even if Mr. Trump’s victims don’t forcefully resist. Given the history and cultural reality of the United States, and the role played in it by these Americans – for that is what most of them really are – there is no guarantee that won’t happen.

Such expulsions have happened before and the judgment of history is always that they are profoundly wrong. There is no escaping this – something for our neighbours to consider even if Mr. Trump and his alt-right advisors are disinclined to pay attention.

We have had our own mass expulsion in Canada: The deportation of 11,500 Acadians by the British Crown through the decade after 1755. To this day it remains a dark blot on our history. President Trump proposes to expel 1,000 times as many people!

If any other country were seriously considering such a thing the world would now be as seriously talking about an intervention by the United Nations under the doctrine of the responsibility to protect.

Perhaps Mr. Trump won’t follow through, as folks kept suggesting through the U.S. election campaign. If he does, it is quite possible he will be removed from office and sanity will be restored before the worst impacts of such a policy are realized.

But don’t count on it. We Canadians had better be planning for the worst case, for a refugee crisis larger, sooner and more protracted than we had imagined in our bleakest predictions even a few months ago.

It will take a deft and steady hand by our government to respond with humanity and decency to a humanitarian crisis that could threaten to overwhelm our ability to respond, provoked by a powerful neighbour that has discarded its moral compass. The temptation will be great to plead powerlessness, and we have our own homegrown bigots and toadies who will demand outright collaboration with Mr. Trump’s vile policies.

One thing is certain: the worst case isn’t going to be something we can muddle through, or get what we want by obsequiously crooning, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

But, as Albert Camus famously wrote in the hours after the Liberation of Paris, “the greatness of man lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition.” This is a decision we are capable of making.

This post also appears on

22 Comments to: Canada had better plan for an unprecedented refugee crisis as U.S. lurches toward ‘ethnic cleansing’

  1. tom in ontario

    February 22nd, 2017

    I can’t find analysis as good as DJC’s anywhere in the mainstream press.

    The looming crisis will affect all three branches of government beginning at the municipal, as the good people of Emerson, Manitoba are finding out.

  2. Dave

    February 22nd, 2017

    Preparation is a good idea, especially as more people try to come across in the northeast. Its possible there will need to be warming huts set up, in much the same way the Sanctuary people put water out in the desert south of Tucson.

    But I think its a good idea to keep the scale in mind here. The 11 million number was tossed about by both sides as a way of scaring people – on the one hand, to indicate that you’d need a police state and cops going door-to-door in places like San Jose (where I am right now), a city that’s ~75% minority. Rather than scare people away from the idea, though, it appears that number excited the authoritarians among us, who are all raring to break some doors down. Either way, while its possible there were 11 million undocumented people in the US, that number has dropped dramatically in the last few years (not least because of Obama’s deportations), and it drops even more when you try to figure out how many are accessible to ICE.

    Of the original 11 million number, while the GOP estimates half are “criminals” they’re only criminal to the extent that they may have unpaid parking tickets or because of course they have no documents. Actual honest-to-god criminals, of the sort that would be a decent causus belli, number in the thousands.

    And even then, virtually all of those people live in cities and states where the governors and mayors have made it clear they don’t support the plan. In San Jose ICE would need tanks, and city and state have already made it clear they won’t permit anything close to that. In a small town in Nebraska where there’s a handful of Syrian or Somali refugees? It may seem like it’ll make good TV, but even there I think it will look silly.

    So while this order may come to ethnic cleansing – tanks and trucks and “papers please” on every corner – I suspect that (a) like everything else the Trump Reich does, it will be poorly thought out and executed worse, and (b) the 65% of the country that thinks the regime are idiots will only increase, and there will be some token attempts to implement ethnic cleansing where ethnic people don’t actually live.

  3. Reynold

    February 22nd, 2017

    We can also expect a wave of climate refugees when global warming devastates the American economy. It’s too soon to tell when the climate refugee wave will begin.

    • Sassy

      February 22nd, 2017

      The United States also has severe infrastructure maintenance issues. The current crisis with the Oroville Dam in California is one example. More than a million people could be permanently displaced if the dam fails. I imagine if such a disaster strikes those people would be resettled within the States but the country is economically fragile so who knows.

  4. David

    February 22nd, 2017

    The US government has already said it does not have the resources to deport the 11 million Mexicans not legally in the US. Like on some other issues, President Trump said in the election campaign he would deport them and later contradicted himself. Therefore, I doubt we will see a huge influx of Mexicans (many of whom are in the southern states farther from the Canada/US border). Unlike Canada, the US has also taken few refugees from the Middle East – so there are few of them to go north.

    The refugees that come to Canada may not be the ones we initially expected – they are more likely to be Muslims from sub saharan Africa who are expecting their refugee claims to be now denied by the US. This influx may also not be that long lived – once the US stops admitting refugees from these countries. However, we do need to prepare ourselves for an influx over the next several months and increased border crossings.

    • Bob Raynard

      February 22nd, 2017

      “The US government …does not have the resources to deport…”

      Maybe they can hire some Mexican immigrants, David!

  5. Bruce A

    February 22nd, 2017

    Not to worry, Mulroney’s our ace in the hole!
    Our Man in Florida. A Bush Man, no less.
    As for Trump, he’s just Boris Yeltsin on a dry drunk.
    For the Americans and the species, it’s in the hands of plutocrats now, not God’s.
    If climate change kicks in the way the scientists think it will, they’ll be killing them at the border.

  6. Sassy

    February 22nd, 2017

    Wow, those numbers really put it into perspective. Two and a half million people cannot easily be absorbed into Europe’s population of 750 million and we’re looking at a potential of 11 million refugees! You have identified the true problem Trump and his backers may be foisting onto Canadians.

    As you wisely note, those expelled would mostly be Roman Catholic adherents. It seems, everywhere, this looming crisis is being framed as if the majority of asylum seekers would be of the Islam faith and this would be the problem. If the U.S. descends into chaos due to it’s immigration laws or other harmful changes (e.g. social service supports are greatly reduced), those fleeing would represent a mass of humanity of various religions or no religions. Regardless, our charities and various levels of government, no matter how well-meaning, don’t have the capacity to to give refuge to huge numbers of our neighbors. Canada would be destabilized. We must talk loudly about the CORE issue and press our federal government to deal with this before it’s too late.

    • David Climenhaga

      February 22nd, 2017

      Just to be clear, I am not saying I think there is any possibility 11 million people would be deported to Canada, even over a very long period of time. If expulsions were to actually happen on that scale, the catastrophe would be concentrated south of the Rio Grande. I’m not sure we could cope, though, with 100,000 refugee claimants in a year, let alone a larger number. Germany took about 800,000 refugees in a single year, almost exactly 1 per cent of the country’s population. A comparable number in Canada would be 350,000. But not 11 million! But there is a real possibility of the Mexican government being forced to create and pay for camps for much larger numbers of displaced persons. Creating such a situation would borders on an act of war against Mexico by the United States. (My apologies for the incorrect original number in this comment and my thanks to the commenters who pointed it out. I must’ve typed the wrong number of zeroes into the percentage calculator.) DJC

      • Sub-Boreal

        February 22nd, 2017

        Although it assumes a degree of connected, sequential thought on Trump’s part which may be implausible, there’s an obvious pathway if he wants to destabilize that annoying, sanctimonious northern neighbour. Some of your commenters suggest some important corrections to the 11 million scare number, but you’re right to point out the potential disruptions that could follow from a tiny fraction of that number arriving unexpectedly.

        So if lots of 1-way bus tickets to the northern border of North Dakota get passed out, a combination of ineffectual federal response and deliberate fear-mongering could easily reawaken the Canadian Id that we thought had been subdued 16 months ago.

        Fortunately, there’s one less thing to worry about: at least our recent electoral reforms have made it much less likely that a government of bigots and ideological extremists could be elected with only 39% of the popular vote.

        Oh, wait …..

      • Val

        February 22nd, 2017

        25 000 of fed’s sponsored syrian refugees already cost for canadian taxpayers $1.6 billion. and that was done to prevent chaotic migration, when people appears in desperate conditions – no places to live, no food, no healthcare, nothing at all. for Canada it’s a lot of money.
        now, look at situation, not even million, only let’s say 100~200 thousands, refugees more likely from Africa and Middle East, who found they aren’t welcome in US, redirects themselves to Canada – without language, with no knowledge about western traditions and customs, with no funds to start life in absolutely new for them society. and they will, our PM already have signaled them with welcome message, it’s only matter of warmer weather.
        additional possible outcome – since in first phase US authorities will target the people with bad records, i guess it’s pretty obvious those folks wouldn’t run to Mexico but to Canada. which reminds “Scarface” movie, in which Fidel Castro, so much admired by you, have lessened load on cuban’s penitentiary system by sending all criminals to US. and it’s doesn’t matter how serious or not the crime was, the crime still a crime. and pretty much same for the folks who’s in, just to use an advantages of social assistance of western system. particularly that Canada usually offer more in this field than US.
        would you believe in, upon arriving to Canada those people will instantly gonna change their mind and life style, particularly in environmental with much softer punishments than the south of 49?
        i don’t know how government will deal with it, but it’s really looks ugly and going to be disaster.

      • Murphy

        February 22nd, 2017

        I think that math needs a little work. It seems to me that 800k is one percent of the German population, and a comparable number in Canada would be 350k.

      • Sassy

        February 22nd, 2017

        Sorry, I did understand you but was not careful with my words. The 11 million number boggled my mind. If this deportation order goes through, an unknown number of asylum seekers would make their way to our borders. I expect not many would willingly cross the Mexican border but, logistically, many in the southern states would have no other choice. What we do know is Mexico would be swamped and we would be swamped. A country that would do this to its two friendly neighbors is an outlaw.

      • John B.

        February 22nd, 2017



        “Germany took about 800,000 refugees in a single year, almost exactly 0.1 per cent of the country’s population. A comparable number in Canada would be 35,000.”

        Did you mean to say “350,000”?

        I recall a report that a person has already been selected for expedited deportation on the basis of criminality for having provided a fraudulent social security number in an employment situation. The practice is common, as is that of using a card that has been fraudulently obtained. Should this treatment be accorded widely for transgressions of that nature we can expect many more than some might expect to be expelled or to flee to a preferred destination.


        “Guadalupe García de Rayos (Lupita) went to her yearly check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Phoenix, Arizona, something she has done annually since 2008, when she was arrested in a raid by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and convicted of using a fake Social Security number to work. … This time, instead of being sent home to her family, she was loaded into a van and deported to Mexico.”

        The Mexicans are now getting the same treatment that Canadian wetbacks have been subjected to since Simpson–Mazzoli, except that the authorities are providing the means of transportation. I wonder what’s changed. How have Mexicans working illegally in the U.S. become reduced to the status of Canadians?

  7. Neil

    February 22nd, 2017

    There are a few things missed. The extent to which people can come to Canada as refugees depends on their options. If the exodus is limited to illegal immigrants (by definition, not people who’ve been there for generations, since anyone born on US soil is a US citizen), then they would have a country of citizenship that they can return to. They can only qualify for refugee status in Canada if they would face persecution in that country. Mexican citizens would almost certainly not qualify, though some ethnic or religious minorities may. If they start persecuting US-born hispanics (and muslims, other groups), then it’s a crisis on a vastly different scale.

    So far, people we’ve seen arriving are people who would likely qualify if they arrived directly in Canada from their home countries, and are leaving the US because they’re worried they’ll be rejected for Trumpian reasons.

  8. February 22nd, 2017

    The preferablity of Canada as a destination for refugees of every description who once would have preferred to find themselves in America is inevitable. So is the increased negative consequences of Underground Slavery in the US. i.e. Unsolved/uninvestigated rape, murder, torture, etc.

  9. February 23rd, 2017

    Another good essay and on a challenging topic, David. Thank you. It’s challenging because how do we, in practical terms, address it? What do we want to have happen? I think that none of us are clear about that. Maybe a million people over 4 years, is that the worst, likely, case? We want to be able to screen them, find temporary shelter for them, build or find permanent homes for them, integrate them socially and give them Canadian SIN’s. To accomplish that in a timely fashion is going to take a huge increase in the number of people in our federal administration, and maybe it will make a bit of a construction boom. If it is even really going to happen!

    So what are we going to do to prepare? I don’t think challenging the legitimacy of President Trump’s election will help. Similarly, it’s fair to say “those people have a moral right to stay where they are” but it doesn’t help, because it rains on the just and the unjust, and, as Canadians know, complaining about the weather doesn’t help either.

    Good for you describing the destruction in the Middle-East and the mess in the Ukraine as US-driven chaos. But that opinion is *never* heard in mainstream discourse. The official Canadian position is that ‘Assad must go!’ and ‘Putin is just like Hitler!’ etc. Officially we cheer other peoples’ troubles. We Canadians have benefited hugely by being next to America. Many terrible problems around the world touch us only peripherally. We have had fun hiding behind Uncle Sam and throwing stones at others. Now it’s time for a little payback, a little karma, and we should try to see this possible upcoming immigration wave in that light.

    We need not approve of American policy, but, ironically, we will manage this immigration wave, if it does happen, better for ourselves and the desperate new-comers, if we can work with the Trump administration.

    • Val

      February 23rd, 2017

      i can agree with your on legitimacy of president Trump. like it or not, he is there and really, we, Canada, must deal with it as it is.
      though in regard of Assad and Putin, you should be careful what you wish for. author of the blog seems not a terrible person but for some reason he has soft spot for authoritarian leadership. it’s quite noticeable from his writing, when theme touches of such.
      not sure why, could be he seriously believes in marxism or could be too much hate to our neighbors south of border. sort of “enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
      as for sentiment about troubles around the world, i don’t really see the reason to blame americans only. sure, as many others, i don’t like interference of multinational corporations but that’s not only american corporations there. there are european, australian, british, mexican, chinese, indian… as well. do you really believe that those corporations on one hand, investing own capital into those locations, on the other hands supplying all these terrorist movements with weapons and other means, to destroy their business in there? i would rather be suspicious of involvement of Russia, as one, who most of all has interests in doing so in the framework of crusade against West and ambitions of Putin on the title “world leader” and “world power”. after all it’s not americans, who did annexation of Crimea and supply weapons, including antiaircraft rockets to shoot down civilian airplanes over Ukraine and not americans, who intentionally bombed humanitarian supply convoys, schools and hospitals, and uses chemical weapon against opponents.

      • February 24th, 2017

        Hi Val

        I must say I have never read anything by our host that could be taken as hatred towards Americans. And I have never read anything which suggests he endorses authoritarianism.

        I do appreciate you taking the time to read and respond to my comment. Please accept the following critique in that light. From the few posts of yours that I have read, I get the strong impression you are a true believer in the main stream corporate media, and are looking to ‘show the flag’ here. It’s futile to debate evangelists and so I won’t challenge the points you put forward. I will just say good for you: reading this excellent offbeat site and its comments section. May your horizons be widened.

        Best of luck,

        • Northern Loon

          February 27th, 2017

          Doug, what an incredibly generous retort to Val who seems to have never agreed with anything David writes on, and of course Val regularly misrepresents what David has written.

  10. Maryinga

    February 23rd, 2017

    There is something profoundly disconnected about how we think about immigration….refugees….and asylum seekers. From urban elites who feel good saying, ‘refugees are welcome here’ to the working poor or right wing conservatives, we seem to approach the issue in black and white terms. The trouble is, these abstract positions obscure the real challenges we face as more and more people are displaced, by war, terror, flood, drought..

    In short, climate change and wealth creation for neo-liberal elites are working together to create a tsunami of lost people. I see my son in the Somalian boy on CBC wiping away tears as he speaks of his family back home, and what he must try to do to get himself to Canada….so he can bring them to safety as well.

    At the same time, I know blithely saying ‘refugees are welcome here’ doesn’t begin to cover or make up for the mess we have created in the middle east and Africa. We can’t integrate all the victims, but as long as US regime change and oil cartel games continue to be played out wherever there’s a nickle to be made for the likes of the Koch brothers…….these poor people will continue to come.

    The time for thinking in sound bites is surely over. Unless we connect all the dots the windigo eating at our planet is going to continue to spread hunger, lost homes and devastation around the globe. Canada may be isolated, but we aren’t immune. Everywhere the children are threatened, parents have heard Trudeau’s blithe promise by now.


Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)