There’s been a lot of hype about this Sunday’s Canada-themed episode of The Simpsons, which will reportedly see Lisa Simpson accidentally getting asylum in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, voiced by Nova Scotian Lucas Meyer, is also set to make an appearance on the episode.
Sadly, this all comes at a troubling time. Despite the widespread perception that Canada is welcoming to refugees, we are currently seeing a series of devastating attacks on their rights in our country.
On April 11, Doug Ford’s government announced it would be cutting all legal aid funding for immigrants and refugees in Ontario. Taking away this vital legal support places asylum-seekers at increased risk of losing their cases and endangers their lives.
Earlier this month, the Trudeau government also came under fire from refugee and migrants’ rights groups throughout the country for its attempt to pass major changes to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Act in its budget implementation bill (Bill C-97).
Most concerning are major reforms to Canada’s refugee determination system, buried in the 392-page budget bill. This includes measures that would prevent asylum-seekers who’ve previously filed a refugee claim in the U.S., the U.K., Australia or New Zealand from making one in Canada — even if they’ve never had a hearing in these countries! If Bill C-97 were to pass, claimants deemed ineligible based on these criteria would not be given the right to a hearing, violating the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1985 Singh decision.
In addition, under this bill, asylum-seekers who’ve asked for a federal review of their rejected applications would unjustly be forced to wait one year after they receive a final decision before making other applications to remain.
At the same time, the Trudeau government is also seeking to expand the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which already closes the door on most refugee claimants at the border. Asylum-seekers crossing the border between official ports of entry are still able to make a refugee claim, but Trudeau wants to change that.
This goes against what many civil society groups, as well as people throughout the country, have long been saying: that the United States is not a safe or fair place for refugees to have their cases heard, and that we should scrap this accord. With Donald Trump in the White House, threats faced by asylum-seekers and migrants to the U.S. have only escalated.
The laundry list of attacks by Trump includes separating and detaining refugee families, prohibiting refugees and migrants from Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., removing protected status for refugees from various communities (i.e., Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua), as well as systemic abuse and state-sanctioned violence against refugees and migrants.
Asylum-seekers affected by Trump’s policies and practices have been forced to turn to Canada, or else face persecution in their home countries. Measures by Ford and Trudeau, which make it tougher for those refugees to seek protection in Canada, are wrongheaded and unconscionable. As a country, we must say no to racism and xenophobia.
It’s incumbent upon us to voice our opposition to these anti-refugee and anti-immigrant measures before it’s too late.
As a character who’s often on the side of justice, I’m convinced that Lisa would certainly be up in arms about this.
Stacey Gomez is the coordinator of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network and works on migrant justice on unceded Mi’kmaq territory in Halifax.
This commentary was first published in The Chronicle Herald.