‘It defies logic’: Americans want to know why Canada won’t reopen the border now

WASHINGTON—Many Canadians who live in the U.S. were celebrating Wednesday’s announcement in Ottawa that pandemic border restrictions may be somewhat loosened by mid-July. “I’m in tears!!! I just hope this applies to all provinces, I want to go home!” one member of a Facebook group for expatriates wrote.But the announcement by Health Minister Patty Hajdu contained no plan to allow fully vaccinated Americans to travel into Canada, and no timeline for such measures to be introduced. Among Americans who’ve grown impatient with Canada’s reluctance to ease travel restrictions, the reaction was stunned disappointment.“It defies logic,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who is chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. “Not good enough,” Rep. Chris Jacobs, a New York Republican said in a statement. “It’s a tremendous disappointment,” said Maryscott Greenwood, the CEO of the Canadian-American Business Council.“Once again the Canadian government has failed to respond to the needs of the shared cross-border community,” Chuck Schumer, the powerful Senate Majority Leader, told the Buffalo News.John Adams, an American who lives in Florida and owns a home on Vancouver Island, has been running ads in Toronto and Vancouver to advocate for reopening the border to fully vaccinated Americans after crowdfunding for that purpose. He was floored by the announcement. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” Adams said.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statements in recent weeks hinting at a lifting of some restrictions had gotten Adams so hopeful that he’d prepared a “thank you” ad to run this week and already booked accommodations on the U.S. side for a planned road trip to get to his B.C. home later this month. “It was all just a mirage, like water in the desert that only he could see.” Adams now plans to increase his critical ad spending in Canadian markets. “I just went down and wired an additional $10,000 to my media buyer in Vancouver,” Adams says. “Trudeau’s been kicking the can down the road and he is running out of road, and I am not running out of ads.”Adams belongs to a loosely affiliated group of Americans who found each other through social media — some own property in Canada, others have loved ones and social ties north of the border. . His objections to the Canadian plan so far mirrors those expressed by politicians and business leaders.First:Americans — including the 42 per cent who are so far fully vaccinated — unable to visit Canada at all unless they fall into one of the “essential worker” categories. Second: there are no specifics to any plan for further phases of reopening. That’s a frustration shared by some north of the border — especially in places and industries dependent on cross-border travel. Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, ON, says that many businesses in his city are “just clinging on” because the American visitors who typically make up 50 per cent of tourism revenue have been cut off. Diodati says he’s embarrassed when he speaks to mayors of neighbouring U.S. cities in New York state where 60 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated and where virtually all pandemic restrictions have been lifted. “They say, ‘What are you guys doing? What are we waiting for?” he says. “You know, it’s frustrating.”It may also be a competitive disadvantage. “You hear some of the American businesses saying, ‘Hey, it’s been great for us, because Niagara Falls, Canada gets significantly more tourists than Niagara Falls, USA,” Diodati says. “So, the Americans, if they can’t cross, they’re just gonna stop there. And they’re gonna spend their money there.”Higgins, the Democratic member of Congress, says it goes beyond economics — the restrictions cut off whole cross-border lives for his constituents who own cottages in Fort Erie, and who have friends and family in Canada they’re used to visiting regularly. What’s most frustrating to him, he says, is that these decisions seem not to be based on the science in which Trudeau’s government has so long professed faith. “The pronouncements of the Canadian officials (Wednesday) defies logic and basically says everything we told you about the last 15 months is bulls—,” he says. He gives the example of a U.S. couple visiting their own cottage in Ontario: “How the hell does that pose any public health risk? It doesn’t,” he says. “I’m following the science, I’m following the data, I’m fine following the facts. And our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made very clear that if you have been vaccinated, you pose a very low risk of getting or giving COVID and therefore you should be able to travel.”His sense of exasperation is a rare point of bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress. Jacobs, his Republican colleague, recently introduced a bill to compel the Biden administration to present a report detailing communications with Canada about reopening the border. CBC analyst Alex Panetta characterized it as “a threat to essentially start leaking details about w

‘It defies logic’: Americans want to know why Canada won’t reopen the border now

WASHINGTON—Many Canadians who live in the U.S. were celebrating Wednesday’s announcement in Ottawa that pandemic border restrictions may be somewhat loosened by mid-July. “I’m in tears!!! I just hope this applies to all provinces, I want to go home!” one member of a Facebook group for expatriates wrote.

But the announcement by Health Minister Patty Hajdu contained no plan to allow fully vaccinated Americans to travel into Canada, and no timeline for such measures to be introduced. Among Americans who’ve grown impatient with Canada’s reluctance to ease travel restrictions, the reaction was stunned disappointment.

“It defies logic,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who is chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus.

“Not good enough,” Rep. Chris Jacobs, a New York Republican said in a statement.

“It’s a tremendous disappointment,” said Maryscott Greenwood, the CEO of the Canadian-American Business Council.

“Once again the Canadian government has failed to respond to the needs of the shared cross-border community,” Chuck Schumer, the powerful Senate Majority Leader, told the Buffalo News.

John Adams, an American who lives in Florida and owns a home on Vancouver Island, has been running ads in Toronto and Vancouver to advocate for reopening the border to fully vaccinated Americans after crowdfunding for that purpose. He was floored by the announcement. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” Adams said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statements in recent weeks hinting at a lifting of some restrictions had gotten Adams so hopeful that he’d prepared a “thank you” ad to run this week and already booked accommodations on the U.S. side for a planned road trip to get to his B.C. home later this month. “It was all just a mirage, like water in the desert that only he could see.”

Adams now plans to increase his critical ad spending in Canadian markets. “I just went down and wired an additional $10,000 to my media buyer in Vancouver,” Adams says. “Trudeau’s been kicking the can down the road and he is running out of road, and I am not running out of ads.”

Adams belongs to a loosely affiliated group of Americans who found each other through social media — some own property in Canada, others have loved ones and social ties north of the border. . His objections to the Canadian plan so far mirrors those expressed by politicians and business leaders.

First:Americans — including the 42 per cent who are so far fully vaccinated — unable to visit Canada at all unless they fall into one of the “essential worker” categories. Second: there are no specifics to any plan for further phases of reopening.

That’s a frustration shared by some north of the border — especially in places and industries dependent on cross-border travel. Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, ON, says that many businesses in his city are “just clinging on” because the American visitors who typically make up 50 per cent of tourism revenue have been cut off.

Diodati says he’s embarrassed when he speaks to mayors of neighbouring U.S. cities in New York state where 60 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated and where virtually all pandemic restrictions have been lifted. “They say, ‘What are you guys doing? What are we waiting for?” he says. “You know, it’s frustrating.”

It may also be a competitive disadvantage. “You hear some of the American businesses saying, ‘Hey, it’s been great for us, because Niagara Falls, Canada gets significantly more tourists than Niagara Falls, USA,” Diodati says. “So, the Americans, if they can’t cross, they’re just gonna stop there. And they’re gonna spend their money there.”

Higgins, the Democratic member of Congress, says it goes beyond economics — the restrictions cut off whole cross-border lives for his constituents who own cottages in Fort Erie, and who have friends and family in Canada they’re used to visiting regularly. What’s most frustrating to him, he says, is that these decisions seem not to be based on the science in which Trudeau’s government has so long professed faith.

“The pronouncements of the Canadian officials (Wednesday) defies logic and basically says everything we told you about the last 15 months is bulls—,” he says.

He gives the example of a U.S. couple visiting their own cottage in Ontario: “How the hell does that pose any public health risk? It doesn’t,” he says. “I’m following the science, I’m following the data, I’m fine following the facts. And our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made very clear that if you have been vaccinated, you pose a very low risk of getting or giving COVID and therefore you should be able to travel.”

His sense of exasperation is a rare point of bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress. Jacobs, his Republican colleague, recently introduced a bill to compel the Biden administration to present a report detailing communications with Canada about reopening the border. CBC analyst Alex Panetta characterized it as “a threat to essentially start leaking details about what’s gone on behind the scenes.”

Jacobs, perhaps predictably, did not see the Canadian announcement as progress. “Vague announcements with arbitrary restrictions on fully vaccinated individuals are not good enough,” Jacobs said in a statement to the Star.

Greenwood, who was a U.S. diplomat in Canada before heading up the Canadian-American Business Council, says that among the most “unfortunate and troubling” aspects she’s seen is the prospect of Canada and the U.S. implementing differing border policies. “What we’re seeing happening this week, in recent weeks, is a decision for the U.S. and Canada to agree to be asymmetrical, after having worked so hard at the very beginning of the pandemic to be hand-in-hand with each other about how we deal with it.” That’s a break, she says, from how the two countries have dealt with border issues for generations. “Like not just my lifetime and yours, but our parents’ and our grandparents.’”

Higgins hints at something similar, speaking of distrust emerging as “collateral damage” to the process. However, Higgins says he remains optimistic that things might change after President Joe Biden and Trudeau meet at the G7 summit this week. It’s a hope I heard echoed by many of those I spoke to. “Those are the only two individuals that can change this. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says,” Higgins says. “They’re both in a position to do something about this and they ought to do something about it.”

Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: ekeenan@thestar.ca

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Erin O’Toole is talking about Islamophobia. Has he changed his tune?

OTTAWA — When Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole addressed thousands of mourners grieving the loss of a Muslim family killed in what police say was a hate-motivated attack, he opened by saying “Assalamu Alaikum” — an traditional Arabic phrase meaning “peace be upon you.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gave the same greeting during their remarks at Tuesday’s vigil in London, Ont., but O’Toole was the only federal leader whose opening words were met with a chorus of loud boos. It wasn’t the only appeal O’Toole made to Canada’s Muslim community that day. He called the devastating incident — which took the lives of four people and seriously injured a nine-year-old boy — an act of terrorism. He recited a passage from the Quran. And he attributed the attack to a rise in Islamophobia. That word alone used to be controversial for the federal Conservatives. In 2017, almost all of the party’s MPs — along with the Bloc Québécois — voted against a Liberal motion to condemn Islamophobia, systemic racism and religious discrimination. Trudeau was not present for the vote.O’Toole, then a contender in the party’s 2017 leadership race, opposed the wording of the motion sponsored by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. The motion, known as M-103, referenced a House of Commons petition that called on the lower chamber to recognize “all forms” of Islamophobia.At the time, O’Toole felt the term was being used too broadly. He argued that criticism of the faith could be stifled, and sought to amend the motion to strike a better balance between upholding religious freedom and free speech. Other than Michael Chong, all Conservative MPs ultimately voted against the motion.But observers say the messaging of the past week doesn’t necessarily signal a changing tide within the party.“I just don’t feel like this is this big, monumental shift, where [O’Toole] is suddenly talking about these issues now,” said Alykhan Velshi, a senior aide to prime minister Stephen Harper and provincial conservative leaders who now works for Huawei Canada.“I personally think that he’s been committed to stamping out bigotry and Islamophobia for a long time.”Velshi, a Muslim who backed O’Toole in last year’s leadership race, told the Star he believes the party’s decision to vote against the Liberal motion was a mistake. “That having been said, I think it’s very disingenuous the way that some elected parliamentarians are using M-103 as a political cudgel while remaining silent on Bill 21.”While some federal leaders have criticized Bill 21, the Quebec secularism law that prohibits people from wearing religious symbols when providing public services, politicians across the board have hesitated to weigh in on the law because it falls under provincial jurisdiction. In the early weeks of his leadership, O’Toole was singled out by the National Council of Canadian Muslims for hiding behind that jurisdictional shield, leading him to clarify that he was personally opposed to the law without taking more of an active position.“I hope there are no statues put up of politicians today who are silent on Bill 21, because I think they’re going to be torn down in my lifetime,” Velshi said.But the former adviser also cited some inroads the party has made to make the Tory tent, which is not known for its diversity, more inclusive. “I remember during Ramadan, the amount of iftar invitations that came my way which either Erin was attending, or his MPs or his candidates ... was sort of overwhelming,” Velshi recalled. “They’ve certainly, in my opinion, gone out of their way to reach out to Muslim Canadians.”Conservative human rights critic Garnett Genuis told the Star that the party is also taking steps to “remove any barriers or perceptions” that could hold people back from joining or supporting the party. There are currently no Muslim MPs in the Conservative caucus, although the party says it has identified four Muslim candidates to run in the next election and its efforts are ongoing.Genuis also referenced the party’s caucus retreat following the 2019 federal election, during which members of the Muslim community met with Conservative MPs to discuss combating online hate.Genuis said efforts to bring other Muslim groups onside have only “ramped up” under O’Toole’s leadership.The party has, for example, worked with the Muslim community to gather signatures to table petitions in the House of Commons supporting Uyghurs facing human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province. “[O’Toole] comes from a Greater Toronto Area riding, and the leader has many longtime friends from the Muslim community, some of whom are taking on key roles as part of our team,” Genuis added. One of them is Walied Soliman, O’Toole’s national campaign chair, who told the Star earlier this week that he was “very happy” when he heard the leader mention Islamophobia for the first time. Despite the sentiment from some that the Conservative party has aligned itself with Muslim Canadians in recent years, at

Erin O’Toole is talking about Islamophobia. Has he changed his tune?

OTTAWA — When Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole addressed thousands of mourners grieving the loss of a Muslim family killed in what police say was a hate-motivated attack, he opened by saying “Assalamu Alaikum” — an traditional Arabic phrase meaning “peace be upon you.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gave the same greeting during their remarks at Tuesday’s vigil in London, Ont., but O’Toole was the only federal leader whose opening words were met with a chorus of loud boos.

It wasn’t the only appeal O’Toole made to Canada’s Muslim community that day. He called the devastating incident — which took the lives of four people and seriously injured a nine-year-old boy — an act of terrorism. He recited a passage from the Quran. And he attributed the attack to a rise in Islamophobia.

That word alone used to be controversial for the federal Conservatives. In 2017, almost all of the party’s MPs — along with the Bloc Québécois — voted against a Liberal motion to condemn Islamophobia, systemic racism and religious discrimination. Trudeau was not present for the vote.

O’Toole, then a contender in the party’s 2017 leadership race, opposed the wording of the motion sponsored by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. The motion, known as M-103, referenced a House of Commons petition that called on the lower chamber to recognize “all forms” of Islamophobia.

At the time, O’Toole felt the term was being used too broadly. He argued that criticism of the faith could be stifled, and sought to amend the motion to strike a better balance between upholding religious freedom and free speech. Other than Michael Chong, all Conservative MPs ultimately voted against the motion.

But observers say the messaging of the past week doesn’t necessarily signal a changing tide within the party.

“I just don’t feel like this is this big, monumental shift, where [O’Toole] is suddenly talking about these issues now,” said Alykhan Velshi, a senior aide to prime minister Stephen Harper and provincial conservative leaders who now works for Huawei Canada.

“I personally think that he’s been committed to stamping out bigotry and Islamophobia for a long time.”

Velshi, a Muslim who backed O’Toole in last year’s leadership race, told the Star he believes the party’s decision to vote against the Liberal motion was a mistake.

“That having been said, I think it’s very disingenuous the way that some elected parliamentarians are using M-103 as a political cudgel while remaining silent on Bill 21.”

While some federal leaders have criticized Bill 21, the Quebec secularism law that prohibits people from wearing religious symbols when providing public services, politicians across the board have hesitated to weigh in on the law because it falls under provincial jurisdiction.

In the early weeks of his leadership, O’Toole was singled out by the National Council of Canadian Muslims for hiding behind that jurisdictional shield, leading him to clarify that he was personally opposed to the law without taking more of an active position.

“I hope there are no statues put up of politicians today who are silent on Bill 21, because I think they’re going to be torn down in my lifetime,” Velshi said.

But the former adviser also cited some inroads the party has made to make the Tory tent, which is not known for its diversity, more inclusive.

“I remember during Ramadan, the amount of iftar invitations that came my way which either Erin was attending, or his MPs or his candidates ... was sort of overwhelming,” Velshi recalled. “They’ve certainly, in my opinion, gone out of their way to reach out to Muslim Canadians.”

Conservative human rights critic Garnett Genuis told the Star that the party is also taking steps to “remove any barriers or perceptions” that could hold people back from joining or supporting the party. There are currently no Muslim MPs in the Conservative caucus, although the party says it has identified four Muslim candidates to run in the next election and its efforts are ongoing.

Genuis also referenced the party’s caucus retreat following the 2019 federal election, during which members of the Muslim community met with Conservative MPs to discuss combating online hate.

Genuis said efforts to bring other Muslim groups onside have only “ramped up” under O’Toole’s leadership.

The party has, for example, worked with the Muslim community to gather signatures to table petitions in the House of Commons supporting Uyghurs facing human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province.

“[O’Toole] comes from a Greater Toronto Area riding, and the leader has many longtime friends from the Muslim community, some of whom are taking on key roles as part of our team,” Genuis added.

One of them is Walied Soliman, O’Toole’s national campaign chair, who told the Star earlier this week that he was “very happy” when he heard the leader mention Islamophobia for the first time.

Despite the sentiment from some that the Conservative party has aligned itself with Muslim Canadians in recent years, at least one of the party’s top MPs expressed regret this week over her response to anti-Muslim hate in the past.

“While I’ve since spoken out on it, one of my biggest regrets in my public service was being silent during the 2015 general election campaign on the wrongness of the barbaric cultural practices tip line, and the proposed niqab ban,” Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner wrote on her website Tuesday.

“Those policies were wrong. To the Muslim community, I’m deeply sorry for not fighting it then. I can assure you I won’t make the same mistake again.”

The Conservative health critic also referenced the speech she made in the Commons during that oft-cited debate on M-103.

“If I could give that speech again, I would,” she wrote. “This time I would simply say this; the discrimination the Muslim community faces in Canada is real and must be stopped.”

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

Source : Toronto Star More   

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