The polite xenophobia compelling Canada’s ever tighter travel restrictions

Don’t really get the arguments. Travel restrictions apply generally to all Canadians, and hard to see how any particular group is more affected than others pending data proving the contrary.

And arguably, visible minorities with family members abroad may be more affected, many non-visible minorities also have family members abroad (we haven’t been able to see our son in Germany for over a year).

And if one is going to criticize flight cancellations to Mexico and the Caribbean on the grounds that Canadians with Mexican or Caribbean connections will be unduly affected, one needs to base this assertion with data regarding sun vacation travel (the target of the government policy) and those visiting family.

The more serious issues pertain to the situation of front-line service workers, many of whom are visible minorities and immigrants, not travel restrictions:

Some of the exceptions favour Canada prides itself as a compassionate leader in an otherwise hostile world. However, the country’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic exposes a unique brand of Canadian xenophobia.

Once Canada closed its borders to foreign travellers in March 2020, returning Canadians became required to quarantine or isolate at home for 14 days, unless exempt to perform “essential work.” As the first wave showed signs of decline in late June, the federal government expanded entry to family members of Canadians. Strict border measures seemed to have thwarted COVID.

Fast forward to December 2020: Canada is in the throes of a disastrous second wave, holiday beachgoers crowd Canadian airports, and new variants erupt around the world. Coincidentally, a majority of Canadians begin to support an international travel ban. Notoriously xenophobic Quebec Premier François Legault urged the federal government to cancel all “non-essential” inbound flights and require quarantine in hotels at the traveller’s expense. In Ontario, conservative Premier Doug Ford called for mandatory COVID testing of landed air travellers and heightened quarantine surveillance.

On Jan. 29, federal ministries announced sweeping measures to curb border crossing — notably, targeted flight cancellations and mandatory hotel quarantine with a price tag of at least $2,000. The renewed strategy also increases quarantine policing and promises to detain COVID-positive returnees in undisclosed government “isolation hotels.”

A recent Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) report revealed that, out of 8.6 million travellers into Canada since March 2020, only 26 per cent required quarantine; 6.3 million workers entered Canada with quarantine exemptions in 2020, says CBSA. While setting “leisure travellers” against “essential workers” oversimplifies various travel situations, COVID cases linked to all travel linger at 2 per cent of Canada’s case total.

Canadians have relied on migrant workers to maintain their “critical infrastructure” throughout the pandemic. Though Canadian corporations regularly exploit migrant workers, their situation only worsened under COVID, for example in Windsor-Essex, Ont. where exploitative labour practices exposed surrounding communities to COVID. Nevertheless, Canada’s COVID cases bottomed out during the peak of migrant work last summer.

The data points to travel’s low public health burden and the impossibility of completely closing borders. Tightening travel restrictions are not reasonable, but dangerous errors that distract from deadly domestic problems.

Behind travel restrictions is a unique brand of Canadian xenophobia. During the pandemic, BIPOC (im)migrants and newcomers experience increasing hardship. COVID-related scapegoating and stereotyping — from microaggressions to federal policies — benefit privileged Canadians and affirm right-wing extremists while the rest of us suffer.

Source: The polite xenophobia compelling Canada’s ever tighter travel restrictions

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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