Skip to main content

Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, holds a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday, January 29, 2017.FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

The federal Immigration Minister is offering temporary residence to any traveller who is stranded in Canada as a result of a controversial and confusing travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump that prevents citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

Ahmed Hussen announced his decision to grant the residence permits Sunday after Canadian officials worked frantically to clarify the terms of the 90-day ban that caused turmoil at U.S. airports, led to detentions of airline passengers caught in legal limbo and prompted widespread protests across the United States.

Mr. Hussen told reporters on Sunday afternoon that the Canadian government has obtained assurances from senior White House officials that the more than 35,000 Canadians who hold dual citizenship with one of the affected countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – are not covered by the executive order and will not be stopped at the border.

Read more: Everything you need to know on Trump's actions affecting citizens of Muslim-majority countries

Read more: Canadian tech leaders ask Ottawa for temporary visas after Trump order

Related: How does Trump's immigration ban affect you? A Canadian guide

Nor are citizens of the seven countries who hold a valid permanent-residence card in Canada, said Mr. Hussen, who was himself born in Somalia but now holds only a Canadian citizenship.

Without being openly critical, the federal Liberal government made it clear it does not approve of the ban, which was denounced by critics as racist and by two Republican U.S. senators – John McCain and Lindsey Graham – as a "self-inflicted wound" in the war on terror.

"Canada is a country of immigrants," Mr. Hussen said. "Canadians are proud of our long history of acting with compassion and humanitarianism to those seeking refuge for themselves and their families."

The same point was made a day earlier by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who used the opportunity of Mr. Trump's order to reassure immigrants and refugees that they are still welcome in Canada. "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength," he said Saturday on the social-media site Twitter.

Canada welcomed more than 46,000 refugees last year, Mr. Hussen said, many of them fleeing war in Syria. The target for this year is 25,000 and it has not so far been altered by the U.S. ban. But Canadian officials are still trying to piece together their responses.

The chaotic implementation of Mr. Trump's order left Ottawa struggling on Saturday to get answers from U.S. agencies that themselves appeared to be in the dark.

Ottawa initially attempted to go through normal channels in Washington, such as the State Department and Customs and Border Protection, to determine whether Canadians who hold dual citizenship with one of the countries facing Mr. Trump's travel ban would be prevented from entering the United States.

Those communications produced what a senior Canadian official described to The Globe and Mail as "confusing and conflicting" responses.

Later on Saturday, amid reports that entry for those dual citizens would be denied, the Prime Minister asked his national security adviser, Daniel Jean, to try to get some clarity from his counterpart in Mr. Trump's administration, retired general Michael Flynn.

Even Mr. Flynn, when initially reached by Mr. Jean, was apparently uncertain as to how the ban affected visitors from this country. But he called back shortly thereafter to offer assurances that Canadian passport-holders would be permitted entry, as per usual.

Still, some passengers were prevented this weekend from boarding flights in Canada that were headed to the United States. And the confusion left Canadian politicians questioning what steps to take next.

Jenny Kwan, the NDP immigration critic, wrote to Geoff Regan, the Speaker of the House of Commons, on Sunday to ask for an emergency debate on the ban. The immigration policies instituted by Mr. Trump "are a deeply distressing reincarnation of race-based immigration policies not seen since the Second World War," Ms. Kwan wrote. "A ban against individuals based upon race, or country of birth, implemented by our closest neighbour cannot be tolerated."

Ms. Kwan said in a telephone interview that, despite reassurances from the Prime Minister that the ban will not affect Canadians, she is fearful that will not be the case. "For example," she said, "when people show up at the border crossing, are they going to be subject to secondary inspections? If so, who would be subject to secondary inspections? How long would that take?"

But Michelle Rempel, the Conservative immigration critic, pointed out that the United States is a sovereign entity and Mr. Trump will ultimately be accountable for his decisions.

"The debate in North America and, I think, in Europe as well, around immigration policy and the migrant crisis has become very polarized," Ms. Rempel said. One group wants to throw the doors wide open while the other wants to slam them shut and those are both "juvenile" positions, she said.

For Mr. Trudeau to issue such a welcoming statement to refugees in response to the Trump ban, Ms. Rempel said, "begs the question why the government hasn't been looking at some of the questions that have been raised within our own system that I think are quite reasonable."

Mr. Trudeau marched Sunday in Vancouver's Chinese New Year parade, along with the federal defence and justice ministers, but ignored questions on the controversial ban from a Globe reporter.

With reports from Adam Radwanski and Mike Hager

Interact with The Globe