Skip to main content

The United States border crossing is shown Wednesday, December 7, 2011 in Lacolle, Que., south of Montreal. Canada was caught up in a wide-reaching American travel ban that has barred citizens of seven countries from entering the United States, including some Canadian dual citizens.The Canadian Press

Shahin Sayadi founded Halifax's Onelight Theatre, which produces and tours shows around the world. He, along with his wife and kids, moved to Los Angeles a few months ago. He is still Onelight's artistic director, a position that requires international travel.

But now Mr. Sayadi, who immigrated to Canada from Iran 30 years ago, is afraid to leave the United States even though he has the right to live and work there. President Donald Trump's executive order Friday barring citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. has created panic and confusion around the globe, and Mr. Sayadi is among those caught in the chaos.

"I can leave but there's no assurance that I can come back and be with my family," he said in an interview Saturday. "I won't take that chance."

Mr. Sayadi holds a U.S. green card, making him a permanent resident. For people from Mr. Trump's list of seven countries, those documents no longer mean automatic entry into the U.S.

Opinion: Trump's 'vetting' just made the world less free – and less safe

Read more: Travellers barred from flights; chaos, anger worldwide as Trump ban takes effect

Read more: Google recalls staff to U.S. after Trump immigration order

Mr. Trump's immigration order is sweeping: It suspends all refugee admissions 120 days; bans Syrian refugees indefinitely; and for 90 days blocks citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from entering the U.S.

The travel rules for Canadians who are also citizens of the seven targeted countries will not change with the ban, the Canadian government said Saturday night after a day of confusion. Earlier on Saturday the U.S. State Department said Canadian dual citizens from the Muslim-majority countries affected by Trump's travel ban would not be allowed into the country.

The government said it sought - and received - clarification from Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump's national security advisor.

"NSA Flynn confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban," a statement from the Liberal government said. "We have been assured that Canadians travelling on Canadian passport[s] will be dealt with in the usual process."

Those from the seven countries who have valid U.S. entry documents, such student visas or green cards, are not being allowed to board flights bound for the States. People who were mid-flight when Mr. Trump signed the order Friday afternoon were being detained at airports across the U.S.

Officials have since said green card holders outside the U.S. need waivers - issued case-by-case - in order to return to American soil.

"It has been a really, really, sad day," Mr. Sayadi said.

Late on Saturday night a federal judge issued an emergency ruling that stranded travellers could stay in the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the temporary stay, said it would help 100 to 200 people with valid visas or refugee status who found themselves detained in transit or at U.S. airports after Trump signed the order late on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not directly address Mr. Trump's actions Saturday. He did, however, post a photo of himself kneeling in front of children on social media.

"To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength," Mr. Trudeau wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

He intends to discuss "the success of Canada's immigration and refugee policies" when he next speaks with Mr. Trump, according to a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall issued an invitation to some of those affected by Mr. Trump's ban.

"Sask has welcomed approx 2000 refugees this past year.  We stand ready to assist fed gov't re: anyone stranded by the US ban," he wrote on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

WestJet and Air Canada say they are waiving cancellation fees for people who hold passports from the affected countries, though a representative from Air Canada declined to say how the company is dealing with dual citizens.

Bijan Ahmadi, president of the Iranian Canadian Congress, said he's outraged by the new policy.

"It's unacceptable. It's very unreasonable," he said. "It's very discriminatory to target people based on their race, their religion, the country of their origin and the country of their birth. And the community has that same outrage."

Mr. Trump campaigned hard on a promise to crack down on people he calls "radical Islamic terrorists" and implement a system of "extreme vetting" for refugees. His Friday order made good on that vow. Word of the plans leaked earlier in the week, giving some a chance to race to the border before guards closed the gates.

Iranian-born Ali Kashani was waiting in Vancouver for his temporary TN visa to work as an entrpreneuer-in-residence with a venture capital firm in Palo Alto, CA when the draft rules were leaked Wednesday. Late Thursday, his lawyer contacted him to say the visa had arrived. Rather than waiting for the original, Mr. Kashani obtained a copy early Friday.

"I just packed my bags, didn't say goodbye to my family and got to the border as fast as I could," choosing to drive to California rather than fly, he said.

The 32-year-old tech entrepreneur, who earned a PhD in robotics at University of British Columbia after moving to Canada from Tehran 13 years ago, said he was three cars away from the border crossing into Blaine, Wash., when the order was decreed at around 4:45 pm Friday. Despite being scolded for only having a photocopy of his visa, he got through.

"I don't know if it's because the border guards just didn't get the memo," he said.

Relieved to now be in the U.S. on the temporary visa, however, Mr. Kashani said he won't stay in America if the immigration crackdown holds. "We came to Canada to live freely, and I don't intend to imprison myself in the U.S." he said.

Mr. Trump's order also forced Vancouver's Danny Ramadan, an author, to change his vacation plans. He, along with his boyfriend, planned to go to Las Vegas this March, to take in a Britney Spears' show. Then, later this year, he planned on visiting parts of the U.S. on a book tour.

Mr. Ramadan - a Syrian refugee who has been in Canada for about two years - received a visa to enter the U.S. this week. "The people at the embassy were really sweet," he said. "It was a really easy process."

Now, the trips are off.

"I'm not going to go there and take anybody's job. I'm actually to contribute to the economy," Mr. Ramadan said. The author recognizes changing vacation plans is minor considering the ban has stranded refugees and split families apart. But it is also serves as a reminder that some stigmatize him because of his roots.

"There should come a point where I stop worrying about being a Syrian refugee," he said.

"I am extremely proud to be a Syrian person. I love my culture, I love my skin colour, I love my language. But at the same time, the world is a [expletive] up place, a really messed up place.

"That makes it difficult for someone like me to have rights like all the other people around me."

Mr. Ramadan, 32, now plans to vacation in a country where he will be judged based on a different criteria.

"I'm going to Mexico. Mexico will look at me and say: 'Do you have a credit card? In you go.'"

With files from Robert Fife and Laura Stone in Ottawa, Reuters and The Canadian Press