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Denise Dresser

If you think Canada is a welcoming nation, talk to a displaced Mexican Add to ...

Denise Dresser is a Mexican political analyst, columnist and academic. She is a professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México

Today, Canada is standing tall. Its citizens are patting themselves on the back, proud to hail from one of the bastions of liberalism, of tolerance, of acceptance, of compassion. While the United States is closing doors, Canada is opening them. While U.S. President Donald Trump is slouching toward authoritarianism, Canada is safeguarding democracy. Canadians have much to be proud of and much to teach the world about compassion. Except for that one troubling spot of not-so-benign neglect that is Canada’s relationship with Mexico. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaches out to embrace suffering Syrians, his government seems ready to throw embattled Mexicans under the bus just to appease Mr. Trump. Where Mexico is concerned, far-flung conflicts seem to matter more than a raging fire in the neighbourhood.

This selective interest is not new, but has become more painful and more obvious. For the 22 years that the North American free-trade agreement has been in place, Mexico has never fully been viewed as a partner with equal standing.

At worst, it has been a footnote; at best, a tourist destination. Although more than 2,600 Canadian companies have offices and operations in Mexico, including major firms such as Bombardier, Goldcorp and Linamar, Mexico has never been part of Canadians’ mental map. It remained a distant, unknown, uninteresting place, rarely covered by the media, rarely part of the conversation. Mexico’s fitful efforts at democratization, its human-rights crisis, its U.S.-sponsored war against drugs that produced more than 150,000 deaths and more than 28,000 disappearances in the past decade left Canadians cold. During the years my twin sons spent at Upper Canada College, their Mexican-Canadian roots were not viewed as a true sign of North American integration, but as an exotic aside.

And then Mr. Trump got elected and decided to turn Mexico into a whipping boy, just because he could; just because it appealed to his electoral base. And as he continues to bully and threaten Mexico, from our perspective, one of the most troublesome developments has been to witness the silence of good people. The weighty silence of Mr. Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland regarding the construction of a 2,000-mile-long wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The appalling silence of Canadians when their alleged friends and neighbours are called “rapists” and “criminals.” The declared intent by Canadian diplomats to dump Mexico from NAFTA while negotiating a bilateral trade agreement with the United States. A multitude of actions and absences that could be construed as a smart defence of Canada’s national interest.

And that would be just fine if it were consistent. If Canada’s hands-off policy vis-à-vis Mexico reflected a substantive change regarding Canada’s place in the world, wherein it had decided to withdraw, shut up, put interests in front of ideals. But that disengagement isn’t happening elsewhere. Canada is speaking out against injustice and abuse in other troubled latitudes, just not where Mexico is concerned.

Canada is truly, madly, deeply moved by the plight of Syrians, but not about the persecution and deportation of Mexicans. Canada has a stand on human rights in many places, just not when Donald Trump violates them in Latino neighbourhoods. Canada rhetorically upholds the values of liberal democracy, but doesn’t say a word about a border wall in North America that undermines them. The question for Mexicans then becomes whether Canada is being driven by hypocrisy or by cowardice. By a racism toward Mexico it is unwilling to admit, or a fear of Mr. Trump that it is unwilling to confront.

There is much to admire about Canada and I am among those Mexicans who point to you as a standard we should aspire to. For us, Canada is an open, multicultural, tolerant, inclusive place in a world that is quickly becoming less so.

But today, we are disappointed and with good reason. It seems that Canada is compassionate, but on a case-by-case basis. It appears that Canada extolls its inclusive identity, but when push comes to shove, that identity is not tied to North America or to Mexico. Canada has the right to renegotiate NAFTA on its own terms, to ignore the plight of displaced and persecuted Mexicans. It can even turn a blind eye to the recently discovered mass grave in the southern state of Veracruz, with 250 victims of the country’s continuing violence.

But please, at the very least, don’t wrap yourselves in the flag of moral self-righteousness. Canada’s treatment of Mexico reveals the country as it truly is: a place not that different from the United States, where interests matter more than principles, where interests are more important than ideals. And please remember the next time you open the door to a Syrian, you just slammed it in the face of a Mexican.

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