If there ever was a time when the plight of humanity was the business of Canadian business, this is it.
In the past few days, we've witnessed the new administration of the world's greatest superpower turning away escapees from the most horrific circumstances on the basis of their religion. It has also barred and detained travellers from specific Muslim-majority countries.
These are the moves that Donald Trump promised at rallies during his U.S. presidential campaign, and that so many people around the world figured – wrongly, it turns out – were just political bluster calculated to play to a disgruntled base.
Canada's political leaders, from the Prime Minister to provincial premiers to mayors, were quick to condemn what amounts to racial profiling on a global scale, and re-emphasize the country's commitment to a vibrant multicultural society and providing safe haven to those in need. Good.
So where are the business leaders? Those in the tech sector have been adamant about the benefits of a displaced pool of talent, maligned in the United States solely due to origin, making its way north. Manulife Financial Corp. said a number of its employees were affected by the ban, and it made a point of saying that it places value on diversity and inclusiveness.
Disappointingly, though, much of corporate Canada has been silent, even if its employees and customers stand to get hit by Mr. Trump's travel ban, or fear more drastic measures as his tenure continues.
This week, the Globe and Mail canvassed a large contingent of prominent Canadian companies in numerous sectors on their view of Mr. Trump's travel bans and whether their own staff were affected. The Globe received, for the most part, polite no-comments or no response at all. Not good.
Yes, it's tricky. In Alberta, the slowly recovering oil patch had just received what it sought for the better part of a decade when Mr. Trump set the wheels back in motion for TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline. The project, rejected by former president Barack Obama, would provide unprecedented access for Canadian oil to the huge U.S. Gulf Coast refining region. Calgary-based energy companies greeted the development with enthusiasm for its potential to bolster bottom lines and create jobs.
Now comes the tough question: Should the industry cheer Mr. Trump's revival of a cross-border pipeline and turn a blind eye to measures that target specific people, painting them as potential terrorists? It does not reflect well on an important part of the economy when it essentially declares, "We got ours. Don't rock the boat."
Today, nearly all the largest companies publish annual corporate social responsibility reports, trumpeting environmental gains, advancements in governance and good works in communities where they operate and society in general. Staying silent on the largest threats to those principles raises questions about whether they are doing anything more than paying lip service.
Imagine if the 90,000 people who fled Fort McMurray's inferno last spring with nothing more than what they could quickly gather were denied sanctuary in Edmonton, Calgary, Lac la Biche and other cities and towns around Alberta, turned away amid accusations they were really up to no good.
Of course, corporate Canada stepped up and joined efforts to offer whatever the evacuees needed while they were stranded, showing compassion when it was needed most. (Indeed, pockets of resettled Syrian refugees were among the donors.)
Yes, CEOs' primary responsibilities are to shareholders and employees, so jeopardizing their well-being by publicly blasting Donald Trump and his counterproductive immigration and travel policies is likely not in the cards. But that does not mean they should offer radio silence on seriously-damaging White House policies that have global implications, while lauding others that appear positive at home.
There are ways of taking a stand from a corporate perspective, without inviting a border tax or other reprisals from the isolationist Trump administration. Make no secret of increasing donations to domestic and international relief for refugees, contribute more to English-as-a-second-language training, make a point of hiring and training new immigrants and support charities doing this important and principled work.
At least one federal politician, Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, has called for immigrants to be screened at points of entry for adherence to "Canadian values." Inclusiveness and empathy are fundamental Canadian values, and now business has a responsibility to promote them.