There is a growing humanitarian crisis at Canada’s border with the United States. It is a crisis created, in part, by climate change. It was the Harper Conservative government in the early 2000s that argued that Canada would be better off exploiting its natural resources, rather than preserving its environment. When it came to climate change, the government traded off the survival of people and the environment. Now, under the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, we are seeing the impacts of this neglect.
In March, Indigenous activists, including Cree, Algonquin, Saulteaux and other First Nations, launched a protest against a proposed oil pipeline that would have run through vulnerable parts of the environment, near communities that depend on clean water for survival. The protest got Canadians’ attention.
Soon, Canadian police cleared the protest, arresting people without any pretense of protecting the protesters’ human rights. Those arrested were charged with crimes related to their First Nations status and with civil disobedience.
The fact that refugees come to Canada — and Canadian security officers see fit to arrest them simply for doing so — also raises questions. Asylum seekers who see Canada as a safe country are justified in wanting to seek protection there. For others, Canada is no safer than it was during the Vietnam War, when it was charging the U.S. with war crimes and withholding visas and social benefits. Whatever Canada’s decisions about refugees, it should do what’s best for the people who come here. Those who advocate criminalizing refugees who seek sanctuary in Canada represent the most unacceptable of policy choices.
Canada is aware of the climate emergency that threatens to drive more people into migration. In 2017, the United Nations called the situation “precarious,” due to the combination of natural disasters and climate change. The consequences are already being felt on the Canadian border. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called climate change “one of the major threats of our time.”
Environmental migrants are not an abstraction — they exist. The increased frequency of droughts has driven thousands of people to drought-stricken areas of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, in search of safe, dry ground to live on. Water scarcity and forced migrations are occurring increasingly in North America, as drought and the encroachment of climate change threaten water supplies. Not surprisingly, climate change is also a reason that millions of people worldwide, especially the urban poor, are flocking to the American borders. According to Migration Policy Institute, the number of U.S. refugees arriving from sub-Saharan Africa has tripled in the past decade, to more than 20,000 people per year. In 2015, more than 20,000 Syrians were admitted to the United States. These numbers will likely increase in the coming years. In 2016, UNHCR reported that 25.2 million people were living under humanitarian emergencies around the world.
Canada is not immune to climate change. This is a country with a thriving economy, which is growing and attracting immigrants, and where some of the world’s most valuable companies are located. Yet Canada’s strategy on climate change is shamefully lacking. According to UN reports, Canada accounts for only 0.2 percent of all global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Canada is scheduled to be a signatory to the Paris climate accord, which commits nations to reducing their emission levels 40 percent to 70 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. But the Trudeau government has yet to undertake a single plan to combat climate change. Canada’s emissions have increased steadily over the past decade. And we can expect further increases in the coming years.
In addition to money, Canada needs to develop a coherent policy for dealing with climate change and migrants. Action on climate change will drive further migration. Yet Canada has yet to create an identifiable policy for helping immigrants fleeing this migration. For most, this is at the bottom of their list of concerns.
Canadian officials need to fix this problem as soon as possible. Canada must lead the world in addressing the climate crisis, the world’s most pressing issue. It is urgent that Canadians see this as their call to action.