Canada is increasingly attractive for US citizens who can't accept Donald Trump as their president. But the northern neighbor requires much more than a burned draft card to gain access. Philip Fine reports from Montreal.
It's estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 American war resisters, or draft dodgers, fled to Canada during the Vietnam War. Approximately three times that number logged onto the Canadian government's immigration site on US election night and into the next morning. When it became apparent that things were heading south for the Democrats, many of the country's citizens began looking north to see if they could dodge the Donald.
One of those people looking to move to Canada is Soraya Ghorbani, a lawyer at an East Coast non-profit organization, who chose to use a pseudonym for this article. The wife of an African-American and mother of two mixed-race children aged four and nine, she fears that her children will face discrimination. She believes a Trump administration will damage her country and is baffled over how her fellow Americans could condone his divisive agenda.
Dodging the Donald
Speaking after Trump's victory was confirmed, she was in tears over the phone, seemingly mourning the loss of a country she is prepared to leave. "It just doesn't feel like it's a place for us," she told DW. "Not as a woman, not as an interracial family. It takes a toll." After a moment, she added: "I didn't mean to cry. I thought I was all cried out."
Her sadness is coupled with outrage, with her saying that Trump has come to embody a violent brand of racism. "He was endorsed by two papers, one of which is the official newspaper of the Klu Klux Klan." She says he subscribed to a racist agenda long before the campaign. She brings up the Justice Department civil rights case that had evidence of discrimination of African-American would-be tenants in his family's apartment buildings in the 1970s and the infamous ads he took out in four New York City newspapers in 1990, calling for the death penalty for a group of primarily black youths known as the Central Park 5, who were jailed and later exonerated. Trump still maintains they're guilty.
"That nearly half the population would vote for someone like that is cause for alarm. If it was just him I would be scared, but it's the fact that there was so much support," she said.
Many of her fellow Americans also appear to be interested in relocating. Of the more than 200,000 users who accessed the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website at 11 pm on November 8, approximately 50 percent had American IP addresses. Americans normally represent 10 percent of visits. The website (cic.gc.ca) ended up crashing, with the IRCC blaming "a significant increase in the volume of traffic and technical difficulties."
Relocating to Canada looks like becoming even more attractive for Americans who fear the worst under Donald Trump
The move north
CanadaVisa.com also experienced a high volume of interest, says its founding partner David Cohen, a Canadian immigration lawyer. He says there was a sevenfold increase in online visitors filling out assessments to see if they qualified for one of the Canadian immigration programs.
Cohen fielded calls from several Americans and says he received an unusual number of inquiries from unregistered US Hispanics. "They were worried that now perhaps they may be facing deportation in the US and wanted to know if Canada may be an option for them," he told DW.
In fact, the Canadian Bar Association's immigration section has expressed concern over the many calls it has received from people who were granted a deferral of deportation and a work permit under an executive order by Barack Obama. Called the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, it affects 750,000 people who arrived in the US under the age of 16 and were living there without lawful status since June, 2007. Trump is expected to rescind the order.
Another Canadian immigration lawyer, David Chalk, says Canada may also see increased interest from Muslim students and those from Latin American countries looking for options outside the US.
But for those who are fleeing because they do not like the administration, Cohen is skeptical. He says the sudden interest in Canada may be fleeting and says an unpopular president is usually not enough to convince people to pack up and go. "They move here for either love or work. Not because of the political situation."
Not just about politics
Su Sokol echoes that. "It's not about an election," says the Brooklyn native, who moved to Montreal after 9/11. She says she saw a changing society, with curtailed freedoms and increased xenophobia. She and her family took time to reflect and chose Canada for a social climate more in line with their values.
Staring into the abyss: Many Americans say Trump's election victory is not the only reason to move to Canada
Americans represent a very small minority of Canadian immigrants. Of the 250,000 new Canadians granted citizenship in 2015, only 6,600 hailed from the US.
Ghorbani says she is in her research phase. She is setting her sights on Montreal, since she has some friends there and her husband speaks French. "The first order of business is finding work," she says.
For Chalk, having that job offer is key. "More and more, the pathway to permanent resident begins with the status as a temporary foreign worker."
He says the system has a bias in favor of people who have either studied in Canada or are already working in the country. "Eighty-five percent of the people who are being selected for Express Entry are already in Canada."
That means that for many looking to Canada to offer them refuge from a leader they loathe, they may have to stay put until a more palatable president is elected.