Canada choosing 'the opposite approach' on refugees and immigration: Hussen

The new federal immigration, refugee and citizenship minister says Canada is taking “the opposite approach” to countries like the United States when it comes to its borders.

As some countries close their borders, Canada is 'being open to people, being open to talent'

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen answers a question in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Jan.31. He said Canada does not intend to change its 2017 immigration plan to accommodate 40,000 refugees. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The new federal immigration, refugee and citizenship minister says Canada will continue to take "the opposite approach" of countries like the United States when it comes to managing its borders and travel policy.

"As more and more countries are taking a different approach, of closing their borders, or not being open to new people or ideas, we've chosen the opposite approach, which is being open to ideas, being open to people, being open to talent, being open to skills and investments and we'll continue to have that tradition," Ahmed Hussen told CBC Radio's The House.

On Jan. 27 U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily restricting entry to the U.S. for travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The restrictions are currently facing legal challenges in the U.S.

The day after Trump signed the executive order, a tweet by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his own message to those seeking to come to Canada, and it was very different than Trump's. 

"To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength," it read.

It's been retweeted more than 427,000 times and was followed up with a photo showing Trudeau welcoming a newly arrived Syrian refugee child, with the hashtag "Welcome to Canada."

"I think the prime minister expressed the clear sentiments of Canadians. It was an expression of our progressive tradition of being an open country, a welcoming country," said Hussen, who came to Canada from Somalia as a refugee when he was a teenager.

Pushing programs

"We spread that message throughout the world, not just to one country. We have programs in place to attract and retain skilled immigrants and international students and we will work harder to do that. We will also continue to remain committed to being an open country to those seeking protection."

But not everyone is gushing over Canada's response.

Earlier this week NDP Leader Leader Tom Mulcair challenged the prime minister to clearly denounce Trump's travel restrictions.

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by, from left, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Vice President Mike Pence and Staff Secretary Rob Porter, signs his first executive orders at the White House in Washington. His 90-day travel ban affecting seven countries faces legal challenges at home and pushback internationally. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

"The prime minister talks about the importance of standing up to intolerance and racism. So, why is he refusing to denounce this policy that breaches fundamental human rights and that will inevitably have consequences for Canada?" he asked in the House of Commons.

"My focus is on our own policies, to make sure that we continue to be a generous and compassionate country to refugees and asylum seekers," Hussen responded.

While Hussen said Canada will continue to keep its doors open, he has already confirmed it will not hike its refugee intake target in the wake Trump's travel crackdown in the U.S.

Canada's 2017 immigration plan is to accommodate 40,000 refugees.

Working with U.S. counterparts

Hussen said his department is monitoring the story that a Canadian resident originally from Syria suddenly had his Nexus cards revoked, a week after Trump announced the executive order.

"We're working very, very closely with our American counterparts. There is rightly some concern expressed by Canadians and permanent residents," he said.

It's unclear what will happen to people from the seven target countries travelling after the 90-day timeline is up, but there are likely to be a number of challenges to the order in the meantime. 

A U.S. judge on Friday temporarily blocked Trump's ban after Washington state and Minnesota urged a nationwide hold on the executive order that has seen legal battles launched across the country.

U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle ruled against government lawyers' claims that the states did not have the standing to challenge Trump's order and said they showed their case was likely to succeed.

Hussen said Canada is following the legal challenges.

"We have monitoring capacity to make sure we're always on top of any new developments," Hussen said.   

with files from the Associated Press