The world is in turmoil, and even our calm and friendly neighbors to the north might no longer be immune to the strains of totalitarian right-wing lawlessness that have infected other countries, most prominently the United States. Is Canada’s recent anti-government uprising an indication that there truly are no remaining safe havens from reactionary populist violence and nihilism?
In two recent columns on Verdict (here and here) and a companion column on Dorf on Law (here), I noted that more Americans than ever are considering leaving their country in search of a safer alternative. With large numbers of Republican politicians excusing violence, and with open talk of a “civil war,” it is understandable that people might think this is the time to move elsewhere.
I noted in those earlier columns that I am unlikely to join this migration, but I did refer to myself as someone for whom this is a viable option. Most people in non-professional jobs, and even the vast majority of those in the professions, simply lack the resources to consider emigrating, while others have children in school or non-transportable economic relationships that essentially require that they stay in the United States, for better or (more likely, unfortunately) worse. The pool of potential emigrants is thus not large as a percentage of the population, but it could still involve enough people to become a very important phenomenon if things continue to spiral downward in the US.
In those earlier columns, I concluded that Canada was a fairly definitive first-best answer to the question: “Where to move?” But is that answer likely to change, now that the Great White North has seen Trumpish disruptions that could be the harbinger of worse things to come? Although the future is yet to be written, the signs are still good that Canada and some other countries will continue to be relatively safe places for those who increasingly fear living in this country and who might be willing and able to bug out.
The Logistics of Expatriation
Before I address the changed political situation in Canada, there is a related question that I ought to address up front. After my first column was published, one very nice reader contacted me to ask about the legal barriers to moving to Canada. Because my focus in that column was on the “where” and the “why,” I had not talked about the “how.” Even if a person wanted to move to Country X, this reader asked, what is the legal process?
That is an important question, and it was especially pertinent to that particular reader, because he and his husband have actively been investigating a possible move to Canada. They are finding that the process is (unsurprisingly) complicated and expensive, and it is possible that even countries such as Canada that have relatively welcoming societies might nonetheless have laws in place that would rule them out as destinations for Americans who do not meet various entry criteria.
At a fundamental level, however, providing that kind of granular information is simply not what columns like this one are about. That is not my best “value-added,” as economists would say, because I am not an immigration lawyer. Fortunately, not only are there many good immigration lawyers out there, but the internet exists, and there is a treasure trove of information about the logistics of migration at our fingertips. Among other things, the governments of the countries to which I have referred in these columns all have extremely good official websites (offered in English, even in countries with other official languages).
In my Verdict columns last month, I noted in passing that a surge of Americans trying to move to Canada could quickly overwhelm their immigration system. Even short of that, there is no question that relocating across national borders is a unique challenge in the best of times, and it might not be possible at all.
I also noted, however, that an American who moved to Canada decades ago had sent me an email saying that someone in my situation (a mid-career academic with extensive international experience) would have an “easy” time meeting the Canadian immigration standards. His word, not mine. Going into any further detail would have turned the column into something far too specific, so I left it at that.
Rather than ignore the logistics entirely, however, it does make sense for me to write a future column in which I analyze the various criteria that countries have set in place to sort among potential entrants into their countries. Even though the focus of my analysis is still on why and whether to move, not how, I will summarize in that future column a few basic facts about Canada’s criteria as well as similar key information about the rules for immigrating into a few other plausible destinations, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, and Australia.
Again, however, the purpose of these columns is very much not to provide nuts-and-bolts advice. It is to analyze the growing threats of authoritarian and even fascist takeovers in what are thought of as stable democracies and to compare and contrast recent developments in the constituent nations of what has long been known as “the free world.”
The Ongoing Canadian Protests
Several weeks ago, a fringe group of big-rig truck drivers in Canada decided to protest a new rule that required truckers crossing the border into the United States to be fully vaccinated. This was a rule promulgated by the US government, mirroring a Canadian rule (that only applies to non-Canadians driving trucks into Canada), which surely seemed risk-free to the Biden administration, because Canadian truckers cannot vote in the American midterm elections.
The kindest thing one can say about the Canadian protests against the new American rule is that they were an attempt to petition their government to use its influence to convince the United States to change its vaccination laws. There is strong reason to doubt that such a nuanced thought process was ever a part of this outbreak of lawlessness, but even if it might once have been defensible in that way, the on-the-ground reality is a different story entirely.
The protest quickly became an occupation of the central area of the seat of Canada’s national government in Ottawa, Ontario. The list of grievances became more and more unhinged, including demands that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately resign or be removed from office.
Notably, the Canadian Teamsters union has been clear that it opposes this action. That is, this is not a “truckers versus the government” story but a tiny subgroup of truck drivers joining with other anti-government extremists to push a quasi-anarchist agenda. The protesters have been receiving money and lavish amounts of attention from American right-wing media and Republican politicians. It should, given all of that, come as no surprise that some of the protesters have been carrying Confederate battle flags around Ottawa.
Moreover, the protests have gone far beyond the familiar bounds of marching and rallying to seek redress. For weeks, the capital city has been enduring nonstop truck airhorns, diesel fuel-fouled air and noise from revving engines, and other disruptions. The people who live in those areas, many of whom are (because of Canada’s welcoming culture) non-White, are being harassed with racist slurs and physical intimidation. And because hatred comes as a packaged deal, there is a great deal of misogyny as well.
What might once have been called peaceful protests have become illegal blockades, not only in one large city but on key border crossings into the US. The supposed defenders of “regular guys” thus ended up putting auto workers and those in related industries on both sides of the border out of work. But American opportunists like Senator Rand Paul are cheering this on, calling on American truckers to “clog” cities here in the US.
As we saw in the January 6 insurrection last year, government responses to lawlessness are much gentler when the protesters are White than when the gatherings are mostly “others.” Even so, Prime Minister Trudeau did finally take action, with the editorial board of The Washington Post praising him and saying that his “government is right to proceed with caution to restore order.” I am not, of course, saying that Trudeau should have acted rashly, but it does seem that he put up with far worse behavior from White protesters than even Canadians would have tolerated had this been a progressive, multiracial protest.
What Does This Portend for Canada’s Future of Openness and Appeal to Foreign Nationals?
There is plenty to worry about in this situation, even for those who would never consider moving to Canada. But for those who might have been thinking about it, what has changed, if anything? In my January 20 Verdict column, I referred to “the obvious choice for any American who thinks for even a moment about leaving this country: Canada.” Is the choice less obvious now?
No, at least not based on what we currently know. One good sign is that, “[a]ccording to a poll released Monday, 3 in 4 Canadians are fed up and want an end to the protest.” Trudeau’s popularity is apparently now sky-high, and the political situation in Canada is still very much opposed to Trumpish tactics and goals.
One of the Canadian scholars whom I have cited as being very worried about the deteriorating situation in the US is Stephen Marche. Is he worried about Canada going in the same direction? Given his clear-eyed pessimism about the degradation of democracy and the threats that right-wing populism pose to stable republics, I was relieved to hear him say the other night that the situation there is not spinning out of control.
Indeed, Marche pointed out that even Canada’s conservative politicians are shunning these protesters, saying that “the very few conservatives who have sort of flirted with supporting the trucker convoy have all backed away…. Canadian conservatives have really kept their integrity and kept their decency, and they do not want disorder for disorder’s sake.” He concludes: “Canadian conservatives are opposed to this in a broad sense, and I think that that is something that is very important for our country.” (Marche also wrote about this in an article in The Atlantic this past weekend.)
How Dangerous Is It?
A member of the Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall had a famous quip that a Canadian is “like an American, but without a gun.” Thus, it should not be surprising that there is a subset of Canadians who are like a subset of Americans in their extreme anti-government views. But the “without a gun” part of the story is very real, and it is no joke. Canada allows more gun ownership than many other countries do, but their country is not awash in military-grade weapons in the hands of unlicensed and untrained civilians.
Police in Alberta did announce the other day that they had seized a large cache of guns and ammunition from a group that was plotting to use violence in the ever-escalating trucker standoff, so domestic terrorism is a threat there, as it is everywhere.
Still, if one were thinking purely in terms of personal safety, the recent news from Canada would not come close to tipping the balance back toward the United States. And even short of the violent aspect of the recent unrest, knowing that all but the most extreme Canadian politicians are refusing to try to foment and escalate the lawlessness is reason to feel some confidence in Canada’s future tranquility.
Again, this column is not a how-to guide to emigration. It is, instead, an observation that the sense of foreboding that many people in this country feel is being mirrored by unfortunate developments in even the most placid foreign countries. As it stands, however, the last few weeks in Canada serve less as a warning of trouble brewing and more as confirmation that their inclusive political system and welcoming society continue to be quite inhospitable to the kinds of tear-it-all-down extremism that have become sadly mainstream in America’s Republican Party.