Canadian Muslims face anxiety, uncertainty about crossing U.S. border

By Maham Abedi
Global News | June 30, 2018

Muslims living in Canada often fear discrimination crossing the border into the U.S. — and some say that fear has increased under the administration of President Donald Trump.

This week, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that Trump’s travel ban, which applies to predominantly Muslim-majority countries, wasn’t discriminatory.

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Leila Nasr, who works with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), told Global News that the organization has heard from several people who don’t know what the ruling means for them.

“We have received calls and concerns from Canadians who are unsure of how to proceed,” Nasr said. “They already had plans to travel to the U.S., and especially given the long weekend, and they’re worried.”

The organization is concerned the ruling will “exacerbate issues of mistreatment and discrimination” for Canadian Muslims travelling across the U.S. border.

“The main reason for our concern stems from the fact that it reinforces the idea that somehow Muslims are now — if they weren’t before — fair targets for discrimination under the pretext of national security,” she said.

The NCCM is urging Canadian Muslims to be vigilant and prepared when crossing the border. Nasr said that means having all the proper travel documents and having an address for where you plan on staying.

But the organization also has advice for what to do when matters grow complicated.

“If they do experience discrimination, we encourage them to take detailed notes, remember who they spoke to, try and get their badge or identification number, remember if there are witnesses, and what was said to you,” Nasr advised.

The council also has a section on its website that allows Canadian Muslims to confidentially report incidents of discrimination to its human rights department. Nasr explained the NCCM will then contact the individual and provide any added assistance or advice.

The NCCM’s concerns about the border stretch beyond the U.S. travel ban to the Canadian Border Services Agency’s use of Tuscan, a national security database.

The name is shorthand for “Tipoff U.S./Canada;” it describes a U.S. list of names and other basic information about known or suspected terrorists.

It came to light this month that Canada and the United States have started sharing information about suspected terrorists under a revamped agreement, even though the federal privacy watchdog is still studying the possible risks for Canadians.

Several privacy concerns have been raised about the list and there is little public knowledge about what it entails, Nasr said.

“It’s not enough for the federal government to just say, ‘oh, trust us,’” she said. “We need more transparency than this. Our Charter rights dictate that we are entitled to more transparency than that.”

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