Demonstrators at LAX International Airport in Los Angeles protest the travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump Jan. 29. CNS photo/Ted Soqui, Reuters

U.S. refugee ban roundly condemned by religious voices across Canada

  • February 1, 2017

Catholic and other religious voices across Canada are condemning the U.S. exclusion of refugees from seven majority Muslim countries.

President Donald Trump’s treatment of refugees fleeing war and persecution “betrays the integrity of the Gospel,” said Archdiocese of Toronto office of ecumenical and interfaith affairs director Fr. Damian MacPherson.

“That such exclusion could be part of anybody’s normal agenda doesn’t seem possible. And yet, here we are dealing with the consequences of it, which are truly painful and full of divisive attitudes.”

On Jan. 27 the new U.S. president signed an executive order that denied entry to citizens from seven primarily Muslim nations for 90 days and closed U. S. borders to refugees for at least the next 120 days. It has prompted protests across the U.S. and Canada as well as condemnation from religious leaders globally, including Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda and Iraqi Patriarch Louis Sako

Imam Aly Hindy called the presidential order “wrong because you can never exclude a group based on religion.”

“That’s really sinful, you know?” said Hindy, of the Salaheddin Islamic Centre and the Canadian Council of Imams.

Hindy doesn’t believeTrump’s memorandum represents the will of the American people.

“I believe that most American people are very good people, similar to Canadians,” he said.

The historic echoes of a border shut-down based on religion should disturb everyone, Hindy said.

“We have seen this in the 1930s with the Jews,” Hindy said. “And then what happens?”

The Rabbinical Assembly representing the Conservative movement in Judaism in North America slammed Trump’s refugee policy.

“It is a betrayal to Jewish history and our own Jewish values to stand quiet as victims of war and terror are left helpless — especially on the basis of religion,” said the assembly.

“Jews are painfully aware of having been singled out and excluded from various societies,” said Senior Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of the Beth Tzedec Congregation. “The issuing of this ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us of when the Canadian policy was ‘none is too many’ and American policy turned away the St. Louis ship with its refugees. We hope and pray that ethos, that ideology, will not return to the United States.”

For those who work with refugees, Trump’s treatment of Muslims is unacceptable.

“It’s just not a basis for excluding people,” said Sr. Frances Brady of Our Lady’s Missionaries.

The OLM sisters are part of Becoming Neighbours, a project undertaken by a broad coalition of Catholic religious communities in Toronto which supports refugees, immigrants and new Canadians.

Fear of terrorism based on a few random, isolated attacks by some Muslims cannot justify the policy, Brady said.

“Are people afraid of Christians? A lot of Christians have done a lot of really violent things in our time. Do we expect people to be afraid of all of us because of that?” she said. “Once you start generalizing, we’re all at risk then.”

The Trump policy seems to be based on a misunderstanding of who the refugees are and why they are fleeing, said Sr. Lois Bordowitz of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.

“Any person who is seeking protection or refugee (status) doesn’t do it lightly,” said Bordowitz. “It is a big thing to leave your homeland, your family, friends and face a dangerous journey to get here.”

Bordowitz doesn’t question the U.S. right to screen refugees, but she rejects “closing down the doors totally to prevent one or two bad apples to come in,” she said. Canada could do more, she said.

“The first thing that we could do is to repeal the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which prevents people from seeking protection from the U.S. over the land border,” she said. “That would be a big help for those caught in situations right now — an immediate step.”

The Canadian Council for Refugees has also called for the repeal of the Safe Third Countries Agreement with the U.S.

In the U.S., senior Church figures called the Trump policy “devastating,” “chaotic” and “cruel.”

“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history,” said Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich. “The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.”

More than 2,000 religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition objected to the Trump plan.

“Denying entry to people desperate enough to leave their homes, cross oceans in tiny boats and abandon all their worldly possessions just to find safety will not make our nation safer,” said the CEO of Catholic Relief Services Sean Callahan. “The United States is already using a thorough vetting process for refugees — especially for those from Syria and surrounding countries. CRS welcomes measures that will make our country safer, but they shouldn’t jeopardize the safety of those fleeing violence — should not add appreciable delay or entail unjust discrimination.”

(With files from CNS.)

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