Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has incessantly prided himself on his government’s unofficial mantra: diversity is strength. Yet, apparently the Trudeau government doesn’t assign any special status to North Koreans, who it’s easy to argue have the most legitimate claim to refugee status of any people in the world currently.
An Al Jazeera report claims that approximately 2,000 North Korean defectors have reported either being deported or leaving Canada of their own volition since the government began a pattern of removing North Koreans who lied on their asylum application forms in 2013. Meanwhile, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) claims only 165 documented ‘removals’ of North Koreans from the nation, opening the possibility that the vast majority have taken the initiative to leave the country before the authorities force them out. There’s also a chance that the numbers are lower than the report claims, but regardless, Trudeau and his government have some explaining to do.
It’s not like this is a new issue that the government hasn’t had the opportunity to address. The deportation process began over four years ago, so it seems hard to deny that a) Trudeau himself has not been aware of the issue and b) that this is not, on some level, a conscious choice.
And, it must be mentioned that Trudeau is not alone in deserving blame for the policy. After all, he was sworn in as Prime Minister in 2015, meaning that the previous Conservative government under PM Stephen Harper deserves to take heat as well. Much of the criticism that is being levied against Trudeau can be equally applied to Harper and his administration. That said, Trudeau must understand that his hyper-vocal stance on being an all-accepting nation has opened him up to even greater criticism than the man before him, who initially oversaw this inexplicable deportation practice.
Trudeau's public immigration stances, whether in speeches or on Twitter, are what makes the whole issue so perplexing. How could a prime minister and a Liberal government that has gone out of its way to embrace ‘diversity’ – Trudeau has cozied up publically to Muslims, Sikhs, the gay community, and virtually anybody not claiming Caucasian ancestry – be so callous toward those lucky enough to flee North Korea and reach Canada?
Either Trudeau is woefully tone deaf as to how bad rejecting North Koreans from their adopted country looks, or he is inexplicably out of touch with an issue – immigration – which he has made one of the centerpieces of his government’s policy and identity.
Even though the defectors will be sent back to South Korea, a nation that is known for granting citizenship to those who escape from its northern neighbor, North Koreans are looked down upon as lesser, potential spies even.
Consider the case of Taegun Kim, who received a notice recently informing him, along with 150 other North Koreans living in Canada, that he is facing deportation because of a lie he told 11 years ago in order to successfully reach a country where he would be given a fair shot at survival and happiness.
Kim has admitted to lying on his application, writing that he had defected to China instead of South Korea, a detail he believed would make it easier for him to reach Canada. But, over a decade since he touched down on Canadian soil, Kim is facing the reality of uprooting a family and life that represents the ideal of assimilation.
‘Taegun Kim, who arrived in Canada 11 years ago with his wife and family, is on the deportation list. The couple has had two more children since they left North Korea — they are Canadian citizens. But the family will be split asunder if Kim and the members of his family not born in Canada are sent back.
“That notice means death to me,” Kim told Al Jazeera News. “I came all the way here for a better life and my family is well adjusted to life in Canada. To think we’re going to be separated, it breaks my heart.”’ (Daily Caller via Al Jazeera)
(You can see more of his story, with accompanying video, here)
This sort of splitting of families is not only callous, especially if Trudeau is aware of such specific, heart-wrenching examples of desperate refugees who have found happiness in Canada. It’s made worse by the fact that Trudeau has so often and so publically branded himself as a welcomer of refugees of all shades, ethnicities, religions. He has been especially vocal about defending refugees and asylum seekers of Muslim faith, including former ISIS fighters, who he’s compared to Greek and Italian immigrants. He’s even enacted laws that are, to most, clearly aimed at silencing those who assert that Middle Eastern immigrants are resistant to true assimilation.
When you talk a big game about being a haven for those who are fleeing the worst kinds political and ethnic persecution worldwide, it’s not going to sit well when you either ignore or sanction the deportation of North Koreans, regardless of the circumstances.
And, it’s not as if North Koreans are damaging the Canadian economy or social structure. Contrarily, as the case of Kim illustrates, they are grateful to Canada and more than happy to assimilate. The fact that they can’t effectively assimilate in a nation like South Korea is a large part of the reason they seek refuge in a nation like Canada to begin with.
“I’ve been living in Canada doing my own business and I’ve been settled down for a long time. And my friends here also, they also settled down well,” Kim said. “We North Korean defectors are doing our best for our country, doing our work.”
Consider the suspicion which North Koreans constantly face in South Korea, due only to the notorious reputation of a government they were brave enough to flee.
‘(Refugee Hyekyung) Jo added that while in South Korea, her husband was under investigation for espionage, a distressing situation that makes returning to the peninsula even bleaker, she said. Kang, 36, currently supports his family as a sushi chef.’ (Toronto Star)
Yet, the Canadian government continues to ignore the hardship and alienation that often results from being a North Korean living in South Korea, or the damage that splitting a family up or uprooting the lives of Canadian-born children inflicts. They continue to qualify South Korea as a ‘safe haven’ for North Korean asylum seekers in order to justify deporting them. While technically true, the social alienation and proximity to North Korea mean that life in South Korea and Canada cannot be equated in any genuine way.
Ostracism and investigation aren’t even the crux of why deportation by the Canadian government is unjustifiable.
'The refugees say South Korea is definitely not safe for them as North Korean spies can track them down.
"If we're found by the North Korean government, our family left in North Korea will be executed or sent to a labour camp," Kim said.' (Al Jazeera)
The term ‘safe’ is broad. It’s relative.
The term ‘happy’ is easier to pin down. And, a happy life is what Canada provides that South Korea cannot for these dissidents who have already escaped unimaginable circumstances bestowed upon them through birth.
Further, criticism does not come out of general political disagreement with Trudeau. China gets criticized for routinely sending North Koreans back to their home country when discovered, for good reason. Should it come to light that President Trump was knowingly overseeing the deportation of North Koreans after so routinely criticizing the ills of their existence on the Korean Peninsula, you better believe he would draw allegations of hypocrisy and callousness, too.
But Justin Trudeau hasn’t just criticized the likes of North Korea. He whipped out his Twitter fingers to bash Donald Trump without hesitation, claiming that his nation – Canada – was one that defied the supposedly close-minded immigration policies of the Trump administration.
Only, when a true case of asylum arises – what else could North Koreans qualify as? – Trudeau has either ignored the issue, remained inexplicably ignorant of its happening, or sanctioned the deportations and climate that have led to North Korean flight.
Not for a matter of months, or even a year. This is a four-year-old phenomenon.
Ironically, it’s possible, if not likely, that many of those North Koreans have fled south, sensing that the American government may be more sympathetic to their cause. It’s speculative, but very much plausible.
So, next time Justin Trudeau sends out a Tweet, alters his nation’s national anthem to be gender inclusive, or brags about how open-minded and accepting his government is toward all people, it’s only right that he be reminded of the North Koreans being torn from their freshly-laid roots in Canada.