Beware the Girl Guides of March, Donald Trump -

Beware the Girl Guides of March, Donald Trump

Though officially apolitical, the Guides become tough cookies when their values are threatened

Girl Guides of Canada members reach for pieces of cardboard and markers at the Girl Empower Challenge activity during the 100th year celebration of Girl Guides of Canada on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 9, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/CP)

Guides, at the Girl Empower Challenge in Ottawa (Pawel Dwulit/CP)

The words were written in bold: “Girl Guides of Canada will not be approving any new travel to the United States until further notice.” Announced in a statement Monday, the organization cancelled a trip to a camp in California this summer, forfeiting plans to paddle kayaks and saddle ponies, decamping instead to a different country that lets all their girls cross the border.

The Guides insist the move is non-political, but some Canadians are hailing the travel ban as a stance against U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban of people from six majority-Muslim countries. The announcement can be seen as part of the Girl Guides’ long history—or “herstory,” as they would call it—of advocacy, feminism, LGBT rights and “STEMinism” (promoting women’s involvement in science, tech, engineering and math). Their recent stance has led many Canadians to applaud, while a few critics have vowed to stop buying what they suddenly see as politically-flavoured cookies.

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“Absolutely, categorically, I would say it has nothing to do with the political situation at all,” responds Myrtle Corkum, former Chief Commissioner of Girl Guides Canada. “There couldn’t be a more apolitical organization.” As a registered charity, Girl Guides of Canada cannot hold political ties, instead justifying the announcement with concern that girls from the six listed countries could get left behind. “One of the ultimate goals,” says Corkum, “and why parents trust their girls with us, is we always say we will keep the girls safe.”

Still, the organization appears to be pushing its non-political requirements as far as tax-deductibility allows. The Guides recently tweeted a photo of a Spark (the youngest category of guides, ages 5 to 6) with a picket sign at a march, with the text: “Girls and women are embracing feminism in a new way—and so are we.” The organization unapologetically identifies as “STEMinist,” sending delegates to women’s conferences in Malaysia and beyond. They now welcome trans-gendered youth, opening their doors to “all persons who live their lives as female.” Such activities, Corkum concedes, amount to “a little bit of a small-A advocacy role.”

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Girl Guides have good reason to advocate, though, with affiliates in four of the six listed countries. The Girl Guides of Syria include both Muslims and Christians and were banned in the late 1900s; after reawakening in 2000, some 2,500 members now recite the oath: “on my honour, I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God and to my country, to help others and to obey the Girl Scouts/Guides law.” Yemen, Sudan and Libya also have Guiding groups, although Sharron Callahan, international commissioner for Girl Guides of Canada, says members from certain countries have faced trouble travelling to international camps or jamborees, either due to a denial by customs or poor planning. “A country may not be granted a visa,” she says. “That’s usually dealt with behind the scenes by administrators.”

Public protesting also lies at the very origins of Girl Guides. In 1909, the movement began when a girl in England showed up at a Scouts meeting and demanded to join—“she crashed a party, so to speak,” says Corkum. Women and girls then held a rally in London, which led the founder, Lord Baden-Powell, to ask his sister to establish an equivalent organization for girls. The first handbook was called, “How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire,” and the earliest badges included not only “house orderly,” featuring a broom stick, and “hostess,” picturing a cup and saucer, but also bee-farming and aeronautics.

Canadians are now praising Girl Guides for effectively protesting against Trump, even if the travel boycott implicates girls as young as kindergarteners. “Everybody has the right to make a political move,” says Greg Bellefontaine, a social media manager in Guelph. “Obviously Girl Guides is run by adults. I believe it’s a teachable moment, for adults who are in charge of these Girl Guides to give the girls a lesson.” Meanwhile, a few critics are attacking the organization on Facebook. One user based in Ottawa, under the name of Scott Mccanna, writes, “because of your stance on travel to the USA I will not be buying cookies anymore … they are using children for pawns.” From Calgary, a profile under the name Blain Maller writes: “Not sure the U.S. is inclusive? On what basis do you make that claim and drag the girls into your political rhetoric?”

Corkum writes off the critics. “If that’s the way they can strike back, they’ll do it,” she says. “I don’t know that we’ll lose a lot of cookie sales over it.”

Correction: A previous version of this post suggested Trump’s travel ban affects seven majority-Muslim countries. The President’s revised ban now affects six.


Beware the Girl Guides of March, Donald Trump

  1. Not sure how this is a political move – at least on the Guides’ part. There have been plenty examples, of late, of people who should have been allowed into the US being turned away for reasons that appear to be related to religion or skin colour. Knowing that, and planning events for all members of a group, why would you choose to go somewhere where members of your group could be arbitrarily banned?

    This seems a quite sensible response to arbitrary and mercurial behaviour by the US Border Services. The Guides aren’t alone – a number of school boards have made the same decision. It would be patently unfair to subject members of a group to that kind of treatment – and to leave such groups to choose at the border whether to continue without some members, or cancel the whole event. It seems much wiser to choose not to try crossing the border at all.

    If the US wants to play politics with race / religion, that’s up to them. No reason to expect us to play along, though; in fact, they ought to expect exactly the opposite. And if that’s not what was expected, then they really didn’t think things through.

    • Hi Keith. While I agree with your comment. It’s very good.

      I think one of the major ideas that the writer of the article was pointing out was that it’s ironic or perhaps hypocritical to criticize Trump’s travel ban and yet as an organization implement your own travel ban.

      • I don’t see it as a ban so much as a pragmatic approach to a problem. There is no question that people are increasingly getting held up or turned away at the border, for what seems rather arbitrary and biased reasons. If you are planning a trip with a bunch of young people and a set number of adults to look after them, do you really want to risk the unpredictable disruption and potential disappointment (and potential loss of money – which in many cases is quite an extravagance for the parents)?

        Major trips like this require a lot of planning, so you minimize the risks. At present, simply crossing the border is too much of a risk for such a group to undertake. That’s simply a pragmatic response to a political mess not of their making.

        • You are absolutely correct. Being held up a a border for hours answering questions about your ethnic background is not something I would want my kids subjected to.

          I am of European background, but have a surname that is hard for some people to pinpoint ethnically. Two or three times in my life I have been asked if it’s of middle eastern origins. Because of this I won’t be going to the US. I have no desire to be subjected to the stress and embarrassment of hours of questioning, then being sent back, and likely getting my file permanently flagged to boot. Just not worth it.

  2. I never buy the cookies…..they are disgusting.

    But this year I will

    • When I sold Brownie cookies in 1966 they were 45cents a box. (Aside, I sold the most in the city not just my pack and won “the brownie pen” which came from Toronto head office! We only had pencils as standard issue and our dues were 5cents a week!)

      When I told this to some girls (yes, ages 7-9) they rolled their eyes. Yep, I felt as old as Methuselah (bible, reportedly the oldest person — but we don’t know their definition of a year!)

  3. I don’t view this action as political. The Guides organization are responsible for the safety of the girls in their care. The possibility that one of these girls may be turned back at the border based on race or religion has become a very real risk, and I don’t blame the Guides at all for wanting to avoid that risk.

    The only people turning this into a political debate are those who are focusing less on the welfare of these children and more on how the decision impacts their personal views on current events.

    I suspect that nobody who has a 12-yr old daughter would be eager to see them grilled by US Border Patrol for 3 hrs, so let the Guides focus on protecting these children, and stop trying to make it about your political views.

    • Everything in society has become politicized.

      • I can only conclude that there must be a lot of Canadian Girl Guides who are illegal immigrants with criminal records.

        • How do you conclude that? Trump’s travel ban includes individuals who were born in 6 countries… even if they now reside (legally) in another. We’ve already seen a high school athlete from Quebec turned back at the border, en route to the US with the rest of his school athletic team.
          I applaud the Girl Guides for their action .. and will be buying lots of cookies this year.

        • I can only conclude that you are only able to comprehend information that you agree with. There are more than enough examples of people being turned away at the U.S. border for no good reason. Nothing at all to do with “illegal immigrants with criminal records”.

          • You two better check your data!!

          • Their data is correct Jerome. Even white Christians without criminal records are being turned back – google it. People crossing the border have plans – schedules to keep and hotel rooms booked. I don’t want to run into any problems so we cancelled our plans for New York this summer and will instead be going to Montreal.

  4. Malaysia – you’re sending your children to Malaysia, that beacon of women’s rights and gay rights and civil liberties, and with no death penalty.

    One dislikes employing cliches’, but please stop letting D.T. live rent-free in your head. He is a jack*ss, a vulgarian, a chauvinist, a dodgy character in all ways, and unfit to be president of a library board (not that he knows what a library is), but he’s not Satan. Don’t let him be the rusty hinge that swings every issue. Stop letting him define what Canadians think. In four years he’ll join President Clinton on the golf course where they can ogle young women and talk boy-stuff, and life will go on.