On Trump travel ban, new immigration minister plays it cool

Ahmed Hussen, born in Somalia, maintains remarkable composure

Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, holds a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday, January 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, holds a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday, January 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Rarely has a novice cabinet minister faced a more dramatic first real foray onto political centre stage than the opportunity pressed upon Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen by U.S. president Donald Trump’s travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Hussen, who was born in Somalia, one of the countries on Trump’s 90-day travel-ban list, stepped into the National Press Theatre, just off Parliament Hill, on Sunday afternoon to discuss the Canadian government’s response. Promoted to cabinet from back-bench obscurity by Justin Trudeau only earlier this month, the rookie Toronto MP handled the moment with understated aplomb.

Along with senior federal officials, he explained that Canada had no advance notice of Trump’s extraordinary move, and said Canada would extend temporary residency to anyone travelling to the U.S. from the listed countries who ends up stranded in Canada. He also said that U.S. officials had confirmed that Canadian citizens who hold dual citizenship with one of the countries affected by the ban would not be prevented from entering the U.S.

But, of course, what the assembled reporters really wanted to hear was Hussen’s personal reaction. It’s a more than natural curiosity. Born in Somalia, Ahmed immigrated to Toronto as a teenager in 1993. He worked in community development in a struggling urban neighbourhood, and later as a political aide in the provincial Liberal government. A lawyer, he also served as the Canadian Somali Congress’s president, and it was in that role that he testified in Washington in 2011 before a congressional committee looking into radicalization of American Muslims.

So his biography and background, before he jumped into federal politics in the 2015 election, strongly suggests that Hussen’s candid perspective on Trump’s harsh edict would be more than interesting to hear. Instead of airing it, however, he maintained an almost icy composure during the news conference. Here of some of his key comments, in the context of the reporters’ questions that prompted them:

Asked about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s widely reported tweet, after Trump imposed the ban, declaring, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith”:

“I think it was very important for the Prime Minister to issue that tweet to communicate our strong tradition, our long history, of providing sanctuary and protection to those who are fleeing war and persecution regardless of their faith.”

Asked about his own situation and whether he worried that he might be blocked from travelling to the U.S. because of his birthplace:

“Yes, I was born in Somalia, but I took my oath of citizenshship to this country 15 years ago. And I’m a Canadian. I’ve spent most of my life here and I continue to be proud of our country our ability to be generous and to view those who seek protection.”

Asked if he regards Trump’s policy as racist:

“I can tell you what our principles are. Our principles are of openness, open to ideas, open to people, open to those who want to come here and make a better life for themselves, contribute to our economy [with] their high skills, and to also to continue to have compassion for those who seek sanctuary in our country, and I think we’ve been a better country as a result.”

Asked why he doesn’t bluntly denounce Trump’s move:

“Every country has the right to determine their policies. I can only tell you that we will continue our longstanding tradition of being open to those who seek sanctuary. And also to view immigration as a great, great way to boost our economic growth and the prosperity of all Canadians. And we’ve always had that balance and our immigration levels try to reflect that.”


On Trump travel ban, new immigration minister plays it cool

  1. Very impressed with the ministers very first presser, no pressure. Its no good for Canada to go all nuclear over the US or Trump for the choice of policies they make, you have to learn to adapt. Like the minister says, the US is a sovereign nation and chooses it own path, whether we like it or not, how would Canadians feel if Trump told us how we should run our Country, their would be pandemonium in this country. If Trudeau got angry at everything Trump says, well that would make Trudeau and our country look just like Trump and his country, so suck it up Canada, and learn to adapt, this is exactly what Trump and his base want, is to make the left look like the right, and turn into an angry nation. The conservative party are making a good enough job of that now, with not standing together with the country as a whole about inclusiveness and open society, and continuing to keep Canada an angry country..

    • Rona Ambrose cant speak for her party, she is a lame duck leader, and is only an ornament until a permanent leader is elected, she can’t stake out policy for the party. Tom Mulcair is also a lame duck leader, but he knows that, Ambrose doesn’t.

      • So what is your point? Ambrose is not making policy; she is just doing her job as opposition leader, highlighting the mis-steps of Trudeau.

    • Carpet bomber, “very impressed”?? About what? His response is the liberal line which is well-known by anybody who follows politics. No great enlightenment there.

  2. What else would he say as a liberal. He’s not stupid.

  3. Very cool headed responses by the minister. An excellent job at keeping his personal emotions and opinions in check for the larger benefit of the country.

    Canada first.

  4. A very dignified and Canadian response. Thank you, Mr Hussen.

  5. It will be challenging but vitally important to hold this line in the coming years. I was impressed when I heard Minister Freedland speaking on CBC about her role in the European trade deal, and I am impressed by Minister Hussen now. Both appear to be fine examples of both Liberal, and liberal politicians.

  6. Perhaps it is time to send Trudeau back to his drama class and put this Minister in as PM. It seems he is much more suited for the role.
    Cool rational thinking is something novel with this bunch.
    He is absolutely right let the Americans deal with their own problem and we deal with ours.
    With our deficit and debt climbing the last thing we need to do is antagonize Trump who is very vindictive
    and just liable to impose tariffs etc. which will cripple us. We need them more than they need us.

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