Imagining a World without Borders In the Midst of a Global Pandemic

April 2020

This summer, I am scheduled to deliver a workshop at the Blue Skies Music Festival. I was so excited when my application was accepted. Workshop presenters are given a coveted camping pass. Unfortunately, like all summer events, the festival may have to cancel depending on whether the COVID-19 pandemic diminishes.

The title for my workshop is to be ‘Imagine a World Without Borders’. I plan to discuss how the artificial creation of international borders has impacted individuals, families, and communities. The topic was inspired by heart wrenching stories from clients separated from their family members, from the advocacy work of No One is Illegal, and through my own work with the private sponsorship of refugees through the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.

With increased international travel, globalization of supply chains, and the ability to communicate with ease from people all over the planet through the internet, it seemed as if we were moving closer to a world in which international borders were becoming less meaningful. COVID-19 has changed all of that. Currently, the Canadian government is limiting entry of foreign nationals. Exemptions are in place for a limited few, including holders of study permits, certain temporary foreign workers, and accompanying immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents are also impacted by travel restrictions. The government began with an interim order that stated anyone showing symptoms of the virus could be denied boarding a flight to Canada. Then, the government invoked the Quarantine Act, requiring anyone entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival, whether or not they were exhibiting symptoms.

To the furor of refugee advocates, the Canadian government abandoned a plan to quarantine refugee claimants upon arrival, and instead stated that refugees arriving from the US would be denied entry. The US has announced that it will send these refugees back to their countries of origin. Apparently, governments feel justified in ignoring their international obligations to protect refugees from persecution.

And yet, we have discovered just how dependent we are on migrants who travel from their homes seasonally to work on farms and in food processing. It is not just Canada that is feeling the pinch, but any country which relies on migrant labour. Canada is making it easier, not harder, for employers to bring in foreign workers for these industries.

In Canada, we are seeing not just international travel restrictions, but also the loss of the ability to travel to other provinces. There are several bridges to Quebec only minutes from my office; all have checkpoints manned by police prohibiting non-essential travel.

When a vaccine is available, how with the world look? Will we have become more insular, or will the retreat of the public health threat and lifting of travel restrictions create a desire to move to a more universal society? If you’re having trouble imaging how this could be a possibility, listen to this Ted Talk. Or come to my workshop. I’m scheduled for Saturday at 10:30am.