How Canadian lawyers can respond to Trump’s executive orders

Donald Trump
We don’t have to feel completely hopeless

By Kelsey Lange and Jacqueline Swaisland

On Friday February 3rd, 2017


In his first week as president, Donald Trump signed a slate of executive orders that left many of us feeling enraged, fearful and hopeless. He banned citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from travelling to the United States. He suspended the American refugee program for at least 120 days. He placed an indefinite hold on Syrian-refugee resettlement in the U.S.

The response from attorneys south of the border has been inspiring. They have come out in full force, camping out at airports and offering free services to travelers affected by the executive orders. When travelers are barred from getting on a plane, detained at an airport or ordered out of the country, a fleet of American lawyers are working around the clock to help.

Here in Canada, we have heard from colleagues who feel an obligation to help, but feel powerless. So what can you, as a Canadian lawyer, do to help those affected by the executive orders of Donald Trump?

The short answer: a whole lot. Here are six ways that you can put your skills into action as a member of the Canadian bar.

1. Answer the call for volunteer lawyers at Canadian airports. An informal group of lawyers, working with the International Refugee Assistance Project, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is looking for lawyers who can provide up-to-date information to travelers and collect contact information of anyone departing for the U.S who is affected by the executive orders. They also need lawyers to coordinate with legal support teams at American points of entry.

But what if you don’t have immigration experience? You don’t need any. They will provide you with documents, forms and instructions on how to get started. To join the team, please sign up.

And if you are an immigration and refugee lawyer, we’re sure you are getting inundated with general questions about the new immigration ban. One easy way to help is to offer pro bono advice on those calls.

2. Join the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. This is a nationwide project that trains lawyers of any discipline to provide pro bono legal support to groups who want to privately sponsor refugees. Go here for more information.

3. Tell the Canadian Government what you think. Despite Trump’s executive order, our government says it will not increase the number of refugees it accepts this year. Write to your member of Parliament, to the Prime Minister’s Office and to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to demand that they increase the number of refugees they accept — especially from the seven countries affected by the U.S. immigration ban. If you need help crafting your letter, there are plenty of great ideas in the media releases issued by the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. You can also sign the No One Is Illegal Petition.

4. Donate your legal services to American organizations. Groups across the U.S. have already started to challenge Trump’s orders in court — and they need all the help they can get. If you can offer strategic-litigation advice or have training in American law, reach out to these organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Immigration Law Center and the Legal Aid Justice Center.

5. Become a member of a refugee sponsor group and help bring a refugee to Canada who is seeking safety from abroad. For more information on how to do this, please see the description here. And if you have questions about this process, you can contact the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program or the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.

6. Donate to refugee and advocacy organizations in Canada or the U.S., such as:

By taking any of the steps above, we can work as a profession to help the most vulnerable people affected by Donald Trump. It’s not as hopeless at it seems.

Jacqueline Swaisland is a lawyer at Lorne Waldman Professional Corporation and a co-founder of the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program and 2016 Precedent Setter Award winner.

Kelsey Lange is a lawyer and the legal coordinator at Lifeline Syria and the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.

Photo by Ninian Reid