Opinion: Thinking of moving to Canada? You can’t if you’re disabled

Canada, compared to the United States, is a pretty great place.

The operative phrase here is “compared to the United States,” which sets a low bar that doesn’t look like it’s rising any time soon. There are still plenty of problems in Canada, like its epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, its surveillance of journalists, and its contribution to global warming.

But the U.S. isn’t led by a bowl of mac & cheese that’s been possessed by a sentient-ish YouTube comment, so many Americans who think our current president fits that category feel eager to pack up and set a course for the land of snow and maple. Evan Green, an immigration lawyer from Toronto, says there’s been a “huge spike” in Americans interested in jumping ship.

Some people who vowed to move to Canada if now President Trump won never followed through with their promises. Both Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, celebrity voices of the Clinton fandom, remain in the United States despite their previous plans. Then again, they don’t have much to fear when they, like the president, are rich and white and publicly brag about sexual assault.

Others would be genuinely safer in Canada. Some refugees are leaving the U.S. out of fear of deportation, like Rayak Izal, a Ghanaian refugee who lost all his fingers after they froze on his way through Canada. Many of the refugees who enter Canada do so illegally, but others may not want to go that route.

Unfortunately, for Americans with disabilities, a law banning people from entering Canada “if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand” means it’s either sneak over or stay put in Trump-land.

Many disabled people are unemployed because of discrimination. When researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research sent fake applications to accounting firms, they found that employers were more likely to respond if the applicant did not mention having a disability. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have an employment rate of about 25 percent in Canada; however, hiring them can actually bring economic benefits to employers. According to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, hiring workers with intellectual disabilities helps employers because many are highly motivated, and because they contribute to an inclusive workplace culture. Canada’s disability ban writes off many people who might actually benefit the Canadian economy if given the chance.

But both of these arguments still judge people based on their perceived monetary cost and benefit to society. People can still contribute to the people around them by being thoughtful, caring, funny, creative and diligent. Everyone provides a benefit to their society in some way, even if it is not financial. Canada’s failure to recognize this not only denies Canadians many of the intangible benefits they might have gained from meeting a disabled immigrant, but also tells Canadians and potential immigrants that their human rights are conditional.

Finally, giving disabled immigrants second-class status sends a message to disabled Canadian citizens. They know that if they had not been lucky enough to have been born to Canadian parents, they would not be welcome in their own country.

Canada’s discriminatory immigration policies hurt both disabled people living in Canada, and those who would like to participate in Canadian society. Revising them would be an important step towards Canada becoming a truly inclusive country.