Several prominent members of the Ottawa tech community joined their Canadian counterparts in adding their names to a petition calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government to denounce U.S. President Donald Trump’s entry ban on nationals from seven Middle Eastern and African countries.
Ottawa support came from Shopify’s Tobi Lutke and Harley Finkelstein, Macadamian’s Fred Boulanger, Kanata North BIA executive director Jenna Sudds, L-Spark managing director Leo Lax and Mistral Venture Partners’ head Code Cubitt, among others.
The petition, which as of this morning had more than 2,500 signatures from members of Canada’s tech community, asserted that “diversity is our strength,” and that the best way to grow Canada’s economy is by hiring talent from around the world.
Warren Creates, an immigration lawyer with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP, says it’s too soon to tell what kind of an impact Trump’s ban will have on Canadian companies, but that this petition could be “significantly effective” in influencing the Canadian government’s response to it.
“You see something as quick, and as broad, and as numerous, as this is, the government pays attention,” he says. “This is a boulder that has momentum.”
John Reid, president and CEO of Canada’s Advanced Technology Alliance, also signed the petition, which he says has “energized” the corporate community in Canada.
“There’s a lot of power when individual small companies, large companies, team up and express common purpose,” he says.
Currently, individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, even those with immigration visas, are banned from entering the United States, with many being reportedly detained at airports. Canadian citizens with dual nationalities in these countries are being let through the border with their Canadian passports, and green card holders are being permitted through on a case-by-case basis.
One of the petition’s demands was to grant temporary work visas for U.S. workers affected by the ban. Creates says this is a difficult process to expedite.
Work visas require having secured a job in Canada, followed by additional months of labour market impact assessments before visas are approved.
Markets are now in a state of confusion, Creates says, as businesses are unsure about what they should do about international employees. In most situations, employees affected by the ban both inside and outside the United States are forced to stay put.
“Businesses who didn’t have to worry about this in the past are now worried about it,” he says.
“Business wants to conduct business. They don’t want to be involved in a political fight.”
Reid says he would like to see Canadian tech leaders take steps towards collaborating with their U.S. counterparts on issues of public safety and security, as both sides of the border can benefit from finding solutions that will make political bans like this less favourable.
Both Reid and Creates say there’s opportunity for Canadian tech companies amidst the chaos. As the United States closes off both its borders and attitudes towards immigrant talent, Canada stands to benefit as a North American alternative.
“They’re going to want to go to a country who is known for its inclusiveness,” Creates says of castoff international workers.
“In the end, collaboration makes more wealth,” Reid adds.