Canada prepares welcome mat for US 'refugees' seeking asylum over Trump presidency

Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston is among several stars who said they would quit the US for Canada if Donald Trump won.
Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston is among several stars who said they would quit the US for Canada if Donald Trump won.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (AFP) - Predictions of an American exodus under a Donald Trump presidency were largely viewed as tongue in cheek during the campaign.

Canadians greeted the prospect of American refugees with their typical quirky humour, eagerly touting the country's health-care system, poutine, maple syrup and "the good side of the Niagara Falls."

But as it became clear late on Tuesday (Nov 8) that Trump was on a sure path to the White House, interest in moving to Canada spiked and crashed the country's immigration website.

"I think it's an emotional reaction. I don't know if they'll follow through," Ottawa immigration lawyer Julie Taub told AFP on Wednesday, hours after Trump was declared the president-elect. "It's unlikely that a flood of Americans would arrive at the border seeking asylum."

However, Taub and other immigration lawyers said they received several inquiries from Americans as they arrived at the office in the morning.

Over the past year, Canadian real estate agencies and regions with sparse populations used the US election to launch marketing campaigns to attract newcomers.

"Move to beautiful Nunavut," said a Twitter message on Wednesday, hyping the Arctic territory's pristine environment and "10 months of winter each year."

The island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia on Canada's east coast welcomed Americans under the slogan, "Cape Breton if Donald Trump wins." It offered jobs and cheap homes just 400km from the US border.

The immigration website explains what steps to take and the criteria necessary to be eligible for Canadian residency.

Access to the site became progressively slower as Trump picked up key states, before finally displaying an error message at 11pm on Tuesday (12 noon on Wednesday, Sinagpore time) when Trump clinched the swing state of Florida.

Canada takes in about 300,000 immigrants and refugees annually.

Several US celebrities have pledged to move north if Trump prevailed over Clinton, including Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston who said he would pack up an RV and drive to Vancouver.

"I would definitely move," he said ahead of the result. "It wouldn't be a vacation; I'd be an expatriate."

Singers Cher and Barbra Streisand, and Lena Dunham, star of the TV series Girls, made similar promises.

CALL FOR A WALL

On this side of the border, meanwhile, Trump's win led to a flurry of social media posts calling in jest for a wall to be built along the Canada-US border to keep out Americans, taking a cue from Trump who campaigned on building a wall along its southern border with Mexico.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he would send the bill for the wall to Trump.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who welcomed 30,000 Syrian refugees this year, professed scepticism when the idea of Canada being flooded with Americans was first floated in the spring.

"Every election season, there are people who swear that if the candidate they don't like gets elected, they're moving to Canada," Trudeau said then. "If over the past decades that were the case, we would have more people in Canada than in the US, instead of being one-tenth (its) size."

Ironically for those Americans who are serious about making a move north, their best bet, according to immigration experts, is obtaining a work permit under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

Trump has said he would seek to renegotiate the 1994 pact that binds 530 million consumers in Canada, Mexico and the United States, and if that failed, to rip it up.

"Nafta won't be torn up anytime soon so they have time," said Taub.

Canadian immigration is based on a system of points, awarded in categories including education, work experience, language ability and age. Those with the most points advance to the front of the line.

Professionals have the best chance of emigrating under Nafta, which allows for stays of up to three years. Once in Canada, they may collect points and apply for permanent residency.