Canada's PM Trudeau says he welcomes refugees even as Canadian airlines turn back US-bound passengers

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ontario, Canada, on Dec 15, 2016.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ontario, Canada, on Dec 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA/TORONTO (REUTERS) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed those fleeing war and persecution on Saturday (Jan 28) even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back US-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

In pointed tweets a day after US President Donald Trump put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travellers from the seven countries, Trudeau said refugees were welcome in Canada.

"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada," Trudeau said on Twitter.

A second tweet, also timed to coincide with outrage over Trump's immigration policy, included a 2015 photo of Trudeau welcoming a Syrian refugee at a Canadian airport.

Confusion abounded at airports around the world on Saturday as officials tried to interpret the new US rules.

Trudeau has walked a fine line with the Trump administration, avoiding direct criticism while promoting the progressive policies of his one-year-old Liberal government.

Trudeau's press secretary, Cameron Ahmad, said the prime minister is looking forward to discussing Canada's immigration and refugee policies with Trump. But he wouldn't say when that will be and referred questions about those affected by the ban to Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

"We are in contact with the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Department of Transportation, and other partners to get more information on the impacts," Garneau's press secretary Delphine Denis wrote in an email. "We will be providing further information to Canadians as available."

It was unclear whether Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen - a Somali-Canadian refugee - would be able to travel to the United States under the new rules. Hussen's office did not respond to a request for comment.

WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday to comply with Trump's executive order but did not say which country the passenger had come from. Spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline would give full refunds to anyone affected.

In the western province of Saskatchewan, Mohammadreza Tayfeh was denied entry to the United States but found himself comforting the Delta Air Lines employee he called about a refund. "I said, 'It's all right. It's going to be fine. Don't worry about it.' She was so upset," he said in an interview from Saskatoon.

Tayfeh, an Iranian citizen and engineering student living in Canada for seven years, had hoped to travel to San Diego to meet with investors for his telecom business. While he had a visitor's visa, he missed the cutoff to travel by hours.


He decided not to risk flying from Saskatchewan in case he was detained on arrival in the United States. He said an Iranian friend who has been living in the Us and working at NASA for years was detained at the Doha airport in Qatar late Friday.

"You don't want to put yourself in that situation, to go there and they ask you questions and just deport you," he said.

More than any impact on his business, "it really hurts personally," Tayfeh said. "To label a whole nation as being terrorists? I don't know what to say."

In Vancouver, an employee at the American Airlines counter said one person travelling on an Iranian passport had been turned away Saturday morning.

Air Canada said it was complying with the order but did not comment on whether it had denied anyone travel.

A spokesman for Porter Airlines said the Toronto-based carrier will be restricting passengers from travelling to the United States from the listed countries until further notice.