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An unexpected Girl Guides lesson: Let’s simply not enter the United States

Join the Girl Guides of Canada and you're promised an interesting array of activities: You might end up making gift baskets for women's shelters, or talking about healthy eating, or planting trees. You'll learn to make a fire at some point. These are people who can be relied on in a crisis, if not necessarily revolutionaries.

That changed this week when the Girl Guides of Canada made a decision to cancel all its trips to the United States, in light of the Trump administration's revised ban on immigration from six Muslim-majority countries. Now the Guides are selling resistance alongside those irresistible cookies.

Not that the Guides are framing their decision as an act of political rebellion: "This is absolutely not a protest. This is not a political statement whatsoever," the Guides' Sarah Kiriliuk told CTV News. However, in explaining her organization's decision, she provided a statement that could be embroidered on the banners of the resistance. "We wanted to make sure we remained inclusive and diverse and that all girls got to go on the trips, not just some girls. Guiding is a sisterhood, and it's very important to us to stick together."

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Inclusivity, diversity, sisterhood: Those are politically powerful words in the United States right now, incendiary even. As tensions increase at U.S. borders, it won't be surprising if Canadians take a leaf from the Guides' handbook, and decide to spend the next little while at home. And why not? There's an old friend who's turning 150 this year. She could use some help blowing out the candles. It would take decades to explore the richness of this country, even if you confined yourself to the oversized Easter eggs, geese, nickels and pierogies scattered so majestically by the sides of our roads.

Crossing the border has become an experience second only in delight to a self-administered root canal. In addition to the increased xenophobia, the Transportation Security Administration is warning of more rigorous pat-downs in airports "which may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before." "Intimate contact" is not what I'm looking for when I'm carrying toothpaste and antacid in a clear plastic bag, but perhaps I'm just a picky traveller.

Tourists' social-media feeds are also likely to get an intimate probing. NBC News recently reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had a huge uptick in phone searches: The number was already climbing in the last year of former president Barack Obama's administration and has soared under President Donald Trump. There were more searches in February than there were in all of 2015.

Canadians, good friends and neighbours though we are, are no longer waved across the border with a nod and a smile. For the past few weeks, we've heard stories of Canadian citizens being turned back at the border after they'd surrendered their phones and passwords to U.S. border officials. In a couple of cases, the travellers were Muslim and were asked about their religion, their mosques and, in one case, how they felt about Donald Trump. Fadwa Alaoui, a hijab-wearing Quebecker, was stopped at the Vermont border and refused entry into the United States: "I felt humiliated, treated as if I was less than nothing," she told CBC News. "It's as if I wasn't Canadian."

These experiences, while infuriating, will be hardly surprising to people who are black, brown or Muslim. Flying while Muslim has become a jaw-dropping meme – it can mean being pulled off a plane for writing mathematical equations, or for sending a text in Arabic, or even for being a little sweaty. These, in paranoid times, have all been taken as indicators of nefarious intent. Perhaps we owe a debt of gratitude to the Trump administration for actually shining a light on what had been hidden in the shadows for a long time.

Now that the net is cast far and wide, it's catching big and unexpected fish: Take the case of Muhammad Ali Jr., who is not only an American, but the son of one of the most famous Americans of the past century. He and his mother were detained in a Florida airport and asked about their religion (they are Muslim). A month later, after testifying about their experience before congressional lawmakers, they were stopped again at Washington National Airport. It has turned them into advocates against Mr. Trump's profiling policies.

The immigration ban has made allies of a disparate group of people – ordinary Canadians, a famous boxer's son, Girl Guides, even a celebrated Australian children's author. Mem Fox, bestselling author, was on her 117th trip to the United States last month when she was detained, incorrectly, for a visa infraction (she happened to be carrying her latest picture book, I'm Australian Too, about the benefits of immigration). There she witnessed an elderly Iranian woman in a wheelchair being shouted at and various other indignities that made her "ashamed to be a human being."

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Ms. Fox, a celebrity in her country, has received an apology from the Americans, which is more than most people can expect. Still, she says she's never going back. "Never" might be a bit strong, especially for those of us who love the United States, but change it to "the next four years," and I think I'd agree. Canadian backroads, here I come.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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