Incidents of mass violence and racial rhetoric from the White House are discouraging some Canadians from travelling to the United States.
“I’m choosing not to go because it’s not a safe choice for my family,” said Vancouver market researcher Barb Justason. “There’s a lot of gun violence, you don’t know who is carrying and who is not and you don’t know who is crazy.”
The mass shootings at Sandy Hook, where 20 six- and seven-year-old children were killed, and in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed, made a lasting impression on many Canadians.
Justason still travels to the U.S. for business, but will forego regular pleasure trips to Seattle and New York.
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“The election of (U.S. President) Donald Trump has emboldened racists, homophobes and misogynists,” Justason said, citing the president’s Muslim travel ban as a turning point.
“It feels like an alien country to me now,” she explained. “I don’t want to go there and enjoy privilege as a white person that other people don’t have.”
Travel to the U.S. from Canada is up five per cent in the first half of 2017, compared with the same period last year, according to the U.S. International Trade Association.
However, arrivals by air, water, car and foot for fiscal 2017 show no increase from the year before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Visits by Canadians to the U.S. have been dropping steadily since 2013 in virtual lockstep with the falling Canadian dollar, until this year when the dollar modestly recovered but visits did not.
Trump’s election was a surprise and what happened in Canada was a feeling of intense shock, a realization that our fortunes are deeply interwoven with the United States and that this is something we aren’t empowered to do anything about.
Joshua Labove, an authority on Canada-U.S. border issues
Between 2014 and 2016 the Canadian dollar dropped 22 per cent from about US 95 cents to US 74 cents, while border crossings dropped 20 per cent. The dollar is up ten per cent in 2017, but despite the extra buying power, border crossings have not rebounded.
Crossings from Western Canada to the U.S. dropped 31 per cent between 2013 and fiscal 2016 and did not recover in fiscal 2017, based on customs data for the first 11 months of the fiscal year.
Total crossings will likely end the year below 2016 levels, said CBP spokesman Jason Givens.
“In the past, the value of the Canadian dollar has historically been the biggest driver for cross-border trips, but if trips haven’t been trending up with the dollar then I can’t really say why,” he said.
Canadians will take about 48 million trips to the U.S. in 2017, 14 million fewer than they did in 2013.
America is still searching for a balance between welcoming tourists and less-welcoming rhetoric from the White House, which was reflected in recent remarks by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to a gathering of travel professionals.
“America is open for travel and open to the millions of international visitors who wish us well,” he said.
Advice to the secretary from the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board earlier this year sought “a clear, pervasive message that reassures global travellers that the United States aspires to remain the most secure nation in the world and welcomes all travellers that pose no threat to our nation.”
Some Canadians remain uneasy. A recent poll by Vancouver-based research firm Insights West found that 31 per cent of Canadians were reconsidering travel to the United States because of the political climate.
“Trump’s election was a surprise and what happened in Canada was a feeling of intense shock, a realization that our fortunes are deeply interwoven with the United States and that this is something we aren’t empowered to do anything about,” said Dr. Joshua Labove, an authority on Canada-U.S. border issues.
Canadians have had to deal with “unease” over a radical change in style and rhetoric.
“I understand the appeal of a boycott, particularly around the Muslim ban, which feels particularly nasty, xenophobic and unwelcoming,” he said.
But despite the combative messaging coming from the White House and Trump’s Twitter account, procedures at the border remain much as they have been for the past five to ten years and change will be slow if it arrives at all.
“This is a presidency that hasn’t been able to accomplish much … and change in Washington requires consensus that is just not in the air,” Labove said.
While some Canadians are mobilizing against Trump’s influence, they need to distinguish between the president and the American people.
“It behooves Canadians to get over the shock of what (Trump) is capable of saying and help the people and businesses that are trying to get by in that environment,” Labove said.
A straw poll on Facebook revealed nervousness among Canadians about mass shootings, unwelcome scrutiny by customs agents into social media accounts and especially the politics of the Trump administration.
Many had cancelled trips or altered travel plans to avoid the United States. About half of those boycotting US destinations spontaneously mentioned Trump as the reason.
Among their comments:
“Boycotting attending international teachers’ conferences in the U.S. until such time as my Latino and Muslim colleagues can attend without fear!”
“The empowerment and entitlement he brings to the border guards combined with the ‘anything anti-Trump is anti-American’ scares me.”
“I have travelled to many countries and lived in developing countries, but the USA is the only one I am truly afraid to be in.”
One in five said they would visit the U.S. as normal.