By: Sal Sbrega

It was announced last week that any citizens from countries with large outbreaks of Ebola are restricted from flying to Canada and that many visa applications from the people of these countries will be denied.

This restriction will apply to West African countries: Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. It is quite a shock to hear this from Canada, a country so well-known for its multiculturalism.

Was this a good move from Canada? I understand the need to contain the Ebola virus and stop its spread among Canadians, but our actions do not necessarily mean that this will happen; in fact, they may make the situation worse. The World Health Organization seems to think Canada’s actions are illegal with respect to the International Health Regulation which says that countries should not impose travel restrictions outside of WHO’s recommendation.

WHO has in no way recommended any travel restrictions; they have in fact stated that shutting out countries with large Ebola outbreaks will cause more harm to the matter than good. Does the Government of Canada think that if we close the door on West African citizens they simply would not travel here anymore? No, of course not.

They are just going to take an alternative route. They will come into Canada through the back door, which cannot be regulated. We should not wait around with the risk of someone entering Canada illegally and starting an outbreak before taking action. At least if we allow immigrants to travel legally, they can be properly recorded and tracked, and hopefully stop any outbreaks before they start.

On top of that, Canada has allowed any Canadian citizen to travel from the restricted countries; the ban only applies to non-Canadians. How is this any different from not having a restriction at all? Canadians aren’t immune to Ebola.

There is a very real possibility that the Canadians we are allowing back into Canada are bringing the virus with them. Of course, at least these people will be regulated. But why can’t we do the same for all citizens, Canadian or not, coming in from West Africa.

This restriction puts us at risk for any future disease outbreaks as we could be kept in the dark about them. Have we forgotten about the SARS outbreak already? China decided to keep that knowledge away from Canada, and before we knew it, we had a massive SARS outbreak in Canada.

Now that the world knows that Canada will shut out any country with large infected populations, these countries will fail to disclose their outbreaks as not to risk the economic impacts of coming clean. This will create tense diplomatic and inter-state relationships, failing to encourage discourse among countries that lead to solutions.

The decision to restrict visas for citizens from these West African countries is short-sighted and a harmful precedent for Canadian international health policy.

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