Detroit is a failed state. Should its residents force an international resolution by claiming refugee status in Canada?

Like a lot of things, the mess in Detroit isn’t about Canada, and Canadians being such cute nationalists, they’ll gladly concede as much. But maybe it should be about Canada.

It’s an impressive testament to positive law and sociological inertia that Detroit has managed to implode and fall into near total governmental collapse without really affecting Oakland County or Windsor. This is a Third World municipality, separated from its First World neighbors by nothing more than unobstructed public roads and a narrow, fully navigable river. There’s more of a physical impediment to getting from the ghettos of East Colfax Avenue in Denver to the high bougie mansion districts of Evergreen than there is in getting out of Detroit. In Denver, the distances are huge and there are hills and shit in the way. Detroit is laser-leveled by Denver standards, with weather that from day to day may be worse or may be better than Denver’s and a much greater disparity with neighboring jurisdictions than anything that can be found around Denver.

Of course, huge numbers of people have seen the writing on the wall over the past fifty years and gotten the fuck out of Detroit, but this leaves unanswered questions about the ones they’ve left behind. Civic pride doesn’t explain it all. Detroit has some of the strongest local pride in the United States, but its ghettos are teeming with a rump population that looks too broken and desperate to care about boosterism. I doubt that very many of these people are staying in Detroit because they’re committed to Detroit for the long haul. It seems to be much more that they don’t know what else to do. Oakland County is redlined to kingdom come, and relocating to one of the Southern cities that have absorbed a reverse diaspora of Northern blacks is a tall order for people who are too indigent to pay their water bills.

The geopolitical situation in and around Detroit is metastable, but it’s a lot more stable than it should be. Detroit is a failed state. Its municipal government can’t or won’t maintain water and police services. Its forensic crime labs are some of the worst in a country whose de facto standards for such labs are abysmal. Its government has descended into a culture of chronic public corruption and featherbedding, more recently exacerbated by predatory non-state actors including bond insurers. On top of all this, it is a majority-minority city under the sovereignty of a hostile, much wealthier majority-majority state government.

Try to imagine how international observers would react to exactly the same circumstances in a dysfunctional foreign country: Yugoslavia during its breakup, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe. They’d say that it’s a failed state presiding over a humanitarian crisis. They’d say that Michigan’s role in the crisis is that of an incompetent and racist colonial power. These countries are the sort of company that Detroit and Michigan keep.

And somehow this crisis endures in a city that shares a navigable river and a port of entry with a stable, safe and prosperous city in Canada. Maybe this is just a paradox. Similar situations exist in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, each of them bordering one of the safest cities in the United States. But when the cartels went utterly feral in northern Mexico, El Paso was hit with Mexican refugees. As far as I know, nothing of the sort has happened in Detroit and Windsor, two adjacent cities, both of them English-speaking. Windsorites are merely a whiter kind of white people than Trans-Eight Milers, and oddly enough a kind whose government, unlike Oakland County’s, provides half-hourly bus service to and from downtown Detroit. It’s a safe rule of thumb that black people who aren’t fully underclass are better at dealing with white people than white people are at dealing with black people, and most Americans of any race would give Canadians a bit of extra cultural slack for not being quite like us, eh. So to the extent that these hard-up Detroiters are people of goodwill who have gotten into a world of hurt and not violent, feral racists, they shouldn’t be unduly hit with culture shock upon arrival in the Great White North, which is actually to the south in their case. More than a few of them have already had experience in dealing with white people, and in Windsor they’d have the added head start of knowing that they’re dealing with (not really foreign) foreigners.

I know, this sounds like a bad War song with Neil Young on backup vocals. But I think I have a pretty good rough idea of who these people are. There’s an intractable criminal underclass element in the mix, exacerbated by the white and black flight of so many of Detroit’s most competent citizens, but if you need to put an HBD gloss on this mess, that’s your problem, not mine, because there are also reasonable people of goodwill in the mix, people who just got dealt a raw hand in life and can’t figure out how to get out of the ghetto. They, too, not just the underclass, have to contend with governments in Oakland County and at the Michigan capitol that are cryptically racist and treacherous, and with a Detroit city government that really has simultaneously been captured by thieves and mountebanks and lost all sight of what the fuck it’s supposed to be doing for its citizens.

But there’s that land across the river. It ain’t the Jordan River, to be sure; the Jordan is filthier and has been since biblical times. What lies on the other side has not so far been infected with Michigan’s poisonous race relations. Stephen Harper notwithstanding, Michigan GOP politics would be a hard sell in Canada; there’s just too much of a residual sense of decency, too much of an immune system. Canada has taken in refugees from around the world in the past. Maybe it could take some in from across the Detroit River this time. It wouldn’t have to be permanent: these are Detroiters, after all, and the reason you don’t know anything about the Windsor music scene is that there isn’t one. The refugees probably won’t want to become true patriots of Ted Cruz’s home and native land when there’s a bus run every half hour to their own beloved hometown, but they may want to take cover for a bit while the governments responsible for Detroit are forced to start taking some fucking responsibility.

This isn’t a plan to turn Detroiters into Canadians. Maybe some of them who aren’t already dual-loyalty Canucks will want to take the plunge, but they’re a bit on the eccentric side, and not to worry, they’ll be too busy going back to Detroit to become constant Canadians. What this is is a plan to cause enough trouble for the authorities in Canada to make an international incident out of a crisis that the US authorities plainly are not showing the inclination or competence to get under control. But this would not be a frivolous stunt, either. As things stand now, many Detroiters can make a credible claim that the Windsor municipal government and the Ontario provincial government have a greater moral and logistical capacity to provide for their safety and welfare than any government in southeast Michigan.

That said, I hope that this situation would discomfit the civil authorities and business organizations enough to sit their Michigan counterparts the fuck down and tell them to get their shit together posthaste because the problem that they’ve allowed to fester for so long is no longer one of American exceptionalism, but a Canadian problem, too.

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