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Why Canada Can Enter Gilead (But Not Rescue People)


A humanitarian aid mission to Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 creates an escape opportunity for June, but CERA isn’t supposed to rescue people.

In the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, “Vows,” Moira’s humanitarian aid group faces a dilemma over whether to help June escape Gilead, or turn her over to the Guardians. The episode highlights Canada’s delicate position as Gilead’s neighbor to the north, and the challenges of helping the oppressed people of Gilead without antagonizing the country’s government into war.

The previous episode, “Chicago,” also offered a window into Gilead’s relationship with the rest of the world, as Commander Lawrence urged the other commanders to order a temporary ceasefire in battleground cities in order to give aid groups access. Gilead has an extremely powerful military, but it has also been subjected to economic sanctions by the rest of the world that have led to shortages of food and other vital goods. Despite the fact that people in Gilead’s border cities are dying, the commanders view aid organizations like CERA (the Commission for Emergency Relief Aid) with disdain and are already very reluctant to allow them access.

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Related: Handmaid’s Tale: June’s Escape Can Fix Two Of The Show’s Biggest Problems

Though June has finally managed to escape Gilead and make it to Canada, The Handmaid’s Tale has also demonstrated how powerless Canada is to help people inside Gilead’s borders, even during humanitarian aid missions. CERA is permitted to enter Gilead within a certain time frame, and its volunteers are protected from being captured or killed because of Gilead’s need to preserve its uneasy diplomatic truce with Canada. If CERA is caught trying to smuggle people out of Gilead, however, their access will be permanently cut off and the people of Chicago and other border cities will be left without any help at all.

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The difficult position of CERA in The Handmaid’s Tale is true to the real-life challenges of humanitarian aid organizations. The core principles of humanitarian aid include neutrality, impartiality and independence, which means that these organizations cannot take a side in armed conflicts or political disputes, and instead can only try to alleviate human suffering as much as possible. So, while Oona and the other CERA volunteers might hate Gilead and everything it stands for, they are emphatically not freedom fighters or liberators. In smuggling June out of Gilead they have violated the principles of their organization by taking action directly against the country’s government, and prioritizing that action over the needs of Gilead’s suffering people.

So, while it may have seemed cold and cruel for Moira’s fellow volunteers to consider turning June over to the Guardians for an almost certain death sentence, doing so arguably would have been the correct choice from both a utilitarian and humanitarian standpoint. If Gilead finds out CERA’s role in helping June to cross the border and forbids any further aid missions, then the people of Gilead will surely suffer for it.

More: Handmaid’s Tale: What June Being In Canada Means (Will She Return To Gilead?)

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