This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on November 27, 2015. 

“This is not a federal project, this is not even a government project, it’s a national project for all Canadians,” declared John McCallum, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, in announcing the long-awaited details of the Liberal government’s strategy to welcome refugees fleeing the chaos in Syria.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but has already seen Canadians unite to reach out with offers to aid the resettlement and integration of those seeking refuge from war, arriving with little more than the hope of a better future.

Contrary to alarmists’ assertions, this grand initiative will serve to strengthen our national security. ISIL is seeking a clash of civilizations, intent on eliminating what they call the “gray zone” of coexistence. And they loathe the notion of a Muslim population seeking life among “infidels” in the West over their self-styled “caliphate.”

By refusing to close our borders to those fleeing ISIL’s savagery and embracing refugees, Canada is actively disproving the lie ISIL relies on to recruit the disaffected: That Muslims are rejected and unwelcome by the Western world, and you can only find your true identity with ISIL.

Ironically, those seeking to stoke anti-refugee sentiment following the terror attacks in Paris – who share xenophobic memes, perpetuate false assertions and outright fabrications from Facebook pages dedicated to churning out anti-Muslim rhetoric – are in fact answering ISIL’s call.

As Doug Saunders, international affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail and author of Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World and The Myth of the Muslim Tide recently noted, “’Judeo-Bolshevism’ was yesterday’s ‘Islamo-fascism,’ used for same restrictive purposes.”

The former: anti-Semitism employed to sow suspicion of Jewish refugees seeking to escape the Nazis, alleging they were agents of communism, part of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow nations, Nazis in disguise or Nazi sympathizers sent to commit sabotage under the guise of seeking asylum.

The latter: a tool of anti-Muslim extremists seeking to stoke Western Islamophobia and anti-refugee hysteria. They insist those seeking to escape the combined barrel bombs of Syrian President Bashar Assad and savagery of ISIL are not legitimate refugees, but harbingers of dangerous ideologies — agents of the Islamic State and its sympathizers seeking to terrorize the West, upend Christian tradition and impose Sharia Law.

Despite such allegations being disproven, those initiating them discredited, these fabrications continue to circulate across social media, remaining particularly pervasive on Facebook due to an unwillingness to challenge friends or relatives who are often ignorant to their deep-seated prejudices.

Avoiding the discomfort of confrontation only serves to foster intolerance, enabling the promotion of hatred against an entire population, which then threatens to impede the successful integration and upward mobilization of the most vulnerable — two key elements in thwarting the isolation which aids in extremism’s pull.

One needn’t be hostile or demeaning when addressing dangerous misinformation shared by a friend. Simply linking directly to a reputable source which corrects the record, along with a brief summary, is sufficient. Even if the comment is disregarded by the colleague, others who come across the post might explore the facts further, and may go on to then correct the record on another timeline.

Just as bigotry is learned, so is acceptance. Intolerance cannot be ignored away, but it can be educated into submission. The presentation of facts in the face of irrational and misplaced fears, when combined with patient and constructive dialogue, is remarkably effective in achieving understanding.

If you’ve yet to find a part to play in Canada’s internationally acclaimed national refugee project, consider this your starring role.

Need To Know: On Syria And The Migrant/Refugee Crisis

This was initially meant to be a lengthy Facebook post for those who look to me for information on complex matters (which I do happily, by request). However, it received such appreciation and requests to make it open to all (which I eventually did) that I thought I’d post it here, too, but with additional links/further info for those seeking a one-stop landing for information on the issue.


Here’s a round-up of information on the current migrant/refugee crisis, the impossible situation in the Middle East driving it, and what – if anything – can/should be done.

First off, however, regarding the loathesome, xenophobic memes making the rounds, courtesy of extremist websites/blogs, FB pages, and media personalities:

The FB page I’ve seen many sharing patently fake anti-Mulsim nonsense from – Britain First – is a NEO-NAZI OPERATION. It’s a white-supermacist organization, full-stop. If you find yourself sharing anything from that page/site – especially when it comes to anything about Muslims or Islam – perhaps you need to re-examine your own values before calling into question the beliefs of others.

A few helpful links on that:

1. http://www.channel4.com/news/britain-first-far-right-anti-muslim-extremists-mosques
2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/25/truth-britain-first-facebook-far-right-bnp
3. http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/britain-first-has-quietly-become-the-most-popular-uk-politic

The same goes for the bigotry emanating from other notoriously-ignorant FB pages – Right Wing News, Chicks On The Right, The Blaze (Glenn Beck’s operation), Fox News, The Rebel, Atlas Shrugged – or the personal pages of disgraced conservative figures like Allen West, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, Franklin Graham, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ezra Levant, Brian Lilley, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with being C/conservative, or holding a C/conservative world view. That’s not who these people are, nor what they represent. All of the above are part of a hateful segment which no respectable person takes seriously.

Granted, once in a while a few of those pages might post something innocuous (often one of those feel-good viral memes from other sites). That’s fine. It’s their intentional misinformation and fomenting of hatred that’s the problem.

There are reputable C/conservative publications / personalities in existence. These are not them.

A few quick (but hardly thorough) links debunking some of the most-shared — and so obviously BS — anti-refugee memes:

1. http://www.vice.com/read/kleinfeld-refugee-memes-debunking-846

2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/no-that-viral-image-doesnt-show-an-islamic-state-fighter-among-europes-refugees/

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/surprised-that-syrian-refugees-have-smartphones-well-sorry-to-break-this-to-you-but-youre-an-idiot-10489719.html

And related: http://www.vice.com/read/debunking-the-racist-memes-passed-around-by-the-nativist-right-765

Here’s Shannon Gormley, deftly tackling the xenophobic nonsense: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/gormley-yes-lets-be-rational-about-the-syrian-refugee-crisis

And now…

The full story of the boy whose death woke the world up to the already years-long humanitarian catastrophe: http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/inside-the-tragedy-that-woke-up-the-world/

One of just many reports by Terry Glavin, who broke the Kurdi story: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/glavin-lets-talk-about-the-kurdi-family-we-did-turn-away

A simple (but in being simple, not nearly thorough) explanation of why people are fleeing Syria: http://www.vox.com/2015/9/4/9261971/syria-refugee-war

More on that, with a deeper look at the death toll of ISIS versus the death toll of Syria’s Assad regime (Spoiler: ISIS isn’t the problem): https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/islamic-state-has-killed-many-syrians-but-assads-forces-have-killed-even-more/2015/09/05/b8150d0c-4d85-11e5-80c2-106ea7fb80d4_story.html

A phenomenal visualization of the death toll from Syria’s ISIS/Assad civil war: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-war-deaths.html

In the war on ISIS: Friends, foes and in between http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/in-the-war-on-isis-friends-foes-and-in-between/

The new Cold War in the Middle East: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/21/moscow-relishes-revamped-role-in-mideast-as-israel-seeks-assurances-in-syria/

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/22/putin-russia-syria-assad-iran-islamic-state/

“Why can’t they just go home”? Because THERE IS NO HOME TO GO TO.

1. https://twitter.com/sommervillebbc/status/639486321732526081

2. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/12/world/middleeast/syria-civil-war-damage-maps.html

Liz Sly, on the emptying of Syria: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syria-is-emptying/2015/09/14/2b457a86-534f-11e5-b225-90edbd49f362_story.html

Her photo essay on children who only know life inside refugee camps: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/the-faces-of-syrian-children-who-only-know-life-in-a-refugee-camp/

And her early – and important – examination of the refugee crisis looming in the Middle East:

A must-see photo gallery of Syria’s children, and the hell they’re living: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/08/syrias-children/402583/

The nightmare that is life for those who’ve not fled: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/middleeast/for-those-who-remain-in-syria-daily-life-is-a-nightmare.html

And the dilemma many are faced with: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/in-syria-many-families-face-a-terrible-dilemma

After 4 years of conflict, more than half of Syria’s population of 22 million have been driven out: http://graphics.latimes.com/syria-to-greece/

On that note: It’s not just Syria, or migrants from Syria. We are also involved/supporting/enabling the bombing/destruction of Yemen

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/world/middleeast/airstrikes-hit-civilians-yemen-war.html

2. https://theintercept.com/2015/09/01/yemen-hidden-war-saudi-coalition-killing-civilians/

And, of course, Afghanistan, Iraq …

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/asia/afghanistan-migrant-kunduz-iran-europe.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur

2. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/europes-refugee-crisis-isnt-only-about-syria-iraq-afghans/?wp_login_redirect=0

Some Iraqis are abandoning the fight against ISIS for safety in Europe: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/21/us-europe-migrants-iraq-military-insight-idUSKCN0RK0EB20150921

Afghan NATO translators who helped coalition forces are having to take illegal routes West after having their asylum applications rejected: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/serbia/11878114/The-Afghan-Nato-interpreters-forced-to-walk-through-Europe-for-refugee-status.html

To those demanding to know “why aren’t Muslim countries doing anything?!”

Uh, they are.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. http://trib.al/H6RuaiW

Lebanon, Turkey & Jordan have taken so many refugees that it’s changing their demographics. http://on.rand.org/SmFCy

More: https://twitter.com/LATimesGraphics/status/644889552901963776

The tragic lives of refugee children in Lebanon. http://lifeonhold.aljazeera.com/

Meanwhile, after being shuttled on trains and branded with numbers, refugees are being housed in former concentration camps. Yes, you read that right.

1. https://twitter.com/JeffreyGoldberg/status/639600506705473536

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/world/europe/czech-republic-criticized-after-officers-mark-migrants-with-numbers.html

3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/19/the-refugees-who-live-at-dachau

Some key explainers on the many factors fuelling the crisis:

1. U.N. Funding Shortfalls and Cuts in Refugee Aid Fuel Exodus to Europe: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/un-funding-shortfalls-and-cuts-in-refugee-aid-fuel-exodus-to-europe.html

2. Why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-real-reasons-why-migrants-risk-everything-for-a-new-life-elsewhere/article24105000/

3. 8 reasons the refugee crisis is happening now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/18/8-reasons-why-europes-refugee-crisis-is-happening-now/

4. The migrant crisis: here’s why it’s not what you think – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europes-migrant-crisis-eight-reasons-its-not-what-youthink/article26194675/

What can WE do? Two of the most respectable voices in Canada:

1. Roméo Dallaire: Response to Syrian refugees ‘atrocious’: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/romeo-dallaire-response-to-syrian-refugees-atrocious/

More: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-romeo-dallaire-syrian-refugees-1.3228123#pq=BTWEGU

2. Great interview with former chief of defence Rick Hillier: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-rick-hillier-refugees-military-christmas-1.3225732

Asylum seekers will keep coming, regardless of the chilly welcome from the West: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/parnesh-sharma-the-asylum-seekers-will-keep-coming-regardless-of-the-chilly-welcome-from-the-west

We should – and can – take in 20 times more refugees: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-canada-should-take-in-20-times-more-refugees/

Excellent primer from Laura Payton on where Canadian policy stands: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/refugees-primer/

Glavin, on the Conservative’s recent policy change: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/glavin-conservatives-finally-take-responsibility-for-the-roadblock-facing-syrian-refugees

Meanwhile, refugees are left to plead for family reunification: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/refugees-plead-for-family-reunification/article26466051/

A group of notables lay out eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/eight-steps-to-get-more-syrian-refugees-into-canada/article26356841/

Refugees are, in fact, a huge economic and cultural boon to society — not a burden. They are not welfare-seekers.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/opinion/europe-should-see-refugees-as-a-boon-not-a-burden.html?_r=0

Why our chance to help those in desperate need is also a potentially historic economic opportunity:

And no, we do not give refugees better health care or government services than citizens receive

1. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/jonathan-kay-the-refugee-health-care-decision-lays-bare-harpers-creed-punitive-moral-absolutism

2. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/do-the-cuts-to-refugee-health-care-make-sense/

3. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/refugee-rules-are-bad-policy-legal-or-not

4. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-government-policy-on-refugee-health-care-exposed-as-heartless-and-shameful

No matter the nonsense which continues to come from the current Conservative government: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservatives-flyers-survey-refugees-1.3217603

Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/harper-says-only-bogus-refugees-are-denied-health-care-hes-wrong/

Why how we refer to those seeking asylum matters: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/migrants-refugees-europe-syria.html

On fears of radicalization – nothing fights radicalization like opportunity.

Compassion towards needy Muslims is part of the antidote to a hateful jihadist ideology http://econ.trib.al/wIk3K1x

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/the-donald-versus-the-scriptures-migrants-refugees/

Things to note re: the claims of ISIS infiltrating migrants.

1. https://twitter.com/DougSaunders/status/643947905594822656

2. https://twitter.com/a_picazo/status/643949522968690688

3. https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/644614714958475264

ISIS doesn’t want Syrian migrants to flock to Europe, either: http://theweek.com/speedreads/578405/isis-doesnt-want-syrian-migrants-flock-europe-either

More: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/aylan-kurdi-isis-propaganda-dabiq/404911/

Further reading – Follow the journey of the refugees with these in-depth journals:

1. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants

2. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/balkan-odyssey-a-desperate-journey-through-centraleurope/article26438596/

Canadian Immigration, Conservative Xenophobia

In the United States, debate surrounding Arizona’s new harsh immigration policy – the ‘papers please‘ law – moved from arguing the merits, necessity and constitutionality of SB1070, to a nonsensical discussion about the 14th amendment; the part of the constitution which guarantees American citizenship to all persons born in the United States. Republican lawmakers, seemingly unsatisfied with even the most draconian elements of the ‘papers please’ law, felt it necessary to take immigration reform to the extreme, calling for a repeal of the 14th amendment.

Explanations given to justify the radical proposal have ranged from the farcical (‘anchor babies‘), to the downright hysterical (‘terror babies‘). Less conspiratorial, but equally inaccurate, is the mysterious ‘crime wave‘ Republicans argue demonstrates the need for immigration policy overkill. This argument was recently discussed, and debunked, on the Rachel Maddow Show:

MADDOW: You might have also heard the one about Phoenix, Arizona, now being the number two kidnapping capital of the world.That‘s become a mainstream conservative talking point trotted out over and over again by Republicans. But when PolitiFact, Texas checked out that claimed when it was made by the lieutenant governor of Texas in June, they found it to be, and I quote, ‘false.’ Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain repeated it a few weeks later on Meet the Press.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Why is it that Phoenix, Arizona, is the number two kidnapping capital of the world? Does that mean our border is safe? Of course not.


MADDOW: Same claim, same results-and I quote, ‘false,’ according to PolitiFact. Despite that, Republican Senator Jon Kyl, undaunted, is still going for it.


SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Phoenix is a very large source of kidnapping. It‘s called the kidnapping capital of the United States.


MADDOW: It‘s like it‘s too good of a talking point to stop using it even though it‘s not true. Jon Kyl also distinguished himself by going to great detail about how awful illegal immigration has made crime in his home state of Arizona-a state you would think he would take care to know some factual things about.


HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: In some of these border towns that were thought to be susceptible to lawbreaking of illegal immigrants, the crime is actually down. Crime in Phoenix, for instance, is down significantly over the last couple of years.

KYL: Well, that‘s a-that‘s a gross generalization. Property crimes are up. Certain property crimes on certain parts of the citizenry are up.


MADDOW: Property crimes are up, violent crimes are up-define up, Senator Kyl. Let‘s take property crimes first. There were about 231,000 property crimes in the state of Arizona last year, in 2009. That was down from the year before, which had about 262,000 property crimes-a number that was down from the year before that, which was down from the year before that. Property crimes there, down in Arizona right now.
Senator Kyl also mentioned violent crimes being up. Let‘s have a look at what he thinks about up in this context. In 2009, there were 26,000 violent crime offenses in Arizona, a number down from the year before, which was also down from the year before that, which happened to be down from the year before that.
So, down, down, down, down, down-also known in anti-immigrant white people politics as up.


MCCAIN: The United States of America has an unsecured border between Arizona and Mexico which has led to violence, the worst I have ever seen, and numbers that stagger those who are unfamiliar with the issues.


MADDOW: Yes, they are staggering numbers-for the exact opposite reason of what you mean.Whether or not you want to run on an anti-immigrant platform is up to you. It‘s a political decision. Everyone gets to choose their own political strategy. But as they say, you do not get to choose your own facts.

The common thread linking the various Republican arguments for repealing the 14th amendment is fear – fear of non-white citizens; fear of men, women, and even children, who ‘don’t look like you.‘ To justify their deeply held anti-immigration ideology, Republicans are presenting misinformation as fact, disseminating fear as a means to a legislative end.

Canada, for the most part, has been immune to such radical immigration demagoguery, as we are a nation built on immigration; from the Europeans who first explored in the 15th century, to the estimated 1.5 million displaced persons, war brides, evacuated children, and refugees who passed through Pier 21 – the gateway to Canada – between the years of 1928 and 1971.

Canada’s history of immigration is so cherished, the stories of migrants so important, that on June 25, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper designated Pier 21 as a National Museum of Immigration.

“No country in the world has benefited more than Canada from free and open immigration,” Harper declared. “In every region and across all professions, new Canadians make major contributions to our culture, economy and way of life. It takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family. Anybody who makes the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

What a difference a year makes.

The harrowing voyage of the MV Sun Sea, in which 492 Tamil refugees endured months of squalor in dangerous waters to escape “mass murders, disappearances and extortion” following 25 years of brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, mirrors the experience of so many migrants who passed through Pier 21.

However, unlike Pier 21, there were no counsellors waiting to hear the Sri Lankan’s stories; no team of volunteers eager to swiftly process and fairly evaluate the prospective new residents. Instead, the men, women and children aboard the MV Sun Sea arrived to allegations, leveled by the Harper government, of ties to terrorism and human trafficking; accused by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews of being a “test boat” for an apparent mass immigration conspiracy.

As for the Prime Minister, compare the above remarks made at Pier 21 just fourteen months ago, to this statement he gave following the arrival of the MV Sun Sea:

“Canadians are pretty concerned when a whole boat of people comes – not through any normal application process, not through any normal arrival channel – and just simply lands.

We are responsible for the security of our borders, and the ability to welcome people, or not welcome people, when they come. This trend gives us some significant concern, and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary going forward … We will not hesitate to strengthen the laws if we have to.”

So Harper, who one year ago asserted “it takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family,” no longer feels those “who make the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

Instead, he seems to have adopted the Republican ‘immigrants are scary’ mantra; using the MV Sun Sea as a political prop in an effort to appear ‘tough on immigration.’ Furthermore, like his ideological equals to the South, Harper has proposed changing existing legislation to suit his ideology; specifically the 1985 Supreme Court Ruling which guarantees constitutional charter rights to refugee claimants in Canada.

The Conservatives’ anti-immigration demagoguery has been amplified by Sun Media (QMI), the organization known as Fox News North, now headed by Harper’s former director of communications Kory Teneycke. Sun Media (QMI) has fervently tried to vilify, discredit, and slander the Sri Lankan migrants, even going so far as to incite violence against future refugees.

The xenophobia propagated by both the Harper government and their colleagues in the press is disgraceful to who we are as a nation. It is an insult to our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who went to great lengths to journey here; who are among the proudest residents to call Canada home.

To discredit those who seek refuge within Canadian borders, fleeing circumstances such as war, poverty, oppression, and corruption, before they have a chance to present their case, does a great disservice to the generations of migrant Canadians on which the Country was built.

Those who’ve attacked the migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea would be wise to listen to the stories of past immigrants, for “too many people in Canada forget that people crawl across minefields to get here.” ~ Ignat Kaneff, Bulgarian born Great Canadian.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

This is the ‘General cc Ballou’, the ship that carried my Polish grandparents to Pier 21 from a camp in Germany following the Second World War.



I encourage you to read the personal accounts of those who came to Canada through Pier 21 HERE. It’s a proud part of our history.