#RefugeesWelcome

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.

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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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.