In Jack Layton’s final letter before died he penned these words: Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.
In the weeks following the election and the defeat of the Harper Conservatives, I have seen and felt a resurgence of my country’s best qualities, qualities I feared might have been lost in the last decade.
It’s unfortunate that it always takes a crisis to show the world (and Canadians) what Canada is truly all about. In this case, it is the Syrian refugees. Like many, I have watched the kneejerk reactions of some people with horror—the fear, the anger, the xenophobia towards Muslims in general and Syrians in particular—but those instances pale in comparison to the numerous acts of generosity and decency towards people in dire need.
Like the synagogue in Peterborough that has offered their space to the Muslim community whose mosque was set on fire; like my friend who is working with three churches and will be hosting a Syrian family in her home; like Jim Estill, CEO of Danby, who is sponsoring 50 families; and the countless other communities and individuals across this vast country of ours who are willing to do the same.
Craig Oliver of CTV put it best when he reminded viewers that during World War II Canada turned away Jews, many of whom were sent back to Europe to their deaths. If we don’t take the Syrian refugees, he said, we have to know what we are sending them back to. Good on you Craig. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I was born and raised in Ottawa. The year I entered high school, several thousand Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees came to our city, thanks to then Mayor Marion Dewar. Now, there’s a woman who had balls. She didn’t consult with the citizens of her city, she knew better. We would take them. She simply called up the federal immigration department and said Ottawa would take 4,000 people.
I’m sure that there were those at the time who feared that Communism would run rampant if we brought in those folks; that didn’t happen. We already had Communists (you could even have voted for them in the last election if you wanted to). These same tired arguments have been made about almost every group that has come to Canada—from the Chinese to the Irish to the Lebanese to the Somalians and now, the Syrians.
I am incredibly lucky to have grown up here. Although in the 1970s Ottawa was still a pretty “white bread” town, my high school was as diverse as it could be at the time. Many of the “boat people” settled in my end of town and their kids went to my high school; our school was one of the few at the time to integrate kids with physical disabilities into regular classes; and our school was represented by who knows how many nationalities. I went to school not giving a rat’s ass about where my classmates came from.
People fear what they don’t understand. There are some who believe that people from other cultures or religions don’t care about their kids like we do; that they don’t want security and happiness like we do; that they don’t want to work like we do. What a pantload. For those who believe that bringing desperate people to our shores will somehow undermine our security, I ask them, beg them, do a little research and remember our history. Jack was right.