Differences are what enrich our lives and make Toronto the fabulous, unique, successful city it is. Xenophobia (a fear or hatred of strangers and foreigners) has no place in a city built upon these differences. It threatens the very core of who we as Torontonians are. It is also what motivated the horrific and unacceptable attack in which a woman was beaten and robbed by two young men. They tore off her hijab and told her to "Go back to your country."
I acknowledge that good, well-meaning people who genuinely care about Syrian refugees can have perfectly valid concerns about the security risk of bringing in tens of thousands of people from a war zone. It is as large an undertaking as it sounds. So, in light of Canadian political leaders playing on Canadians' concerns to spread fear and disinformation, I decided to research how Canada screens, accepts and settles Syrian refugees. It is my hope we can dispel fear and confusion with facts, reason and compassion.
Those who were indifferent before the Paris attacks are now outspoken critics of Prime Minister Trudeau's commitment to accept 25,000 refugees and bring our CF-18's home. Some of the comments I have seen are downright vitriolic. It has been suggested to me by a number of people that we re-consider reminding people at this time that we're sponsoring a refugee family. It might be bad for business and could alienate more than a few friends. I find it incredibly sad that the current state of affairs is such that I have even faint concerns about a backlash for my desire to help those in need. I certainly won't let it deter me.
It has been said that being chosen to come to Canada as one of the 25,000 Syrian refugees the Liberals have pledged to take in by the year's end is akin to winning the lottery. We are incredibly blessed to live in this extraordinary country, to put our children to bed with full bellies, to send them to school, to take them to a doctor when they are ill and to feel safe in our homes and our streets. And now we are also fortunate to be able to share some of those blessings with those in dire need.
With the defeat of the New Democratic Party last month, it's clear that the Canadian left must adjust their strategy. Part of this new strategy needs to support the development of progressive, grassroots immigrant power to counter the presence of more conservative and moderate elements within these communities.
While we may find that there are some dangerous strangers, to decide that we should make negative assumptions about everyone we do not know is downright foolish. It is time to go back to celebrating the fact that our Canada is a welcoming and tolerant country in which we raise our children to respect and include all of us.
We've figured out a simple truth: we're in this together. Our neighbour's strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us. But this is incredibly fragile. It must be protected always from the voices of intolerance, divisiveness, small-mindedness, and hatred. It's the right thing to do.
What is most telling is that even given the divisive and downright xenophobic campaign the Conservatives have run thus far, they are still within striking distance to form government. This carefully crafted U.S.-style Republican narrative has set Canada on an extremely dangerous course, and one that only Canadian voters can steer back to the right path. From "old stock Canadians" deserving of greater government benefits, to the ridiculous niqab debate, to the absurd hotline dedicated to reporting "culturally barbaric" practices, the Conservatives are pulling no punches in their quest to mobilize their voter base.
Be aware that, in our midst, a group of Canadian citizens are being dehumanized. History has shown us over and over again that this leads to oppression, hatred, and violence. Move past your knee-jerk reaction of protectionism. Don't be fooled by rhetoric. Understand that to that Muslim woman wearing the niqab, not being able to choose what she wears is oppression, even if it makes you personally uncomfortable.
Aside from the ludicrous notion that anyone other than Canada's Native population is truly "old-stock Canadians," there is a certain divisive, chamber-pot snobbery to the term. It's not a celebration of "lineage," it's a wedge. It has no use other than to separate the speaker from others. Without even having to wonder why it was never used in our house, I know that my parents would have considered it vulgar. We are all "old-stock" Canadians, no matter where we're from, or how recently we've arrived.
There are a range of reasons people have asked me about my background and reasons I'm curious about yours. Maybe I've traveled to your country of heritage and would like to share my experience; I'd like to visit one day and would welcome your insights. We shouldn't have to pretend not to see skin colour, hear accents, or recognize features. No, we're not all the same -- but why is that the goal?
In response to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, our current Canadian government has reluctantly offered some support. We shall, according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accept 10,000 refugees over the next three years. As medical students committed to global health, we call into question this lukewarm commitment to such a pressing crisis and call for stronger commitments in line with Canada's values.
The photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach awakened many voters to the human cost of our hardened, fear-based approach to immigration and foreign policy. But equally important and more difficult to acknowledge is the way the refugee crisis has cast an uncomfortable light on the question of who "we" are, and how our laws make us. To understand the anemic Canadian response to the refugee crisis, we must place it in the context of a broader policy overhaul that has radically reshaped the meaning of citizenship in Canada.
The Harper government's attempt to frighten voters should be recognized for what it is -- baseless propaganda designed to woo votes in the midst of an election. While there will undoubtedly be some undesirables in the refugee crowd, our immigration processes are perfectly capable of flagging and filtering out those risks. Canadian lives will not be threatened if we let in Syrian refugees. The irony, however, is that the lives of Canadians and our European friends may well be threatened if we do not. The tide of undocumented refugees will continue to flow into Europe if we fail to provide an alternative exit to those refugees still struggling to survive in camps in Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East.
I am a first generation Canadian, the son of a refugee, taken in by Canada and given the chance at a better life. It is a testament to my father's success that I grew up in privilege and comfort. I don't know what it is like to have nothing. By any standard, I am blessed. There are no simple answers to the migrant crisis unfolding in many corners of the world. But at its root this is an economic problem. People living in poverty want a better life. They want my life, the life I enjoy because Canada let my father in as a refugee 60 years ago.