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.
One of the remarkable characteristics of children is that they remind us of our shared humanity. Children also possess an innate power, through their very existence alone, to incite compassion in even the most hardened of hearts. Perhaps that was the purpose behind yesterdays publication of the photograph of a young Syrian boy named Aylan, whose lifeless body had washed ashore while on a treacherous voyage to Greece. Aylan's photo transcended the statistics we are often presented with. But it is far too easy to become lost in the daily reportage and statistics, and as such overlook the core issues facing the crisis.
Canada offered asylum to a mere 11,000 of the millions of displaced Syrians. Even then, an Ekos poll in March found that 46 per cent of Canadians still feel Canada is accepting too many immigrants and refugees. A poll last year found 42 per cent believe refugees should not be given the same level of health care as Canadian citizens. We don't understand this hardening attitude. Refugees like Nisreen's family aren't criminals or freeloaders. We are just like them. But for the grace of God we could be them.
Yet, it's the luxury liner that brought them here, the beautiful Aquitania, that uniquely captures my attention. Like my family, the ship was tired, battle-weary, but she pushed ahead nonetheless, navigating her way through rough seas, a turbulent winter and plenty of unknowns to reach the final destination. As a proud Canadian and daughter, I'm terribly glad she did.
Canada is a dream come true for those who immigrate here. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the envy of the world. Its multiculturalism welcomes new immigrants with open arms, open hearts and open minds. If new immigrants are to become a part of the Canadian multicultural fabric they must know what their obligations as Canadian resident/citizen would be.
Over the following months in 2001, the violence continued in Burundi between the rebels and the government. My passion for my work diminished. I no longer felt like doing anything. I even stopped watching the news on TV, or even listening to it on my own radio station. Everything looked hopeless. In 2002, some Canadian journalists visited Burundi. If I were going to ask for help, it was now or never. Six months later, they invited me to visit Canada, and I jumped on the opportunity. I arrived in Canada with $60 in my pocket -- my mother's life savings.
You simply cannot live in Canada and ignore the past. It's a pretty strong statement but reading the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Aboriginal residential schools, that's the conclusion I've come to. The truth may be out but the reconciliation is going to take a while. So just as all Canadians share accountability for what is past, we also share a responsibility for making things better.
Throughout our history, Canada has welcomed newcomers with a smile. They were -- and are -- nation builders. Under the Conservatives, this smile has become a scowl and we have unfortunately witnessed a decade of decline in three major areas: family reunification, refugees, and citizenship applicants.
My children and I immigrated to Canada in 2010 as refugees. When we arrived, I was so happy that my kids were in a safe country. In Zimbabwe I remember not being able to cry or find comfort in anyone, because everyone was experiencing their own share of pain and shock. So in April of 2010, after being released from the most recent lock-up, I took my kids at midnight and headed for the border knowing that if I was caught I would be burned alive and killed. Even though I was living with the uncertainty of how my immigration hearing would pan out, watching my kids embrace Canadian culture strengthened me when I was at my weakest point.
I remember so distinctly staring around at the room of Toronto Star editors and the people around me, including my own fellow interns, and I remember the exact moment of realizing that everyone in that room, except me, was white. I often believe its all too easy when you exist as a member of the "other," like a minority community like ours, for someone to cling to the idea of being the "first one," the "only one" and achieve what they can in the world for themselves and then go home with the pride of that recognition and nothing else. What if instead of believing there are limited seats to the table, we all chose to add more chairs?
Logic would dictate that big-earning millionaires continue to earn big after settling in Canada. They might take a pause from their business activities while they settle in to their new country, but it's only a matter of time before the money, and the trickle-down benefits, start flowing, right? Not so.
We need to understand the difference between being separate and being moderate. There is also a need to understand that most Muslim women who don't wear these emblems are still followers of Islam. The conclusion of this debate should be that wearing a particular item of dress should be a person's choice. Showing yourself -- your identity -- should be a choice made by society.
Militias set fire to homes with families still inside. From her safe refuge here in Canada, Dahlia heard the horrific reports and knew she had to get her family out of Syria. But to sponsor them as refugees in Canada would take an agonizing 18 months of bureaucracy and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Dahlia's ordeal raises the question, Are the demands of sponsorship too great for Canadians to bear?
The federal government has finally backtracked on some of their cuts to the refugee health program brought about in 2012. After significant public opposition and a legal challenge on the basis of violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in July 2014, a federal court deemed the cuts to the refugee health program "cruel and unusual" treatment.
The creation of the "temporary" migrant worker programs were at their very core a policy rooted in racist exclusion. And that's exactly where the clock is being turned to today. The shutting out of thousands of racialized women from permanent immigration status is being strangely spun as a step forward. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander insisted, "We are saying to the whole Canadian population, to caregivers above all, the time of abuse and vulnerability is over".
When I am nine, my parents and I immigrate to Canada from the wet, hot, and hurricane-ridden island of Cuba. Before May 31, 2002, I have never stepped beyond my beautiful little island, have never seen a landscape without palm trees or the ocean, have never smelt air that isn't rife with humidity with a hint of dog piss, sea salt, and garbage, and I have never wanted to.
Actions matter more than words, but in his speech to Americans, Obama's words overshadowed his actions. He spoke to hearts and minds, outlining an aspirational set of shared values on immigration. His subtext was 'we're not there yet,' but speaking ten steps ahead of hearts and minds is how to get there.