02/27/2017 11:15 EST | Updated 02/27/2017 11:21 EST

Canada Can Show The World What Strength In Diversity Really Means

As a scientist in training, I appreciate nothing more than an opportunity to share my research with the world. After countless hours in the lab, I was ecstatic to present my work at two conferences and a seminar. I was about to pack my bags when I heard that the new president of the United States had signed an executive order banning individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries. As an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, I was included in the first iteration of that ban. I was disappointed.

canada protest travel ban

Demonstrators gather at the Consulate of the United States of America to protest United States President Donald Trump, in Montreal on Jan. 30, 2017. (Photo: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Soon after I turned on the news, I came across images of helpless Syrian children and desperate women living in unimaginably horrific circumstances. I could almost hear their sobs from their still images. I felt their pain as if it was my own. They were heartbroken; they were just told that the land of opportunity had turned its back on them. But they were innocent, their only crime was the bloodshed they were escaping from.

I did not know what it means to live in war, but I knew someone who did. My great grandmother from my mother's side was a Jewish Russian teenager when her parents were killed during the Second World War. She had sought refuge in the northern parts of Iran. Her wish was granted; however, she was forced to convert to Islam.

Like most refugees, she became a contributor to her community. As a child, I remember she always had difficulties conforming to the Islamic norms that existed in Iran. For instance, on many occasions she would walk outside her house with little to no hijab. Of course, I did not know about her past at the time. It was years later when my family told me about what she had gone through. In a way, perhaps the main reason we moved to Canada was to be able to live in a world synonymous with freedom. I was appalled to witness innocent people sharing the same fate as my great grandmother decades ago. I wondered, have we learned nothing?

The Canadian spirit demands acceptance, and we will be stronger because of it.

A couple of days after the ban was announced, it was reported that Canadian citizens would be exempted from the executive order. While I was relieved to not go through the hassles of canceling flights and hotels, I was far from content. How could I be happy about presenting at a conference when an Iranian infant in need of life-saving surgery was banned? How could I be selfish enough to ignore the countless people being denied the same opportunities that I was given?

For the first time in my life, I began to understand the meaning of depression. But that depression was soon replaced with hope. Maybe it was because I saw people around the world peacefully protesting injustice. Maybe it was because I had received invaluable support from many when I too was banned. Or maybe it was because I am just an optimistic person. However, it is hard to not be inspired when the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that "to those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength."

Strength in diversity is indeed displayed in the current Canadian cabinet. In Canada, you are judged based only on your contributions and qualifications. That is how Harjit Sajjan, a Sikh-Canadian born in India, can become the minster of national defence; or Maryam Monsef, an Iranian-born Afghan, Canadian can become the minister of status of women. Sajjan, Monsef and many others are here because once upon a time Canada welcomed them.

There are many parts of the Middle East that are drowning in war and conflict while many western leaders seem to be in utter negligence. It is time for Canada to lead by example yet again. The Canadian spirit demands acceptance, and we will be stronger because of it.

harjit sajjan

Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Nov. 22, 2016. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Iran will always have a special place in my heart, for it is my birth place. But Canada has raised me to be the man I am today. Canada has taught me that respect is discrimination's kryptonite, and that all people believe in the same fundamental values. We all want to be treated fairly and equally, regardless of the god we may choose to worship. After all, we are all human, first and foremost, and Canada recognizes that principle better than any other nation on earth.

Indeed, I am proud to call myself a Canadian.

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