"Diversity Our Strength." Toronto's motto, that is the thought that I keep coming back to. Our city is made of communities of people that look different, sound different and worship differently. Those 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 Flemingdon Park on Monday afternoon 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 know we all recognize that this is wrong. It is wrong on so many levels. First of all, the victim is a member of a family that has lived in Toronto, in Flemingdon Park, for 40 years. The victim is neither strange, nor foreign. Secondly, the act is a serious crime and police will treat it as such. They have been very clear that this will be treated as a hate crime.
Perhaps most important of all, this attack is what experts tell us the terrorists in Paris and ISIS are hoping will happen all over the world. A complete collapse of social cohesion and tolerance suits their agenda just fine.
In your neighbourhoods, at your places of worship, schools, ratepayer and community groups, you can help. When you hear fear or hatred spoken around you, if it feels safe to do so, say you don't think that kind of talk is helpful.
Remind them that this is not in keeping with our tradition of a welcoming Canada. It's fine to acknowledge peoples' worries but follow up by suggesting they reach out to local groups helping with refugee efforts in order to gain understanding. Getting to know what people have witnessed at the hands of terrorists will help us understand why Canada had to join other world leaders in extending an offer to receive Syrian refugees.
Ultimately, Toronto will become home to many of these people. This is nothing new for Toronto. Jewish refugees settled here during the Second World War. In the 1950s tens of thousands of Hungarians found refuge in Canada, as did the Vietnamese boat people who arrived in the 1970s. Our friends, our coworkers and our neighbours include people who descended from or who actually were refugees of wars and political coups.
So consider this: What if the federal and provincial efforts bring energetic new levels of support to cities like Toronto dealing with the influx? What if these efforts lead to what we have been asking for all along, namely new aid in the creation of affordable housing, social housing and job creation? What if we start thinking about immigrant and refugee communities as holding value by strengthening us through diversity?
Diversity Our Strength.
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