From Double Trouble to Double-Double
Whatever might be said about Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (don’t you just love that title?), nobody can deny that he has so far rolled up his sleeves.
Minister John McCallum, along with the new health and defence ministers, travelled to Amman, Jordan last week to visit the biggest refugee camp in the region and see Canada’s processing centre. And all this while his department has kept things ticking over on the economic immigration and family reunification files.
Right now, however, the primary focus is rightly on refugee settlement, and Mr McCallum has the benefit of knowing that Canadians of all backgrounds and religions are going above and beyond the call of duty to help him out. This help has not come solely in the form of lip service, or sympathy, or pity. Not at all. Canadians have realised that their time is now. They have comprehended that what is required is logistical and material support, not to mention solidarity. They are contacting their municipalities, as well as the provincial and federal governments and private organizations, to find out what they can do to lend a hand. Depending on where they are in Canada, winter is either approaching quickly or has already swooped in.
For many of our neighbours-to-be, this winter may be hugely challenging. But newcomers should know that they won’t be alone.
I read a very moving article in the Globe and Mail just before the Ministers’ visit to Jordan. It was written by Remzi Cej, a refugee who came to Canada in 2000 as a teenager after fleeing Kosovo with his family, and his article took the form of an open letter to Syrian refugees who are due to land in Canada over the coming days, weeks and months.
Mr Cej tells them that landing in Canada and organizing a new life here is “going to be surreal”, but also notes that one of Canada’s core national values is “to give those who need a hand up and to expect only respect in return.”
That latter part is important, because some people are cautious, sceptical, or indeed fully opposed to the new Liberal government’s refugee settlement plan. Mr Cej says it better than I ever could:
“While most Canadians are happy you’re coming here, your refugee status is making some people distrustful of your identity. Some Canadians may think you are bringing violence with you, and don’t see that you are here exactly because you want to escape conflict. Much of that comes from some Canadians’ inability to relate to your experience – some read the news and worry about 25,000 strangers coming to their country. They don’t know that since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States took in over 740,000 refugees, and yet of those, no one was even accused of domestic terrorism.”
In short, there are those who believe that Canada is inviting potential trouble on two fronts. The first — ‘bringing violence’ — has no real basis in fact. Not only are these people the very people escaping violence, but the government of Canada has made it clear that security vetting is a major portion of the settlement plan. The second — the more cryptic ‘worry’ referred to by Mr Cej — could be due to economic or cultural factors. Will they take jobs that could be done by Canadians? Will they ‘fit in’?
Did the Irish eventually fit in and succeed when they came in their droves in the mid-nineteenth century, escaping famine? What of Canada’s Jewish population, or Vietnamese, Hungarian or Kosovar? Did they not only fit in and succeed, but also provide Canada with a distinct advantage over other countries by bringing a fresh perspective, knowledge and ingenuity? Of course they did. My own grandfather, for example, was fortunate enough to benefit from Canada’s hospitality and security when he escaped the pogroms of Russia in the early 1900s.
Closing his article, Mr Cej says ‘Welcome to your new home. I’ll be waiting with a double-double in hand.’ (A double-double is the signature drink of the Tim Hortons coffee house chain, an iconic Canadian institution.)
So to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, let’s get on board with Remzi Cej and reveal to our new neighbours the best of ourselves. Let us be our most welcoming, our most sympathetic, and most helpful selves. Whether it is coffee that is needed, or something a little more substantial, or both, let us show the world how great Canada can be.