Recently I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with a Syrian family that arrived in Canada from Jordan about a month and a half ago. Myself and the volunteers I work with are tasked over the next year to help them settle into Canada. I will tell you that it is not easy – while these families get lots of support, they don’t get any luxuries and are essentially living in poverty. We aren’t creating touching Tim Hortons commercials here – it’s a lot of work on both sides and it’s not always smooth. But ultimately it is rewarding because Canada is trying to provide them a place of safety, a place of refuge, a place where they can raise and educate their children while their own country falls apart. Through fits and starts they are making progress.
I haven’t gotten to know the family well yet, but from what I have learned, they have gone through stuff that you and I can only imagine. I will safely say that none of the people that will read this blog post have ever had their homes destroyed or had close civilian family members killed in war – but they have. They are the faces and the emotion behind the statistics and facts that are the Syrian war. While they feel safe here there are still the loved ones left behind in Syria that are effectively trapped in a failed state with extreme violence and so there is still a burden they carry that includes a whole lot of worry and angst.
Earlier today Leanne and I were at the family’s house helping them with some furniture. Outside the family’s sons were playing hockey with some sticks that they were recently given. At one point, they called upon their Syrian neighbour to drop the ball for a faceoff. It was a beautiful classic piece of Canadiana. Each of the boys has already been out skating with their school and for all we can tell, they are adapting well. Through all of the stuff they have been through, they are still able to experience joy in our country and frankly I feel blessed to have seen it first hand.
This experience juxtaposes jarringly with recent events. Trump’s racist policies with his Muslim ban has spawned outrage across the US and Canada. In Canada, it also spawned our worst character trait – smugness – to rise up. We think we are better than the States because we would never enact such a policy and better yet, we open our arms up to refugees. It can be nauseating to be honest.
And then tonight happened. A Canadian terrorist opened fire in a mosque outside of Quebec City and killed a number of people. The perpetrators likely killed more Muslims in one act of violence than Islamic terrorists have killed Canadians over the last 15 years. And our smugness disappeared and now we must face a reality that we are not as good as we think we are. The fact is, we can’t be smug because we need to be vigilant. The fact is, this kind of violence was enabled in large part on a disturbing reality that has been building for years. The Stephen Harper Conservatives ran with a platform that featured the Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline and a vendetta against Niqabs and nearly won the election. Kellie Leitch, with the assistance of her scum bag campaign manager Nick Kouvalis are running a campaign for the Canadian leadership based on thinly veiled racism masked through a Canadian Values Test for newcomers to Canada. Quebec had the Bouchard Taylor Commission that focused attention on growing intolerance in Quebec and subsequently brought out the worst of Quebec society in public hearings. Ezra Levant has a small but loyal following despite the crap he continually spews. People set fire to a mosque in Peterborough. I have seen examples of casual racism from people I am acquainted with on Facebook who live in Kamloops.
What I am saying is that Canada is not immune to racism and yet we often turn a blind eye to it. It is tempting to blame the terrorism experienced in Quebec City on Trump, but we need to own this or else nothing will change. We must not treat this as an isolated incident but rather a culmination of events leading to this.
This brings me back to the family I have the honour of working with. They were brought to Canada so that they could be safe, raise a family, and hopefully prosper. While my exposure has been limited, they have enriched my life and they will enrich our community in due time. This may be an overreaction but my concern is that we, Canada, promised them safety – can we keep this promise in lieu of tonight’s events? Can we tell them not to be fearful when people, terrorists, can go into a mosque and shoot people at prayer? How do we ensure that our Muslim community must not live in fear?