Friday, July 16, 2010

Sharing our Canadian Heritage

There was an interesting in the mainstream media late last week about how Canada leads the G8 nations in the number of asylum seekers.

What I always find interesting about reading these articles in various online newspapers are the comments by readers that follow the text. In this particular case, some of the vitriol was quite shocking and along the lines of "send them home, they don't belong here", "they are just here to collect welfare paid for by Canadian taxpayers", "they are going to turn Canada into the same type of sh*thole that they came from" etcetera.

While everyone who comments is anonymous and definitely do not represent a balanced cross section of all Canadians, it does give an interesting sense of where at least part of the Canadian population stands with respect to refugees and immigration policy. Unfortunately for the refugees, many of the innocent refugees and immigrants are tarred with the same brush as those few who are admitted to Canada that do cause problems for themselves after their arrival.

I always try to put the plight of these refugees into perspective. Having lived in Africa, I became close friends with a Tamil couple who were also teachers at the same school where I was posted. They had left Sri Lanka because they had young boys that would have been recruited by the Tamil Tigers and they wished to ensure their safety. The country they had chosen was a move up the economic ladder from their homeland, however, the economy of their adopted country was suffering and they had hoped to immigrate to a developed nation where they would improve their lives and the lives of their sons and where they could establish themselves in a safe environment for the remainder of their lives. They were highly educated and highly motivated and would have made a great contribution to Canada had they chosen to immigrate.

Canadians need to remember that we are all descended from people who were regarded as immigrants by others who were already settled in Canada. I can trace my Canadian origins 14 generations back to the arrival of Louis Hebert and his family who arrived as immigrants in 1617. Like so many other early French settlers, he came to Canada looking for a fresh start and to make his own way in the world. Historians tell us that the early French settlers often owed their lives to the aboriginal residents who helped them adapt to life in New France by teaching them basic agriculture, trapping and fishing. Since that time, there have been many influxes of both refugees and immigrants into Canada; the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists in both Upper and Lower Canada in the late 1700's, the Irish fleeing Ireland in the 1840's because of the potato famine and the Italian immigration of the 1870's and 1880's resulting from the economic and social unrest when Italy was unified. In our lifetimes we had the the post World War II influx of "displaced persons" from eastern Europe and the Baltic States who were fleeing the refugee camps that they had been living in since their homelands were devastated during the war and the influx of Indians during the 1970s after their expulsion from Uganda.

Canada is a great country; in 2009, the United Nations ranked Canada 4th on its Human Development Index (HDI) after Norway, Australia and Iceland. Even the United States is only ranked 13th. The HDI measures life expectancy, adult literacy, enrollment in tertiary education and standard of living related to GDP. Even in comparison to other G8 nations, we have so much to be thankful for.

I really don't think it is too much to ask that we share what we have just as those who were resident in Canada before the arrival of our ancestors shared with them when they landed on our shores with nothing. It is an important part of Canadian heritage as is tolerance.


  1. How many generations do we need to exist as a country before we can stop calling ourselves immigrants? Why must a 14th generation Canadian still preface any statement about their history with the statement that they're still an immigrant? How is this a sensible, or even useful, definition of "immigrant"?

  2. Let me reword that..."descended from immigrants". Please note that I changed the text.

    Thanks for pointing out my foolishness.

  3. It seems to me that the shorter your roots in this country, the more likely you are to want to bang shut the gate. It is counter-intuitive, but unless you're still trying to get some family members in, even first generation Canadians seem to think we have enough immigrants! Okay, the ones I have met and spoken with about this issue appear to feel that way. Really strange.

  4. Canada was not a gift and the natives payed for their kindness in a most negative way. Multi-culturalism was an experiment that has failed. Instead of immigrants becomming Canadian they wanted and still want to hold onto the very culture they left behind. When anyone claims they are Canadian and something else, they are not Canadian, they have not discovered being Canadian and their intent is to maintain their own culture in a place where they can without persecution.

    That doesn't give them room to be Canadian and it leaves Canadian wary.