The news, including our own front page story this week, is full of stories these days about the preparations for and arrival of Canada’s newest citizens, many of them refugees from wartorn Syria.
The stories are heartwarming and hopeful: Toronto schoolchildren learning to sing a welcome song in Arabic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally greeting new arrivals at the airport and the frenetic gathering of furniture, housewares, clothing and money taking place in small towns organizing sponsorships.
It is an abrupt reversal of the headlines during our recent federal election campaign, a face of Canada that was fearful and threatened by the prospect of inviting strangers into our midst.
Although it ultimately backfired on the Harper government’s re-election bid, the niqab issue that dominated in the later half of the campaign did this country a favour. It drew a toxic undercurrent in Canadian society to the surface like a festering sliver. Many were shocked at the deeply rooted bias of friends and neighbours. Although those feelings haven’t disappeared, they are now in the open.
In the end, the majority of Canadians decided this wasn’t the face of their country they wanted to show the world. We hope the same will happen for our neighbours to the south, where Donald Trump is actually supporting the terrorist cause by representing a face of America that its enemies want new recruits to see.
It’s important to remember that all the hard work and generosity that is going into helping new Canadians settle in is only the beginning. As communities that have done this before already know, supporting refugees as they adapt to their new country is a long-term commitment that extends far beyond providing physical infrastructure and financial support for the first year.
The newcomers will need language training, job skills and help adapting to their cold and snowy new climate.
Rural sponsors can help youth find activities and friends that steer them away harmful alliances. Street gangs are the antithesis of team sports, but strangely both meet a basic human need for connection and feeling that one belongs.
Those who see downsides to welcoming newcomers to our land have a point. It is risky. Not everyone will stay in the communities that adopted them. Not all will successfully resettle.
It may change ‘our’ country. But this country has been changing since the first Europeans arrived.
There are also rewards. Newcomers — many of them farmers — could bring relief to industries, including agriculture, that are chronically short of workers. Many will bring skills that are needed in our rural communities, not to mention children to keep schools operating and consumers to support local businesses.
Roméo Dallaire, the retired military commander and humanitarian, asked this question of the GrowCanada conference hosted by CropLife Canada in Calgary earlier this month: Is humanity to survive the future, or will it thrive?
For him, it is the defining question of our time. How we answer determines whether we will seek solutions to the world’s problems or retreat behind defensive walls in a bid to be the last ones standing.
“It is a fundamental ethos of your being,” he said. “If you take the very pejorative position that we are in survival mode, you are not going to lead the future, you are going to manage it.”
The second question he asked of his audience was this: Are all humans, human?
If we truly see all humans as human, then how can we not offer those in need what is in our power to give?
Not to take away from the generosity of Canada’s donors and sponsors, it mustn’t end with the household furniture and spare pots and pans we offer up. People will need more and there will be more who need to come.
Reuters reported during the recent climate talks in Paris that environmental refugees created as weather extremes strengthen and oceans rise around the world, could dwarf existing flows of refugees from conflict.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said last year 11 million people fled conflict or violence in Syria, Afghanistan and other troubled regions of the world. The average number of people displaced by natural disasters, including floods, storms and droughts, has averaged 22.5 million a year since 2008, and that number is growing.
Canada is one of the few regions of the world that could see overall benefits from climate change. It is a highly developed country with a well-functioning democracy. One of the few resources it remains short of — is people.
One of the many ways Canada can lead in this troubled world is by becoming a place of refuge.
All of us at the Manitoba Co-operator wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.