Refugees Trying to Escape Violence, Not Stoke It

by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

The online reaction to the horrific events in Paris of November 13 has been a wake-up call for those of us who work in the immigration, race relations and multiculturalism sector.

We thought our work was creating citizens who respect those of different cultures and religions. I believe it has, but lying just under the surface is a minority of people looking for opportunities to vent.

The reporting from Paris has given licence to bigots to take to their computers and demonstrate to the world how ill-informed they are. Even those who should know better, such as the Conservative Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, have joined the fray. In the U.S., Republican governors plan to suspend the acceptance of new Syrian refugees.

Their rant is essentially this:  put a halt to the Syrian refugees coming to North America because there may be terrorists among them. And, by the way, all Muslims are terrorists.

Seriously, people?

Confusing issues

The refugees are trying to escape the violence, not create it. Their country is torn by a civil war, made even more complicated by the presence of Islamic State (ISIS), which consists of gangs of thugs who think, in their twisted minds, that what they are doing is in the name of Islam.

In Peterborough, Ontario, the Paris tragedy gave licence to someone to firebomb a mosque. The community, to its credit, has demonstrated its solidarity with its Muslim citizens.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Immigrants and refugees create jobs and their sons and daughters may be our business, cultural and political leaders of tomorrow. Canada is a nation of immigrants.[/quote]

In my city of North Bay, Ontario, an innocuous news article on November 16 about the status of Syrian refugee families coming to our city brought out the haters with online comments.

Here’s the best one, without alternation to correct for grammatical errors:  “Cannot even believe this. Once these people come over you can be sure I’ll be pulling my kids out of school that’s for sure. Nowhere (sic) in North Bay let alone Canada will be safe anymore.”

Indeed. Beware of a six-year-old struggling to fit in and learn English.

Overblown rhetoric

The paranoia spread by our previous federal government obviously resonated with some all too willing to believe there is a terrorist hiding behind every tree.

Even some of the educated people I know are questioning why Canada should be accepting Syrian refugees, as though the Paris tragedy and the Syrian refugee crisis are related events. They are not.

Yes, a Syrian passport was found near the remains of one of the terrorists. It may have been his, it may have been someone else’s, or it may have been a forgery.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]We need refugees and immigrants in Canada. In Northern Ontario, many cities and towns are looking at declining populations.[/quote]

In any case, the refugees coming to Canada are not those who risked their lives on leaky boats to get to Greece, and then trekked on through country after country to get to Germany. The ones coming to North Bay have been living in Lebanon and have been vetted by the United Nations Refugee Agency and by Canadian immigration officials on the ground.

We are looking at very large families—not single men in their 20s.

Community outpouring

The dozens of people in North Bay and area who have donated $45,000 to date to sponsor refugee families remain committed, despite the backlash. A farming couple from outside the city brought in $1,000 cash and an offer to provide free fresh meat to the families every week.  A hair stylist has offered free haircuts for a year.

There are many good people in our community who don’t bother responding to racist online commentary. They feel it is better to ignore it, rather than fan the flames. In my view, however, there comes a point when you have to call them on it, and we reached that point.

For all you haters, this is directed to you. Stop watching the screaming talking heads on Fox News and CNN and get your news from our good Canadian TV networks. Better yet, pick up a reliable newspaper like the Globe and Mail (and visit this digital platform, NCM).

Informing yourself takes a little more effort than reading your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Do some serious reading before you get on your computer and click the Send button.

We need refugees and immigrants in Canada. In Northern Ontario, many cities and towns are looking at declining populations. Immigrants and refugees create jobs and their sons and daughters may be our business, cultural and political leaders of tomorrow. Canada is a nation of immigrants.

And, for those in Peterborough who firebombed the mosque. You should sit down and have a cup of tea with your new Member of Parliament. She was named to the Trudeau cabinet as Minister of Democratic Institutions. Her name is Maryam Monsef. She came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan. She is Muslim.

Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative, Timmins Local Immigration Partnership and northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.

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Don Curry was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as board chair. He is currently in a program to become  a regulated Canadian immigration consultant.