Do You Want to Ban Syrian Refugees?

Syrian refugees in a marketplace - a little girl clutching her treasures stares at the camera.

A new public opinion poll was released yesterday that claims that 25% of respondents believe that Canada should adopt a similar ban on Syrian refugees that has been enacted in the United States. No matter how you look at it, that is a significant number of people advocating the ban.

I recall that Canadians were informed a year ago that there is a strict set of protocols in place that prospective refugees must pass through before being granted admittance into Canada. These rules screen applicants to defend Canadian society from mistakenly admitting terrorists onto our soil. Is it 100% effective? Is it an iron-clad guarantee? Probably not, but then again, guarantees like that do not exist in reality anyway.

It would be very easy for me to pass judgment on Canadians I know nothing about and have never met, and say that they are uninformed, racists, or any number of other labels I could toss out. The fact that they feel this way saddens me. We Canadians are a nation of immigrants. Some of us came as refugees, others arrived through regular immigration channels. This country owes its greatness to its people – the immigrants.

I live in Waterloo, Ontario, a city and region that carries the distinction as “Silicon Valley North” – due to our high-tech industry. If you wander through any of these companies in the region, you will find very highly educated and highly skilled workers who represent many ethnicities and religions. I have some idea from my personal experience driving a dealership shuttle delivering customers to these workplaces for almost four years. If these people or their families had been banned, where would Waterloo Region be today?

I am the proud grandson of an Italian immigrant who arrived in Toronto in 1912 – just two years before World War I erupted. I had an interesting conversation this very morning with a friend who emigrated to Canada with her family from Liverpool, UK. She told me how tough it was for her family to fit in – and they arrived here in 1963. As she spoke, I couldn’t help but wonder how tough it has been for the Syrian refugees that were admitted to Canada during the last twelve months.

Pierre Trudeau, in 1982, proclaimed that Canada is officially multicultural. What does this mean? It used to be that immigrants were pressured to abandon their native language and culture and embrace a new Canadian cultural identity. I have Italian relatives who anglicised their surnames to better fit in and help their children escape discrimination at the hands of ignorant bullies. Official multiculturalism encourages immigrants to maintain their culture as they embrace a new culture – and share their cultural treasures with other Canadians.

This policy, which is not brand new, gives Canadians a unique opportunity to be a beacon of inclusivism for the world. The world has shrunk because of technology and most countries today are multiethnic entities. As we struggle to get past our own fears, narrow-mindedness, and racist impulses, we can show ourselves and other nations that our shared humanity is the great equalizer. Because we are human, the ethnic and cultural differences are merely incidental – not the great obstacles that too many of us accept as truth.

I suppose I’m a hopeless optimist, but I believe that we (all humans) are better than this. As we see frightened people illegally enter Canada this week through Quebec and Manitoba, we are starting to witness a negative backlash. What if that family that trudged through the snow in sub-zero temperatures was my grandparents shepherding my dad, uncle and two aunts to safety? How can we witness this and then condemn them as unwelcome illegals? Where is our humanity?

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Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

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