my mother, the immigrant: the current debate around refugee and immigration policies in Canada

I often joke that one should not read the comments on the CBC website unless the goal is to lose faith in humanity, so it’s not like I’m unaware of the hideous cesspool of racism, sexism, and general hatefulness that roils beneath the seemingly polite surface of Canadian society.

Well, I guess I am still capable of being shocked by my fellow Canadians’ callousness and lack of compassion. I was just listening to The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio, and Michael Enright was reading out listener responses to his essay last week, “Let Them In,” a piece on Canada’s history of helping (and failing to help) refugees. One of the final comments he read out was from Michael Lucas in Banff:

“The more I talk to people, the more I’m convinced you do not speak for the majority. No matter how much CBC tries to sway public opinion. Maybe you yourself can sponsor a few Syrian families then, and you yourself can cover the healthcare costs, and then house their relatives they also want to bring to Canada. They will do what many immigrants have done in the past. Drain our systems, send their money back home, and maybe even move home when they are finished taking advantage of our country. Maybe it’s time Canada take a break on their open door policies for now, and focus on internal problems before worrying about foreign countries/foreigners.”

I hardly know what to say because I am surprised at my own anger over this thoughtless, selfish, hateful comment.

My own mother immigrated to this country nearly 45 years ago. First she was a permanent resident, and then, when I was a child, she gained her citizenship. She has spent nearly two thirds of her life here in Canada, she is very proud to be Canadian, and, in my opinion, has given so much to this country. She has worked hard during all her time here–working at various jobs, many times underemployed because her educational qualifications as a teacher were not recognized here and she could not afford to recertify; raising two children; owning her own small business and working six days a week with my dad until they sold the business and retired. Now that she is retired, she volunteers several times a week at a soup kitchen and at an extended care facility with Alzheimer’s patients.

Is this the picture of someone who is a drain on Canada’s systems? Does it sound like someone who has taken advantage of this country?

My mother’s relatives did indeed follow her to Canada, and as a result, I was surrounded during childhood by a large and loving extended family, able to maintain a connection with my mother’s culture. Like my mother, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins have all contributed to Canadian society in ways large and small. Both my parents, the one who was born here and the one who immigrated here, are equally valuable contributors to Canada. They both care deeply about this country, and they raised me to care about it too.

So, to Mr. Lucas and all your fellow commenters who sneer at immigrants and refugees and want to close our doors: you and Stephen Harper with his comments about “old stock Canadians” should be ashamed of yourselves. I refuse to let you and your xenophobic kind be representative of Canadian opinion on immigrants and refugees. I refuse to let your voices be the loudest. We are a compassionate country, able and willing to extend a hand to those in need from other places that are less safe than Canada. We remember our failure at stepping up to help Jewish refugees in World War II. We are smart enough to know that immigrants and refugees are an integral part of the fabric of Canadian society.

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