Last month, it was quite alarming to learn in an EKOS poll that about 40 percent of Canadians feel there are too many immigrants coming to Canada. In this huge country, with almost 90 percent of Canadians living within 100 miles of the American border and all-time labour shortages, it seems remarkable that anyone could believe we will not need a robust immigration system to increase our country’s productivity and prosperity.
But it gets worse. In an interview with the Huffington Post, EKOS President Frank Graves said, “A sizeable portion of Canadians are using race as something that would alter their view of whether or not there’s too few or too many immigrants coming to the country.”
For Graves, “It’s a pretty clear measure of racial discrimination.”
In the Huffington Post article, “Graves posits the shifts are related to the rise of authoritarian right-wing populism around the world that is more focused on hostility towards outsiders and skepticism of globalization.” He went to say, “Canadians who feel economic despair, that the world is less safe, or that their positions of privilege are threatened by the country’s changing demographics feel more liberated to say, ‘Let’s pull up the drawbridge.’”
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, himself a refugee from Somalia, responded to the poll by urging, “We must remind ourselves that Canada benefits from immigrants, regardless of background, and that when faced with misinformation, we must fight fear with facts.”
The facts are clear. The Canada of today has been built upon the resilience and teachings of the First Peoples of this land, together with the contributions of the courageous people who have left their homelands and chosen to come to Canada in search of a better life.
We have made many mistakes with respect to the settler attitudes of superiority, which created a dark chapter in our history and untold damage to the First Peoples. We must not make new mistakes by “pulling up the drawbridge” and allowing racism and fear of the unknown to hold our country back.
Tailor Project honoured at Holy Blossom Temple
On May 1 — the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day — at Holy Blossom Temple, the Prime Minister, Minister Hussen and I were witness to the most poignant antidote to this threatening racism and xenophobia: The Tailor Project. Larry Enkin unveiled how his vision was realized, sharing the story of the Jewish tailors who were chosen to come to Canada out of the displaced persons camps after the Holocaust. Those tailors, who went on to be such important and influential members of our community, were honoured by the group gathered at Holy Blossom. The stories told by their family members were heartbreaking, and yet totally inspiring. This is now recognized as a proud moment in the history of Canada. As we will #NeverForget the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, we were asked to #AlwaysRemember the leadership and courage of those involved in the Tailor Project.
To add to this extraordinary celebration was the revelation of a social enterprise organized by Paul Klein of Impakt, in which Syrian immigrant tailors are now building a custom shirt-making business.
To see Mohamed Mohamed present the first shirt to Prime Minister Trudeau made the whole room feel it represented the absolute best of Canada.
The Jewish community is enabling our most recent immigrants to apply their talents and contribute in the very same way the post-war Tailor Project had done for their parents and grandparents 70 years ago.
I remember how in 1958 my Aunt Mil, working as a Red Cross volunteer, welcomed the Hungarian refugees arriving by ship in Toronto Harbour. Our country has benefited from waves of refugees. I remember how proud we all were the evening that iconic Vietnamese refugee Kim Phuc was sworn in as a Canadian citizen at Casa Loma. From the Chinese who built our railways, to the Italians and Portuguese who built our homes, we have always made new friends and been enriched by them. It’s wonderful to see the success of new Syrian restaurants Chamsine and Zezafoun in Toronto-St. Paul’s, now offering truly delicious food and great jobs in our neighbourhoods.
It’s our job now. We need to call out racism in all its forms. We need to have the courage to correct misinformation. Social media is a powerful tool, and we need to use it to promote inclusion, tolerance and evidence. As June Callwood used to say, “If you witness injustice, you are not an observer, you are a participant.”
So, let us participate. Let’s engage in our communities. Let’s make new friends.
Let’s fulfil the promise of Canada. The world is counting on us.
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