Do we really remember?

 “He doesn’t walk alone. Not to his convenience store in the morning. Not to his apartment at night. Not anymore. When Tipu Sultan Mirza Mohamed moves, three or four fellow immigrants from Bangladesh move with him.

 Protection. The Bangladeshis of Athens now travel in packs because the thugs travel in packs.

 In the past month, supporters of Golden Dawn, the virulently anti-immigrant far-right party whose logo is a modified swastika have beaten, among many others, an Egyptian fisherman sleeping on his roof, two Algerians sleeping near a beach, a Pakistani man and Bangladeshi man walking in a subway station, and an Albanian standing on the street.”

  •  Austerity breeds racism, by Daniel Dale, Toronto Star, June 30, 2012

NAZI Germany is a very sensitive topic for many communities. Modern Germans, for example, look at that period with horror. For their grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents participated in some of the worst atrocities known to man.  

I am also very sensitive to that question. For, I am a Canadian of Caribbean Descent whose formative experiences occurred in or around Toronto’s large Jewish Community. Consequently, I have been to more Weddings in Synagogues than in Churches. Therefore, I can say with some certainty that I understand the horrors that humanity can create. For, I talked with Jews about the European Slave Trade and the Holocaust regularly and often interchangeably. In living my life, I have learned why Canada has a diverse population. It was because successive Federal Governments made it possible.

Therefore, I was shocked to see that the Conservatives “lashed out at Papineau MP Justin Trudeau” for accusing the Harper Government of not believing in tikkun olam. (Trudeau ‘tikkun olam’ tweet earns Conservative rebuke, By Joanne Hill, June 28, 2012, Jewish Tribune) For, the actions of the Harper Government speak for themselves. Tikkun olam is a concept in Judaism where Jews are implored to try to “heal, repair and transform the world”. Much like the Christian concept of “Bearing Witness”, the concept of “Tikkun olam”, requires individuals to view and acknowledge the wrong in this world and to do something about it. The recent changes to our immigration law do the exact opposite.

Let us take the specific change in our Immigration Policy which allows the Government to determine whether a country can produce “refugees”. To understand why this portion of the law is problematic, one needs to understand our own history. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, as the impact of the Holocaust was truly being appreciated, governments around the world realized that their immigration policy assisted the NAZI Government in their “Final Solution”. Or put differently, by intentionally barring the immigration of Jews into Canada, many more people lost their lives than was necessary. Progressive Conservative and Liberal Governments agreed that this should have never have been the case. Therefore, they changed our laws to allow for a neutral system. Canada became a sanctuary. When Refugees needed to have protection from their Government, they could come here and have their case assessed. Therefore, the basis of a Refugees’ stay was made on an evaluation of their need and not the politics of the Government in Power.

For, in creating a list of good and bad countries, Politics and Power come into play. For, could one see the Government of Canada listing a friend or ally as a source of refugees. I think not. Canada has had a hard enough time intervening in Rwanda and Sudan, under Liberal and Conservative Governments, when they knew that ethnic cleansing and genocide were happening. Therefore, why would we allow the Government of the Day to choose between Human Rights and International Relations. As we have seen before, International Relations will win every single time.

Well, with the passage of C-31, we have asked future governments to make that choice. For Today, the Federal Government can set-up a list of countries that are deemed to be “safe”. Or put differently, if a “potential refugee” from a “safe” country makes a claim, they can be rejected without a trial or investigation.

Such a system is similar to the one that Jews experience when trying to flee NAZI Germany. And please do not take my word for it. Michael R. Angel of Elizabeth Dafoe Library (University of Manitoba) in the Journal, Manitoba History (Number 7, Spring 1984) wrote a review of a book. It was called None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 and it was written by Irving Abella and Harold Troper.

He wrote the following about the book:

“Recently there has been a flood of books on the Holocaust, but remarkably little has been written on the vigorous efforts of most Allied countries to prevent the victims of Nazi persecution from seeking refuge in their countries. Similarly, much has been made of Canada’s enviable record in aiding the refugees of the world, but until recently commentators have tended to gloss over several major instances in our past which tarnish this supposedly praise-worthy record. Abella and Troper’s book is of particular significance for it is the first in-depth study of an especially shameful incident in Canada’s past—the systematic exclusion of Jews as immigrants or refugees during the years 1933-1948. While there have been previous attempts by members of the Jewish community to document the events and personalities involved, and while the Canadian political scientist, Gerald Dirks has treated the subject in his broader study Canada’s Refugee Policy; Indifference or Optimism?, Abella and Troper’s work is the first to make extensive use of the Canadian public archives, Jewish archives, and personal narratives.”

Now while, I am not claiming that this new Conservative Bill (C-31) will lead to ethnic cleansing, it raises huge concerns from an international public policy point of view. For what happens, if there is a rise of discrimination or ethnic cleansing. Will we just watch the death of thousands or millions of people and then complain about how nothing was done. For that has been our normal response. Canadians watched Hutus and Tutsis kill each other in Rwanda. Canada Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire was commanding a UN Peace Keeping Mission at the time. He called for help. He asked the Canadian Government and the UN high command for help. Nothing was done.

And the truth is that we will likely see more trouble soon. Take Greece as an example. In recent elections the Golden Dawn, a “virulently anti-immigrant far-right party whose logo is a modified swastika”, increased their vote total. In 2009, they received 0.23% of the vote. In the June 17th election, they received 6.92% of the vote. To put that in context, they received more of the popular vote in Greece than the Bloc Quebecois had in Quebec in the 2011 Election. In fact, the Golden Dawn has received more electoral support that the Canadian Green Party has ever received in a Canadian Federal Election. This was even after a Golden Dawn MP assaulted a Communist female MP on live television. In fact, what is scary is that that assault did not appear “to do anything to dampen the party’s popularity”.

While, one does not want to make comparisons with NAZI Germany, it is hard not to. For the Golden Dawn is on the road to power. It has 18 seats in the Greek Parliament and has been pushing is right wing rival, New Democracy, with 30 seats into ever tougher positions. In fact, the Leader of the Golden Dawn displays Hitler’s political treatise Mein Kampf  “at its headquarters, and its leader, Michaloliakos, denies the Holocaust. (Austerity breeds racism, by Daniel Dale, Toronto Star, June 30, 2012) If we truly remembered, the Holocaust, the events in Rwanda or other Genocides, the Canadian Government would have acted, but it has not. The Harper Government has not reminded Europe of its responsibilities or history. Nor have they hinted at any policy changes to deal with a potential issue in the Balkans.

While, the Harper Government points out that “Canada resettles more refugees per capita than almost any other country – one in 10 of all refugees resettled worldwide –..”, it is also true that we are one of the richest countries in the world. We pay less in taxes than most countries in the OECD and we also have one of the few economies in the OECD with a good economic outlook. In fact, since employers constantly talk about the need for workers – both trained and untrained – one could easily make the argument that there is a need for human capital. So why not take in those that others want to chase away.

However, for those who might say that Greece is just a selective example, let us look at the treatment of the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. Like the Jewish People, The Roma – Gypsies – have been persecuted for hundreds of years. Gypsies, like the Jews, also suffered in the Holocaust. They suffered in the same way and had the same end results. The only difference is that after the Holocaust, the Roma did not get their own homeland. So today, they still live in Central and Eastern Europe and are persecuted. The European Union are among the many organizations to recognize their hardship. (Spain’s Tolerance of Gypsies: A Model for Europe?, By Andres Cala, Time.com, Sept. 16, 2010)

So it was not a surprise that they started to come to Canada in droves. However, in doing so, they ran afoul of our perceptions of Modern Europe. Or put differently, instead of looking at their cases individually, Mr. Kenney looked at their plight as an abuse of the system. For, in his mind, Europe would not ethnically cleanse its citizens. Unfortunately, that perception is dead wrong.

Accordingly, we can see that the Harper Government has changed the balance of our immigration system away from a neutral stance. Unless the Harper Government publically admits that our friends and allies could have discrimination in their system, our country might again be destined to repeat our history. Given that in the near past, Canadian Governments have not called out our friends for moral fallings – the poor treatment of Canadian citizens at the hands of the US Government being just one example – one would think that the Canadian Government would be only too happy to ignore the pleas of a persecuted minority, only to apologize twenty, thirty or forty years later for not acting.

Therefore, three possibilities exist. Either the Federal Government is willing to lie or remain ignorant.  Or the Federal Government respects ‘Tikkun Olam’, however, it does not know how to operationalize that philosophy. No matter what the answer is, the Harper Government has shown us that remembering is not enough. For, if we want to protect the Other, we have to act. More importantly, if we don’t act to prevent atrocities, the act of remembrance or the act of highlighting evil acts, like crimes against Humanity or Genocide, is pointless.

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