On #porteouverte, Remembrance Day and Courage: My Opposition to Premier Brad Wall and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean on the issue of Syrian Refugees

“I understand that the overwhelming majority of refugees are fleeing violence and bloodshed and pose no threat to anyone. Your desire to help these people is noble. We share that desire.


However, if even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating. The recent attacks in Paris are a grim reminder of the death and destruction even a small number of malevolent individuals can inflict upon a peaceful country and its citizens. Surely, we do not want to be date-driven or numbers-driven in an endeavour that may affect the safety of our citizens and the security of our country.”


  • Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s Letter to Prime Minister, November 16, 2015, according to CBC News.ca found in the article “Syrian refugee security screening ‘paramount,’ says Health Minister Jane Philpott” (written by Susana Mas CBC News, Nov 16, 2015 11:30 PM ET)



On Remembrance Day – November 11th – we remember and celebrate the courage of our Veterans and the many victims of war. On that day, Regiments like the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers are front of mind because of their heroic stories. In November 1941, the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong to reinforce the British Colony from Japanese incursion. They fought there and many died there. Those regiments were force marched and tortured. Yet, some survived to tell us their truths and experiences. We honour them because they served us.


Those men in World War II fought for their country because their forefathers fought bravely in the Boer War and World War I. Those men who fought in Paardeberg and on Vimy Ridge started a tradition which would stoke a strong hearth. Canadians, after them would fight in Korea and Afghanistan; or they would stand guard between warring nations and communities as Peace Keepers. Those men who fought in the Boer War, in World War I and II taught us that we should stand for our values and remember those who did not survive the battlefield.


Interestingly though, our forefathers were courageous in other ways. Instead of being isolationist – as Brad Wall and Brian Jean wish us to be – between 1956-7, after the Hungarian Revolution, our forefathers welcomed over 30,000 Hungarians into Canada, most settling into Ontario. While, our forefathers probably feared that the Hungarian Refugees could have been infiltrated by Communist and/or Soviet Forces, they still allowed more than 30,000 people to join our Confederation. Therefore, unlike Brad Wall’s recent outbursts on Syrian Immigrants, our forefather put their fears of the worst to one side; and nevertheless, allowed those same Hungarians in.


However, they did not stop there. For, after admitting 5,608 Vietnamese immigrants, between 1979 and 1980, Canada admitted another 50,000 people from Vietnam. These people – the “Boat People” – came from all over Vietnam. Largely unable to speak English or French and without a foundation in Canada, these people enriched Canada and helped to continue our immigrant tradition. Again, these people could have masked possible military or intelligence movements by our temporal enemies:  the Soviet Union, Communist China and Communist Vietnam. While, we now have better relations with all of those countries; at the time, we feared them. Nonetheless, our forefathers did not bow to fear. They let Vietnamese refugees and immigrants into our country. That courage is what I have always taken from Remembrance Day: Canada’s ability to be courageous and strong as well as compassionate to other people in the face of growing inhumanity all around us.


However, let it be clear that Canadians have not always been so courageous. In 1914, because of fear, the Government of Canada refused to allow the Komagata Maru to dock and let off its passengers. There were 376 passengers: 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus. All were British Subjects and they should have been allowed in Canada. Only 24 persons were let off and the ship was forced to return to India. Upon the ships’ return to India, these migrants were seen by the British Raj as being lawbreakers and political agitators. In attempts to arrest these people, 19 were killed and others were imprisoned. It left a scar on British India that Gandhi had to solve. Consequently, because of the fears of Canadians, lives were broken and lost.


In 1939, we said no to a different group. Canadians decided not to accept “907 Jewish refugees aboard the German transatlantic liner St. Louis” who were “seeking sanctuary from Nazi Germany. Canada refused to take them in and the ship sailed back to Europe, where 254 would later die in concentration camps.” (Canada turned away Jewish refugees, by AARON BESWICK TRURO BUREAU, http://thechronicleherald.ca/, Published December 15, 2013 – 7:33pm)


As Canadians, we have apologized for turning back these ships, and others, for years and yet that stain on our history doesn’t fade. For these reasons, we promised to never forget. To never forget, those who fought for our freedom, liberty and values as well as to never forget that we should not turn away those looking for those Canadians values. As Canadians, we agree that one of our most sacred values is to have an open door. Like Parisians in the wake of their terrorist attack, Canadians have had a “porte ouverte” for years.


Brad Wall and Brian Jean may argue that it is unsafe to let in Syrians, but to date our system has worked well. From the millions of people who have become Canadian, few have turned to terrorism. It is true that Charles Yacoub, a man born in Lebanon, took people hostage on a Bus that eventually drove into the Parliament Hill Precinct. Nor can one deny that some naturalized Canadians – immigrants and/or refugees – did participate in the Air India attacks. However, it is equally true that Canadians have also taken to terrorism since 1867.


Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the man who stormed the Parliament Buildings in 2014, was a product of Canada. His act of terror was just the latest in a series of “homegrown” terroristic events. For example, in 1966, a Canadian tried to blow up the Centre Block in 1966. While in 1984, Denis Lortie, a former Canadian Forces corporal, stormed into the National Assembly of Quebec building and opened fire with several firearms. Mr. Lortie killed three Quebec government employees and wounding 13 others. But it doesn’t end there because I have yet to mention the FLQ, Marc Lépine or Kimveer Singh Gill. Canada has its own story of violence which the words of Brad Wall and Brian Jean fail to acknowledge. Mr. Wall’s and Mr. Jean’s proposal to slow or stop Syrian Refugees assumes that immigrants or refugees are the only source of violence and terrorism. Well, the evidence, as well as the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and W.O. Patrice Vincent, indicates otherwise. The Government of Canada has largely screened new Canadians quite well; and equally as important, most newcomers have left their politics in their homeland. Therefore, the potential violence of a few should not stop us from acting to save the many.


That delicate balance of protecting the many is something that Premier Brad Wall is particularly poor at.

In 2012, we found out that Saskatchewan had “the highest rate of drunk-driving deaths of all provinces”.  (Sask. had highest drunk-driving death rate, CBC News.ca, Last Updated: Apr 24, 2012 7:43 AM CT) According to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada report, in 2009, Saskatchewan had 8.44 deaths impaired driving deaths per 100,000 people, while the average in Canada was 3.18. By way of comparison, Ontario had the lowest rate at 2.03 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000. In fact, while the Government of Brad Wall acted after the report, his government had “not enacted any significant initiatives in the” three years before the report.


But it doesn’t end there. Mr. Wall’s province also has some of the highest homicide rates in the country. In 2014, Statistics Canada released the 2013 country wide homicide rates. It was noted that Regina had the highest homicide rate (3.84 per 100,000 population), while the Province of Saskatchewan (2.71 per 100,000) as a whole, only feel behind Manitoba (3.87 per 100,000 population), as being consistently most violent. In fact, Saskatchewan has also suffered whooping cough outbreaks as of late. Consequently, given Mr. Wall management of his own province, one should ask why Mr. Wall is trying to give policy advice to the federal government.


However, I digress. The Act of Tribute on Remembrance Day has two components. It is to remember those who have fallen to guarantee our liberty, freedom and values and a celebration of those same values. We, as Canadians, accordingly, commit to not just remembering their strength and courage but to act with the same nerve, pluck and valour in dealing with the issues of our day. Since 1867, admittedly inconsistently and with much difficulty at times, we have welcomed people from all around the world. Over that time, Canadians have found great value in becoming a multilinguistic and multicultural community. That has become our value. Therefore, shouldn’t we be as brave as our forefathers in protecting it? With such a record of success before us, why would we change who we are. Why would we not have “une porte ouverte” and continue to welcome people to our country? Why would we let a handful of people change who we are?


For simply put, Terrorists are trying to get us to change who we are. Instead of using the ballot box, Terrorists seek to use violence to produce change, to scare us into changing. Since, the Irish Republican Army pioneered this tactic in the modern world; many people have sought to use it. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are no different because Terrorists cannot get the change they want peacefully. Consequently, Terrorists only weapon is not the bombs or the guns they use, but the fear they wield.


Just think about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In various Islamic Countries, they have sought to restrict the role of women, music and art, thought and peaceful debate through violent and abhorrent measures. How else can one explain throwing acid on girls’ faces or the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai. Islamic Terrorists, by sowing mistrust in pluralistic countries in Western Nations and Middle Eastern Countries, are attempting to destroy that very pluralism. So Brad Wall and Brian Jean are playing right into their hands. Evidence shows us that our best weapon is in fact to become more pluralistic: to enrich and redouble our multicultural experiment and, as such, guarantee our cultural richness. Because in doing that we prove our commitment to those principles and the success that they present. Accordingly, our Best Weapon is to encourage Canadian pluralism.


While, Brad Wall and Brian Jean would argue the opposite, Mayor Nenshi rightly pointed out that most of the participants in the Paris Attacks had French or Belgian passports. This means that they were a part of European and not Syrian society. Those people could have just as easily hopped on a plan and come here. Consequently, it is not as easy as one might think to keep out terrorism. Furthermore, remember that the deaths of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent happened on Canadian soil by ISIS sympathizers who were Canadian.  Therefore, Canadians are not safe because we are an ocean away. We must engage this battle as our forbearers would have; not by abandoning our values of inclusiveness but by holding them dear.


If we are to be as brave as our forefathers, we need to recognize that terrorists win if we change our society. We understood that in the 1960’s, when one of our own citizens tried to bomb Parliament Hill. We understood that in the 1970’s when the FLQ kidnapped a British ambassador as well as kidnapped and killed a Quebec Cabinet Minister. We understood this in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when we restructured our security services, dealt with Air India and had the violent actions of various gunmen. By improving but not fundamental changing our values of openness, inclusion and acceptance; Canadians didn’t accept the principles of fear that Premier Brad Wall and Brian Jean are now advocating. In fact, by accepting refugees and immigrants, even in the direst of circumstances, Canadians proved that an open door policy is the best one.


We need to understand that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. We need to stand guard by living in an open society with restaurants and cafes. Like our forefathers, we must do so with the most open of hands. We need to treat the “Other” with respect because it provides the best outcome. It was the policy that provided the most benefit for the most people and stood the test of time. As such, it should be the one that we continue with. Let us welcome the Syrian Migrants and remember the hard fought values of openness and inclusion that were given to us by those who fought in Somme, Dieppe, in Ypres, In Hong Kong, Korea, Afghanistan and the Newfoundlanders that fought in Gallipoli. So keep “la porte ouverte”, let us remember them all by allowing Syrian and Iraqi Migrants in.

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