CANADA: A COUNTRY OF REFUGEES
The indigenous nations accepted refugees and settlers from other lands. Newcomers were horrible to the hosts. Throughout history, invaders were often more aggressive to the natives. Nevertheless, together we built Canada.
In June, 1979, I attended an UN Conference held in Geneva to discuss refugees from Viet Nam. Canada was represented by Flora MacDonald, Secretary for External Affairs of Joe Clarke’s Federal Conservative government. She pledged that Canada would accept and resettle 100,000 of so-called “Boat People.” I was so proud of Canada. Compared to the most recent attempt to resettle 25,000 Syrians, it was quite a generous gesture. Vietnamese were such a success story. Many of them are now business owners, professionals and entrepreneurs. Vietnamese noodle soup – Pho is now as Canadian as Poutine.
Canada was built by the generosity of Indigenous people who received settlers from different continents. Many of whom were refugees: the founders of English Canada were American refugees, not migrants straight from Britain, escaping revolutionaries into the North still held by the Crown. They were “United Empire Royalists.” They laid the foundation of English speaking Upper Canada. Without them, Canada would have been a French speaking country. Many Europeans from places like Ireland came escaping hunger and poverty. We now called them economic migrants, but they were escaping intolerable conditions like refugees.
Underground Railroad brought many African descendants who were escaping slavery; Ukrainians escaping Stalin; Jewish people escaping Anti-Semitism in Europe; Doukhabors and Mennonites escaping from the persecution of pacifists; Chinese from Hong Kong from Japanese invasion and later Communist take-over – one of them became Governor General; Hindus and Muslims escaping Idi Amin in Uganda, one of them is now Mayor of Calgary; Hungarians and Czechoslovakians; Latin Americans escaping civil unrest; the list goes on.
Let us not forget Americans: many of them well educated intellectuals came to Canada because they did not want to be involved in the war in Viet Nam. Some of them constituted the corpses of the faculties of universities, including our University of Lethbridge, which sprung up everywhere in Canada since the 1960’s. We don’t call them refugees but they were.
Jesus and Mohamad were refugees at some points in their lives. Thank God for refugees who helped build Canada, and thank God for the original people of this land who welcomed them at a great cost to them.
Happy Canada Day!