By Lethbridge Herald on June 22, 2019.
In June 1979, I attended the UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland discussing the Vietnam refugee crisis. Canada was represented by Flora MacDonald, Secretary of State for External Affairs in Joe Clark’s Conservative government. She pledged that Canada would accept 100,000 of the so-called “Boat People.”
Canada made me proud. Compared to the most recent offer to resettle 25,000 Syrians, it was an extremely generous offer. Refugees from Vietnam were a success story. Many of them are now proud Canadians; business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals.
Canada was built on the foundation of generosity of Indigenous people who received settlers from other lands. Many of them were refugees: English Canada was established by American refugees, not by British settlers. “United Empire Royalists” were Americans escaping the anti-monarchist revolutionaries to the colony still held by the British Crown. They laid the foundation of English-speaking Canada. Without them, Canada would have been a French-speaking country. Many Irish people came escaping hunger and poverty and settled in New France because of their Catholic faith: this is why many French-speaking Quebecers have Irish names.
The “Underground Railroad” brought many people escaping slavery. Other refugees were: Ukrainians escaping famine created by Joseph Stalin; Jewish people escaping Anti-Semitism in all Europe; Doukhabors and Mennonites escaping the persecution of pacifists; Hong Kong Chinese from Japanese occupation and later the Communist takeover: One of them became Governor General. Hindus and Muslims came after being kicked out by Idi Amin from Uganda; one of them is now mayor of Calgary. Hungarians and Czechoslovakians were escaping the Soviet Empire. Latin Americans were escaping civil unrest and dictatorship. The list goes on.
I noticed that Americans who came to Canada since the 1960s did so often because of their frustration with the trend in U.S. politics. Some of them became an important component of the faculties of Canadian universities, including the University of Lethbridge. They enriched Canada’s academia. “Migration is the engine of civilization.” People have been moving since time immemorial. “There is no civilization without migration.” (I don’t remember the authors of the two aforementioned quotations.”)
Jesus and Muhammad were refugees at some points in their lives. Thank God for refugees who helped build Canada. But most importantly, thank God for the original inhabitants who received them at their great cost. Despite the generosity of Indigenous peoples, newcomers were horrible to the hosts. We should be grateful and learn from them how to welcome strangers into our midst.
Happy Canada Day!
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui