Canada should welcome newcomers

Posted on July 15, 2012 in Inclusion Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – opinion/column
14 Jul. 2012.   Phil McNichol

The ignorance and shallowness underlying some of the more outrageous policies of Canada’s Conservative government — also known semi-formally as “the Harper government” — simply boggles the mind.

And that’s especially when it comes fully to the surface, inviting mockery and further examination, as in Immigration Minister Jason Kenney self-congratulatory “petition” inviting Canadians to thank him for cuts to medical care for refugees.

They are nothing more than a form of discrimination against the poorest and most desperate people trying to enter this country to find a better life in the only way open to them.

They are the hopeful new Canadians who, in many cases, have suffered the most and are most in need of help. But instead of welcoming them to this country with a gesture of compassion in the form of supplementary medical care while they’re refugee claims are verified, or not, the government wants them to suffer more. Or it just doesn’t want the bother of them at all. It would prefer richer, betterequipped, less troubled immigrants capable of immediately contributing to Canadian society.

They are nothing more than a form of discrimination against the poorest and most desperate people trying to enter this country to find a better life in the only way open to them.

No doubt thousands of people have signed Kenney’s ridiculous petition.

Worst of all the Harper government plans to come up with a list of “safe” countries that will automatically disqualify any refugee claimants from them, and deny them any medical coverage.

Here’s the supreme Irony: it is just such people who historically played a huge role in building modern Canada. Most of the immigrants who left Scotland and Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries in desperate search of a new and better life in Canada were refugees fleeing poverty, terrible oppression and homelessness in their home countries. In other words, they were refugees. And for them Great Britain was anything but a “safe” place.

Here’s another irony: You would think perhaps Canada’s current Immigration minister would know that history. After all, Kenney is a surname with deep Irish roots.

Under ruthless English occupation for centuries, most Irish lived in extreme poverty with little hope of improving the quality of their lives, unless they left their homeland. Potatoes were such a staple food that in the middle of the 19th century, when the potato blight struck year after year it caused terrible famine. Within a few years the population of Ireland fell from about eight million to four million people, as a result of a combination of death by starvation and desperate immigration to Canada and the U.S. Many people, already weak from the effects of the famine, died en route in the immigrant “death ships.”

Orphaned children whose parents had died on the voyage were often adopted by French Canadian families, which is why Irish names like “Johnson” are today found in the Quebecois nation.

Growing up and attending school in Ontario schools people of my generation were taught lots of English and related Scottish history year after year. But we never heard anything about something called “the clearances.”

The Battle of Culloden took place in 1745, when an English army finally defeated one consisting mainly of Scottish Highlanders during the Jacobite uprising of Charles Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie.”

What happened in the years that followed was nothing less than a genocide. Small highland farmers, known as crofters, and their families were forced off the land, their humble cottages burning behind them as they left with whatever possessions they could carry.

The land was “cleared” of highlanders to make way for new, aristocratic estates dedicated to deer hunting or the raising of huge flocks of sheep.

Many highlanders that survived the clearances first sought refuge on the islands off the west coast of Scotland, including the McNichols on the Isle of Skye. From there, much like the Irish, they took ship to Canada and the U.S. And like the poor, desperate, Irish refugees, many died en route.

The clearances continued through the 19th century.

As if they hadn’t suffered enough, the Scots-Irish immigrant-refugees were discriminated against and faced incredible hardship when they came to British North America/Canada.

But they persevered in the face of adversity, as pioneers clearing land tree by tree with little more than an axe and the strength of their will to survive. They built their homes, communities and churches. And they raised their families to spread their hardearned skills and qualities of endurance across the new, growing country of Canada from sea to sea. Yet, for all that, many did not survive the back-breaking struggle. And infant mortality was high in pioneer days.

They also persevered in the face of social adversity, the blatant discrimination against them by an elite ruling class of Angloconservative landlords and power-brokers who fought tooth and nail to hang on to their privileged positions and control. As recently as the late 1920s my elderly mother recalls seeing as a child a sign inviting people to apply for work on a factory gate in Toronto. But, “Scots and Irish need not apply,” it added. The city was a small-minded “Tory” bastion at the time.

But times changed, and thanks in large part to successive waves of immigration, including refugees of many different nations and cultures, Canada evolved into a dynamic, interesting, democratic country with a broad vision of what makes a successful country work in every respect, social and economic. And one thing that makes it work is a generous immigrationrefugee policy that welcomes newcomers, offers them compassion when it’s obviously needed, and helps them get established.

Now is not the time to turn back that clock, or play meanspirited politics with policiesthat help build the future of the country.

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