Since the election, media in Canada has given great focus to the Liberal Party promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in our country by the end of the year. It is an enormous challenge of logistics and will. It is also a promise that carries with it controversy and an element of fear. Is it too much, too soon? Does it not leave Canada open to terrorist infiltration? Are these people suitable to join the Canadian family?
Not so long ago similar fears and doubts surrounded the admission of Latin Americans to Canada, particularly people fleeing the Cold War conflicts in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. During the 1970s and 80s, the fear of leftist infiltration affected Canada’s admission policy, just as the spectre of radical Islam colours it today. We know now that those fears were groundless, and that the people who came to Canada fleeing state-sponsored terrorism posed no threat to the nation and its citizens. Most overcame the traumas of torture, dislocation and rejection to become vibrant members of Canadian society. The country is a richer place for their presence.
The success of newly-arrived Latin Americans in Canada depended on their own talents, abilities and drive to establish new lives in a foreign setting, but they did not make this journey alone. Other residents of Canada, citizens and non-citizens alike, gave their time and contributed what resources they could to help newcomers from Latin America feel less alone and less vulnerable. All levels of government played their roles, but so too did non-governmental actors and groups all across the country. Whether it was providing orientation, interpretation, translation, or simply giving new neighbours a bag of toys for their children, ordinary people in communities tried to help their fellow human beings feel welcome in their new homes. It is in moments like these that we see the best of what we can be.
Today, I implore those of you who are reading this to do the same for our brothers and sisters from Syria. Their lives have been shattered, their patrimony destroyed, their homes denied them. They will arrive in our country with little to nothing, and many if not most will be suffering in both body and heart. They will be scared and lost. No one person can heal them, but working together, we can help them. Please give your time, support and resources to this effort. There are many groups out there, such as Lifeline Syria , Romero House or the Toronto West End Refugee Partnership, which will help you channel your goodwill into action. Your actions will honour those who helped in the past, and contribute to a brighter future for our new neighbours and friends.
Francis Peddie is a Canadian professor with a doctorate in Latin American history and the author of the book Young, Well-Educated and Adaptable: Chilean Exiles in Ontario and Quebec 1973-2010 (University of Manitoba Press, 2014).