Monday, 4 May 2015

How it all started

I went to high-school in downtown Toronto in the late 1970s with an extremely diverse group of students.  A large number of the kids were ”‘new Canadians” who, along with their families, had in one way or another ended up here in Canada.

And I remember thinking at the time that if a person wanted to get a sense of the world’s troubled spots over the last 40 years, that you wouldn’t have to do any research. All you would need to do is go around my classroom and ask the students where their families were originally from.  Eastern Europe, Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Columbia, the Congo, Somalia etc. etc.  - they were all represented in my class. 

At that time, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Toronto still seemed like a very Anglo-Saxon kind of place.  But that’s completely changed now.  Over ½ of the population of Toronto was born in a different country.  There is no single ethnic group making up the majority of citizens – we are all minorities here.  And if you ask Torontonians what makes their city special, what they love most about the place, I am sure most people would talk about its ethnic and cultural diversity and its over-riding sense of tolerance.

Over the past few months my wife and I have been watching with alarm the reports regarding the massive refugee crises that has exploded in connection with the Syrian war and with the people fleeing in boats in the Mediterranean Sea.  Current global events, in Syria and other countries, have created what the UN has described as the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII.  

In past crises we would get involved by firing off a cheque to a relief agency, signing a petition or possibly highlighting our concern to our local MP.  But in this case, given the scale of the crisis, it doesn’t seem like enough. 

In 1979 / 80, in what many people consider one of Canada’s “finest hours”, private citizens from all walks of life responded to the Vietnamese “Boat People” crisis by privately sponsoring 34,000 refugees to resettle in this country over an 18 month period. 

Unlike most European countries, a central tenet of the Canada refugee policy is to rely on, and in many cases require, the involvement of private citizens in the sponsorship and settlement process.  For example, the Canadian government has offered to resettle an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next 3 years, however 6000 of these spots will only be filled if private citizens step forward in order to sponsor and help settle them.

With this in mind, my wife and I sent out invitations in May inviting people we know over to our house for a “Refugee Awareness” meeting.

Andrew FitzGerald

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