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True North Strong and Free…and a Safe Haven for Those in Need

As the civilized world recoils in horror and dismay at the human rights crises unfolding in the United States, it is important to reflect on the principles, behaviours and actions that help define us as a humane society.  Canada has a long history of aiding foreign individuals and families escaping abuses of war, political oppression, famine and slavery.

In the late 18th century, well before Canada was a confederation (that happened in 1867), refugees from the American Revolution, including many runaway slaves, found safe haven in Canada.  In the mid-19th century, Poles fleeing ruthless oppression in Eastern Europe found refuge in Canada as did thousands of Jewish Europeans fleeing religious persecution at the end of that century. 

Ukrainians followed in the early 20th century and again after the Second World War.  All of these people have contributed to making Canada a great, diverse and strong nation.

Like most countries, Canada has also had to look in the mirror when it comes to human rights: the reprehensible government policy of residential schools for many Aboriginal children that spanned a century and the internment of many Canadians of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War showed Canadians that we are not immune to mistreatment and we must try harder. As a country, we look back on these disgraceful events with a commitment to never repeat them again. Canadian governments have focused attention and resources on compensating the innocent victims of these abuses and furthering reconciliation and healing.

In the past 50 years, Canadians have accepted refugees escaping dangerous situations in Chile, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Kosovo, Bhutan, Thailand, Iraq and most recently, Syria.  As these people settle in Canada, the vast majority become contributors to Canadian society and the economy.  They bring skills and talents that enrich Canadian society. 

Despite our flaws, Canadians are proud to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate because it is not a one-way street.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Canadians understand that immigration, that people fleeing for their lives and wanting to build a better life for themselves and their children is what created countries like Canada.

As we approach another Canada Day this July 1st, I will be thanking all the people who risked so much to come here and help build what is arguably the most free and stable country in the world. Look back into your own history: we are all immigrants.

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