Staying silent no longer: all of these lives matter

Recall the proverbial wisdom that certain things should never be discussed at the dinner – politics, religion, money. At some point, although we may conduct ourselves conscientiously at the dinner table, when social media entered our lives we went absolutely socially insane.

Following the horrific shootings and bombings in Paris on Friday night, those opposed to Justin Trudeau’s pledge to bring in 25,000 on an accelerated basis have had the flames of their firy opinions stoked. Opinions that one would never say in polite company are typed with a fury of typos and mis – or no – information. Opinions that are based on fear, but not certainly not based on law, swirl in the abyss of what at least reads as the self-satisfaction that not all people are deserving of the same things. Some people are just refugees and if we have to wait for passports, why shouldn’t they?

I admit that I cannot explain to you why I care. I make a negative inference when I see status updates and tweets that are premised in selfishness and negativity. I assume the remarks aren’t made with a full arsenal of research and courses but rather a flash-in-the-pan emotional reaction to something. So I don’t know why I care – except that I suppose it hurts me to think that on this issue of broad human rights – where the stakes are truly life or death – people would rather stay in a cocoon of warmth and ignorance. I worry about these opinions being passed on to little children who will only learn of cruelness and selfishness when it is taught to them. I worry about the opinions passing along to representatives in the House of Commons and having the process delayed – because every delay means actual lives are ended. Lives and lights put out in a war torn world.

To take a moment to be personal, I open up to you that I am doing my best to learn about and to practice ahimsa, or the practice of non-violence. Teachers and authors have informed my view of this. Non-violence includes the obvious things like not harming, killing, stealing or lying to people, and it additionally includes not being aggressive with ourselves and instead being loving and compassionate with ourselves and all people.

So, as the Facebook posts trickled through my news feed, I tried to act in a non-aggressive way. I was compelled to author furious responses citing international law obligations and the actual definition of a refugee. I refrained. I was dying to tell the intolerant, fear-mongering big shots that they had no idea what they were talking about. I refrained, thinking this is the best way for me to practice non-violence.

However, a line from favourite song of mine by rapper and host of Q, Shad K, kept replaying in my mind – over and over:

We only feel better when we feel like we’re better than
Clever men and our violence
Silence is when we shoot from the lip too quiet
Then we talk non-violence and stay silent when it suits
Really, it’s all violence at the root

Should I really say nothing? Am I doing more violence by staying silent, not trying to be mean, not trying to rock the boat?

I conclude it must be more harmful for me to talk non-violence but stay silent when it suits.

Here are some facts about refugees.

Refugees are not really “immigrants” in the way we typically understand that word. We can perceive of immigrants as people who apply to come and live in a place like Canada and satisfy a series of requirements in order to be permitted to live and work here. Refugees occupy an entirely different category of eligibility. A person is a “refugee” or an “asylum seeker” when they meet the definition set out by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. A refugee is someone who

“owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Allowing refugees to land in Canada is factually entirely different than getting a passport. When you get a passport your objective is to travel in various countries. When you claim asylum, your goal is to escape the persecution that would otherwise mean you will very likely be killed.

In Canada, up until this change in government, legislation was often drafted that had the effect of violating Canada’s international obligations of non-refoulement: to not return an asylum seeker to the land from which they flee.

The Government of Canada has a process through which refugees are screened. You can read about it here and here.

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives certain rights to everyone, including the right to religion, liberty and security of the person. That is the Canada that we talk about. Whether you like it or not, at law, Canada has established itself as a country that believes there everyone deserves certain basic rights. This is the Canada where we will host and protect asylum seekers.

I have read about people who are scared for their children who will have to grow up in a world where we accept refugees who might be terrorists, or where we help refugees but we do not ensure the homeless are off the streets. Ossie Michelin recently wrote that:

“This is not an either or scenario, it’s not a competition and there is no pot of money that can either go to the homeless or to refugees. We have the means and the ability to help these refugees, just as we have the means and abilities to help the homeless and the needy in our own home. There is no reason why we can’t help both.”

He’s right. There is room for all. Literally. The population density in Canada is 4 people per square kilometer. There are literally kilometers and kilometers and kilometers in which these people can live. And I’m willing to bet out of the 25,000 we will find people who have amazing skills – skills like medicine, engineering, teaching, carpentry, music. And gratitude. I’m willing to place my money on the fact that the asylum seekers given refuge in Canada will be ebbing with gratitude. With a desire to contribute.

Law is made up. It is effectively all a fiction. But regardless of that, it is a fiction which we have ascribed certain values to. Law and policy does not become real by virtue of fears or assumptions. In law, “nothing becomes a fact until [the trier of fact] finds it to be so.”

So, with that in mind, the irrational fears about refugees being terrorists: not based on fact. The absurd argument that we shouldn’t provide refuge for asylum seekers while we still have homeless people: not based on fact. The overarching panic and disdain of that which is different: not based on fact. And mostly, the worry that your children are growing up in a terrible world, where our left-wing government is just handing terrorists the keys to the kingdom: not based on fact.

What is a fact is that there are asylum seekers out there and they are dying every single damn day.

Hellish fact, that one. A fact that we are in a position to change. A fact that our government has said we will contribute to changing. Now that’s a good fact.

I’m not sure what happened to the etiquette that we grew up with, where we don’t talk about politics, or money, or religion at the table. I’m not sure how it came to pass that while we don’t do that, we care to scream our close-minded and cruel feelings by way of status update to 800 of our closest friends. I’m not sure. But as long as we’re doing it, here is my two-cents. I’m not staying silent when it suits.


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