Some sayings are repeated ad nauseam to the point where no one really knows what it actually means. One such saying is ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. In other words learn from the past and avoid mistakes in the future. Who said this first, I have no idea and frankly I dislike this saying profoundly simply because it is trite and totally untrue.
In today’s world not only we do not know our history (the past) or any history or past event for that matter but we are repeating the same mistakes over and over again, all the while saying Those who cannot remember the past are blah blah blah.
In Canada we do not learn from the mistakes of our predecessors if current political events are a guide. During this National Electoral Campaign period the longest since 1892 many issues have come up all important and indicative of the problems beseeching Canada today. One particularly emotional event was the photo of the little drowned child Alan Kurdi dead on a beach in Turkey. The story was of fleeing families from the four year old Civil War in Syria. So far 11 million Syrians of all confessions have fled, those who remain live in fear amongst the ruins, half a million are dead.
The family of this child, some of whom are living in Canada claimed that the Canadian Government had failed to accept them within its refugee program for resettlement. It should be said at this point that as a former Immigration Officer of the Canadian Foreign Service the issues of refugees and people seeking resettlement is well known to me. For many years I worked in Northern Africa and the Middle East and am well acquainted with the movement of population and the work of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugee questions are governed by well established rules and procedures in Conventions written in part by Canada as a founding member of the UNHCR and the UN after the Second World War.
While I was on my last post and working in Athens I often met with Syrians who had been in Greece under difficult circumstances in some cases for 20 years. The Greek authorities considered them simply as transient and did not have to do anything to help them under the UN Refugee Conventions. Turkey created its own problems for anyone arriving on its territory and trying to claim refugee status. Turkey is a land bridge to Europe and the transit of thousands of people through its territory is problematic. Coupled with that the well established criminal gangs which procure passports and other documents in exchange for large sums of money to anyone who can pay. The same gangs are also involved in transporting people to other European destination like Italy. This traffic is well established, profitable and brings large profits in the millions to such criminals who exploit the poor and those who have no were to turn. This traffic victimize people who are feeling for their lives in this case the Syrians.
Governments are very well aware of this situation and it is very well documented, including the routes taken and who is involved. Sometimes a crackdown will happen and some corrupt Government Official will be arrested, but that is rare.
The people travelling can be separated into two groups, the first are young men under 25 years of age who are economic migrants, they seek to find work in a Western country so they can support their families back home mostly in Africa. The other group are families like the Kurdi who may have relatives in countries in Europe or in North America, in this case Canada. Our Canadian Immigration Act is more welcoming or was prior to 2006, since the Harper Regime has made many changes including closing of Immigration Offices in our Embassies abroad, not hiring Officers for many years in a row, creating a staffing crisis where we have insufficient numbers of people able to do the specialized work required in processing refugee claimants abroad and not funding properly the existing program. In Fiscal Year 2014, some 350 million dollars went unspent and was returned to the Treasury, this is unheard of in this time of tight budgets. This was achieve my the Minister refusing to grant authorization to spend budgets despite the need to.
With the closing of our Canadian Embassy in Damascus four years ago and at the same time the closing of the largest Immigration program in the Levant, suddenly the much smaller Immigration Offices in Beirut and Amman and the one in Ankara had to take up the work. This created enormous chaos with a war in Afghanistan and Irak, since those Offices already had a full work load for their area, one example Amman in Jordan covers Palestine and Irak, now they would be also responsible for part of the Syrian program and the refugees who are in Jordan while also keeping Irak in the loop. They had to manage without any extra staff meaning that the programs grind to a halt.
The Harper Regime is fully aware of the problems in the Middle East and the crisis at hand, however this crisis is being exploited for political ends. We saw it in the case of the Kurdi family drowned at sea. The Prime Minister claims that a war in Syria to eliminate ISIS is the solution to this crisis, what are the civilian population to do, that as he says is not his concern. He also claims that we cannot take refugees from Syria because of security concerns. He mentions the danger of terrorism, of the need to be vigilant, he takes a tone of voice which is paternalistic trying to convince people that he cannot do anything at all. This is all too reminiscent of Europe in the 1930’s and the failed response of Canada then.
What has happened here is an abdication of our International Treaty obligations, we are signatory to treaties which requires that we take action. Yes Canada had until 2006 the most generous refugee program per capita in the world. I remember going to International Conferences where other countries would seek our advice on crisis and follow our example. That no longer happens, in fact countries now pretend we are not in the room at such meetings, we have become an embarrassment. Just last week our Finance Minister Joe Oliver was in Turkey and he boasted to the Media in Canada that he was there to tell the Turks how to fix their financial problems, if only they listened to us they would not be in the mess they are now. Such arrogance and all of it to get a few votes from the extreme Right Wing in Canada, Harper’s base. Me, Joe Oliver the White guy speaking to the little people, a tone which is the trademark of the Harper Regime.
After the unfortunate events of 22 October 2014 in Ottawa, when a soldier was shot at the National War Memorial by a drunk and mentally ill man, who was quickly deemed a terrorist, our PM has been fanning the flames of intolerance, prejudice, racism and xenophobia under the guise of security. It works because he uses the lowest common denominator and fear is a powerful weapon. Mr Harper has made no secret that he hates Arabs and Muslims, in his speeches he constantly equates Islam with terror. He has made numerous speeches about Islamists and Islamiscist a word he likes to use a lot. Even ordinary citizens have been stressed about the topic to the point many believe that terrorists are everywhere in Canada. The world is a dangerous place says Harper so we must be vigilant.
While other countries are developing plans with Germany leading the pack by accepting 800,000 Syrian refugees, we in Canada cannot accept Syrian refugees because they could be terrorists.
Mr Harper has promised complex and lengthy security vetting before anyone is accepted. As if we did not have such procedures now and in the past. Anyone who is considered for immigration to Canada or as a refugee is vetted for Health and Security it is standard procedure and has always been thus. Even in emergency cases where lives are at risk, a security assessment is made by the Officer at post.
But leave it to Harper to invent new complicated procedures that are needless and unhelpful. His base loves him for it, he is going to save us, they claim, you also hear now from people in his own Caucus how Harper is like Jesus Christ, doing the same work, teaching by example. Oh my, we are ruled by a god, are we far from the North Korean model, I wonder.
Today in an open letter a former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the one who gave us the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, wrote that Harper had shamed Canada. Yes he has shamed us, we are not the country we were prior to 2006. Harper did say that when he was finished with Canada we would not recognize the country. Well he has succeeded. This debacle with the Refugee Case of the Kurdi family is a clear indication of what is happening. Terry Galvin in an article in the Ottawa Citizen investigated the ministerial paper trail and clearly shows that the Minister of Immigration knew all along about this family and the difficulty they were encountering in trying to claim refugee status. Minister Alexander did nothing, he shamed us. By reading the article I saw what happened and can well imagine how all this could have been avoided, lives saved.
What I find especially painful and very difficult to read is the callous and hateful comments of the bigots who loudly support the action of the Harper Regime. They have no shame, they are motivated by the speeches and ideology of Harper and feel justified in expressing their hatred openly. Some go so far as to lift word for word, phrases and expressions from Nazi ideology, advocating shooting them before they get here, mocking the dead for trying to flee and so on, these people vote for Stephen Harper. What has become of Canada? What have we become, a country of nasty little people. When the current situation is compared to Europe prior to the Second World War and what happened to the Jews and many others who did not fit in the Nazi ideology, these same Harper supporters claim that this is not true. Those saying such things attack their leader Harper and are leftist, liberals or terrorists sympathizers and choose many other violent insults to attack and denigrate opponents.
I dare to hope that Harper and his people will go away come October 19, that we can reclaim our country from such fanatics and reactionary elements. The Leader of the Green Party Elizabeth May said that she is willing to go to the Governor General if Harper is re-elected and ask that he use his Royal Prerogative so a coalition government could be formed. According to the latest polls, the results will be very tight because 3 parties are splitting the vote. However a coalition could prevent Harper from continuing his misrule. Let’s hope for a better day so that we can reclaim our reputation as a honest broker, peace keeper, an example of stability and social peace in the world.