Asian Heritage Month
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Sounds Like Trudeau

By Anu Sahota

The 2006 film The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized account of life in Uganda under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. Amin, who came to power following a military coup in 1971, was by all accounts a ruthless leader who premised several of his strategies on paranoia and providence. One such incident involved a visit from God in a dream instructing Amin to rid the country of its Asian population. God furthermore offered that Amin nationalize Asian owned properties, which included homes, hotels, breweries, sugar refineries and cotton factories. Amin duly appeared on state television in August 1972 and decreed that the country's 80,000 Asians would be expelled within 90 days. At the time, Uganda's Asian population was mostly made up of Muslims (including Ismailis) and Hindus from the Indian states of Gujarat and Kutch, who had come to Africa during the British colonial era.

While the U.K. would absorb many of the refugees, the numbers were overwhelming and the British government appealed to Canada, as did the Aga Khan. While the opposition parties supported the move, the Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau briefly stalled as it considered public opposition to the acceptance of so many refugees (representing the first major resettlement effort for non-whites into Canada). Initially the government suggested that the claimants would have to gain entry through the formal immigration process. Under usual circumstances, the rigid Immigration Points System and sundry requirements (medical exams, for example) of the time would have made it near impossible for the refugees to gain entry. However, as conditions grew more desperate in Uganda, the Canadian government was decisive; an emergency airlift from Kampala of 4420 refugees was conducted between October and November 1972. Another 1278 Ugandan-Asians would enter in the early part of 1973, and by the end of that year some 7000 refugees had arrived.

On September 9, 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau addressed a crowd made up of various ethnic groups in Vancouver. He told them that Canada would have turned her back on everything she stands for if she had refused to take immigrants from Uganda.

trudeau

View an excerpt from CBC Television coverage of Trudeau's speech (1972) (runs 1:04)

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