The Sunday Magazine

Michael's essay: Canada's so-called 'refugee crisis' is not real

"There was one underlying problem with the crisis. Nobody could find it. Nobody could describe it or faithfully analyze its constituent parts."
Asylum seekers arrive at temporary housing facilities at the border crossing, May 9, 2018, in St. Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

It was the summer the world seemed to catch fire.

On the west coast of the continent, California and British Columbia were ablaze. Nobody knew how to put out the hundreds of fires. One expert said that nature was in charge and would now direct the course, conduct and duration of the flames.

Smoke from the B.C. interior wafted into the air over Alberta and Saskatchewan. People were warned not to breathe too much outside their homes. And yet on the East Coast, life in our village on Bonavista Bay in Newfoundland was pretty much as always; calm, time-locked, its surrounding forests and roads threatened only by moose and tourists.

Staring at the ocean with the sun high in a cooling zephyr off the water, it was impossible to comprehend the horror British Columbians were facing. It wasn't just the turbulence of the fires that bedevilled us. In Washington, the self-identified Very Stable Genius in the Oval Office continued to rant, rave, threaten and lie.

And returning home, we were forced to confront an apparent crisis. It had to do with people on the move, looking to get into Canada to find a better life.

Syrian children in Halifax taking part in a six-week hockey program. (Olivier Lefebvre/Radio-Canada)

Apparently refugees were pouring into the country, barrelling through the undefended border with their children and their crappy knapsacks, as threatening as any forest fire, likely to incinerate our cherished Canadian values and change forever our way of life.

There was however, one underlying problem with the crisis; nobody could find it. Nobody could describe it or faithfully analyze its constituent parts. It wasn't found on the beaches or at the small town summer markets. Not to be seen in cottage country or at the various noisy ethnic festivals across the country.

There were plenty of loud voices saying the crisis was here and would only get worse. Something had to be done. Something had to be done quickly. But nobody knew what to do. People just kept on yelling.

Dictionaries define a crisis as "a time of intense trouble or danger; a catastrophe, calamity." A lot of the yelling people found voice to blame the practice of multiculturalism for the crisis. Maxime Bernier, as he walked away from his birth party, called out the government for practicing what he called "extreme multiculturalism."

 Now multiculturalism has been around for quite a while. But we still don't know how it works. Does its supposed success lie in education? In worthwhile employment? Or in integration into the larger community?

It can be very hard for newcomers to fully integrate. The secret, to my mind, of a successful multiculturalism lies with the first Canadian-born generation, the children of immigrants. They, in fact, are the hope of the future.

I went to a high school, which had a large number of Italian students. Most of them spoke Italian at home with their immigrant parents. Over time, they became as integrated into school culture as those of us born here.

A couple of blocks from my house, there is a small park with a statue of Peter Pan and a playground with swings, a climbing frame, a whirly thing kids sit on. On this particular day, there are about 25 youngsters, no older than five, with young park volunteers watching over them.They are of every hue and ethnicity; black, white, Asian, Pakistani, Canadian.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau high fives children of a Syrian refugee family during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Friday, July 1, 2016. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

One small black boy stands off to the side, carefully taking in the running, shouting and jumping of the others. A worker tries to persuade him to join in. He shakes his head and stands there. After about ten minutes, the kid moves tentatively to the monkey bars. Adjusting his ball cap, he pulls himself up on the rungs.

Children that age in this playground, and in playgrounds and school yards across the country, have no idea what multiculturalism is. But they practice it, engage in it, every day of their young lives.

Click "listen" above to hear Michael's essay.