The Current

Canada's history welcoming refugees is a myth, say critics

Historically, Canada has built a reputation as a welcoming nation. Trouble is … that's not so accurate. Among those welcomed during a crisis are discomforting facts. As refugees attempting to reach Europe dominates the news, we're taking a rigorous look at our own kindness quotient.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister in 2012, John Baird greets a Syrian refugee boy at Zaatari refugee camp, in Jordan. Canada's history reflects a nation of welcoming newcomers, but when it comes to refugees many say Canada has had an awful history of welcoming refugees in danger. (Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press)
Canada has always been a country that is open and welcoming and aware of our responsibilities on the world stage to ensure that everyone around the world has a chance.- Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, speaking on the campaign trail

The past week has seen the Syrian refugee crisis dominate national discussion, as well as the election campaign. 

And many of those advocating for Canada to do more to help, point to a longstanding Canadian tradition of helping, and welcoming, refugees.   

Canada's 'boat people' response a model for Syrian refugee crisis

But today we're asking just what is reality and what is myth when it comes to Canada's history with refugees. 

It's a subject Rachel Décoste has written about, as a contributor to The Huffington Post. She joined us from Washington, D.C. 

The simple truth about Canada's history is that we're a nation of newcomers. But when it comes to refugees... the story gets complex.

Founder of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, Howard Adelman says Canadians should feel both proud and ashamed of our refugee history. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press)

To help us better understand just how Canada has acted during past refugee crises, we were joined by:

  • Howard Adelman is a retired professor of philosophy and a founder of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. He was in our Toronto studio. 
  • Ali Kazimi is Chair of the Department of Cinema & Media Arts at York University and author of the book "Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru." He was in Ottawa. 
"We need to break through the lack of a political will to help these people." - Canadian Raghu Venugopal trying to sponsor Syrian refugees. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

We'd love to hear about your own experiences and memories, as a refugee or sponsor.

Send us an email. Post on Facebook or tweet us @TheCurrentCBC.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Marc Apollonio.


 The Racist Truth About Canadian Immigration - Huffington Post
 Canadians in the dark about immigration numbers: survey - Ottawa Citizen
♦ The Incident -  Komagata Maru

Last Word: Basement Refugee

Last week, Bernie Duffy had a fleeting encounter with a refugee. He's a resident of Hamburg and was on his way to work one morning when he realized that a refugee had spent the night in his basement. The encounter has inspired him to become an active volunteer, helping the many people currently seeking refuge in Germany. 

Read Bernie Duffy's story.