Make Canada a welcoming place - Keith Roulston editorial
A bit of the past was recalled last week in a Globe and Mail guest column by Jamie Michaels, an instructor at the University of Calgary’s Department of English. Over the years, I had often heard of the Christie Pits Riot, which occurred way back on August 16, 1933 but I was ignorant of the facts - and the reflection of growing racial tensions of today, some 90 years later.
I became familiar with Christie Pits park and the baseball diamond when I lived, for a few short years, in downtown Toronto. But, back in the 1930s, Nazi-inspired youth unfurled a swastika banner at a baseball game in the park, leading to an all-night brawl involving thousands of people in the nearby streets. Many were injured in the violence, which pitted Jews and their allies from Toronto’s recent immigrant communities against Anglo-Canadians, many of whom were in favour of restricting Jews from certain public spaces, jobs and housing.
It all seems so long ago that it is almost irrelevant today, except that we appear to be entering another period when it’s becoming more acceptable to hate non-Christian residents. There was the Quebec City mosque attack five years ago when shooter Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six and attempted to murder another six. There was the London murder, two years ago, of Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their daughter Yumna and her grandmother, Talat Afzaal by a youth who ran them over with his pick-up truck.
Across the border, there was the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 people and wounded six. Meanwhile discrimination against Jews appears to have increased in terms of complaints to police.
I mentioned last week the busloads of migrants from desperate parts of the world who have made their risky way across the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the U.S., only to be transported to more liberal northern areas by Southern Governors. They are avoiding a high-wire wall and in-the-river obstacles designed to prevent crossings that were installed by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump has been stirring up much of the current distrust and hatred, going all the way back to his 1989 newspaper advertisements criticizing the Central Park Five, five teenage Black boys accused of killing a white female jogger. The men spent 16 years in jail before another man was convicted of the murder in 2002. It took another decade before the much-older men were awarded more than $40 million by a court.
Right-wing spokesmen often attribute ulterior motives to George Soros, a Hungarian-born billionaire who has used his wealth to support causes of understanding. Soros, now 93, was a teenager during the days of the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were exterminated by Adolf Hitler. He escaped because his father had his family pose as non-Jews in Romania.
Having survived the war, Soros worked as a laborer while he got a degree in Britain, but later became a billionaire through brilliant investment decisions. He used his wealth to support the sort of causes he grew up understanding from his turbulent youth.
But he has made enemies. When first charged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump accused him of being “handpicked and funded by Soros”. In Hungary, his own country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a sweeping election victory by manufacturing and then running against the image of Soros forcing Muslim immigration and liberal social policies on Hungarians. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed in 2018 that Soros “assigns people to divide nations and shatter them”.
Against all this, it was refreshing to hear from someone who was a migrant to the U.S. 31 years ago. Though he still speaks with an accent, he has started his own pizza chain and prospered. Now, he told an MSNBC interviewer recently, he welcomes refugees who arrived recently and would offer them jobs and, where he has the space available, housing, if the U.S. government would allow them to work.
The thing that many of today’s residents of Canada and the U.S. seem to forget is that most people in North America are immigrants from elsewhere in the world. Whether in sailing ships (as my ancestors did), ocean liners (as my wife’s ancestors did), aircraft or walking, as some southern migrants do, most of us arrived poor and seeking a better life.
There was already a native population here when we arrived, so we are all - Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Daoists and many more - living in a “foreign” land. Yet, we are also living in an exciting country where, with a little tolerance and understanding, we can build a new place embracing all the peoples of the world. What a magnificent possibility! All we have to do is accept people different from us - yet also the same!