We gain so much from newcomers - Keith Roulston editorial
If there’s one thing that should have become clear during the current pandemic it is how much Canada has gained from immigration.
Many of those leading the fight against deadly COVID-19 are, if not immigrants themselves, then children or grandchildren of people who made the brave decision to leave behind the world they knew to take a chance on a better life in Canada. It appears that both they and Canada benefited from that difficult choice.
From Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, through her deputy Dr. Howard Njoo, to the Chief Medical Officers of Health of some provinces to local Medical Officers of Health in several regions, names and skin colours show people in charge who would not have occupied those positions if, decades ago, Canada hadn’t changed its immigration policies to recruit people from the entire world, not just white-skinned Europe.
As well, many of the doctors commenting on the pandemic on television news broadcasts are obviously this country’s reward for an open immigration policy. Less glamorously, in many urban areas many personal care workers trying to keep our seniors safe and comfortable are recent arrivals in Canada.
There are always those who resent and fear immigration. Many perpetuate an image of new immigrants happily sitting idle collecting government support instead of finding jobs. But the reality is most new immigrants bring with them the same drive to succeed that made our own ancestors here in Huron County tackle the clearing of 100-acre, tree-covered farms with nothing more than an axe.
What’s more, listen to new Canadians at a citizenship ceremony, and you’ll likely hear expressions of joy about newly-gained citizenship that the rest of us take for granted.
I was reminded of all that the other morning when I happened to switch to Your Morning, CTV’s morning show, and catch the tail-end of Ben Mulroney’s interview with Mohamed Fakih. What I heard was so inspiring and moving that I simply had to learn more about this extraordinary Canadian-by-choice.
Mohamed Fakih was born in Lebanon and trained as a gemologist when he immigrated to Canada in 1996. Ten years later, the owner of a Mississauga restaurant serving Middle Eastern food begged him to invest in the business. Instead he bought the restaurant and ran it himself under the parent company Paramount Foods.
Since then, Fakih has grown Paramount Foods into an 85-restaurant chain, with locations in dozens of provinces, states and countries. But his business success only provides Fakih with the means for a remarkable number of his efforts to give back to his new country.
In 2017, after a well-armed gunman targeted Muslims praying at a Quebec City mosque, killing six and wounding 19, Fakih felt he had to do something. He paid for funeral expenses for the victims and for repairs to the mosque.
In December of 2017, Toronto experienced a stretch of -30°C weather. With Toronto’s housing shelters at capacity, Fakih helped pay for dozens of hotel rooms for the homeless and, years later, continues to financially support ongoing efforts to get families off the streets.
During the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, Fakih travelled to Syria to the front lines to better understand relief efforts. Since then he has hired more than 150 refugees in his restaurants.
When fire swept through a rent-geared-to-income apartment building in 2018, Fakih spearheaded the raising of $125,000 in 24 hours for the families that had been displaced.
A year ago, after Iraq accidentally shot down Ukraine Airlines Flight 957, killing dozens of Canadians and even more people bound for Canada, he spearheaded the CanadaStrong campaign: the raising of nearly $6 million, including matching funds by the Canadian federal government, for the families of victims.
This past summer after a horrific explosion that leveled much of Beirut, causing at least 204 deaths and 6,500 injuries, Fakih returned to the land of his birth to see what he could do. The result was the Lebanese-Canadian Coalition which raised $17.2 million.
Then there’s the story of Soufi’s, a popular downtown Toronto eatery, which closed because of threats. After their eldest son was part of a protest outside a Hamilton event featuring People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, racist harassment made the family afraid to run their business so they closed it.
Fakih pledged to help the Al-Soufi’s reopen the restaurant, saying the family would retain ownership and all profits. “We’re going to send a message that hate will never win in Canada,” said Fakih.
Seeing the gifts we receive from new and relatively new Canadians, we multi-generation Canadians have a lot to live up to.