Voyage of the Damned

I’m the seventh generation of my family to live in this country. To people in Toronto that seems like a lot, but where I grew up — Nova Scotia — it wasn’t such a big deal. Still, we’ve been here longer than most. By my best guess my family’s lived in this country since before it was a country.

That’s why I’m always so disheartened by the kind of xenophobia that meets incidents like the arrival in Vancouver of a ship carrying 490 Tamil refugees. We don’t live in an ancient society, we live in one that’s barely adolescent. Our country is, by its very nature, made up of dozens — hundreds, probably — of different peoples, many of whom fled war or famine or worse, the likes of which these very Tamils fled. The difference, as Michael Valpy rightly pointed out in Friday’s Globe, is both where they come from, and how they get here:

Globe and Mail reporter Rod Mickleburgh discovered nearly 10 years ago that refugee claimants arriving by plane at Vancouver airport were almost never detained, were soon given access to social and medical benefits, were rarely deported and had a cracking good chance of being smuggled into the U.S.

Most claimants arriving on filthy, rusting ships or stowed away in containers, on the other hand, saw the inside of jails, lost their applications for refugee status and were deported. Immigration officials say it’s because the boat people are being trafficked by organized criminals.

See? If these Tamils just had the good sense to be white and buy some plane tickets, they’d be all set. But instead they did it the hard way, cramming themselves into an old freighter for a four-month slog across the Pacific. Surely their lack of drive and unwillingness to endure hardship will cause a drain on our social services.

Please, not another Komagata Maru. Not another MS St. Louis.

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