Opinion: Tradition of acceptance

Canada has a history of welcoming refugees and accommodating immigrants. We can't let fear and intolerance change that.

To begin, the Syrian refugee crisis is not new.

In a country ravaged by civil war for nearly five years, the human toll has had plenty of time to mount.

It’s estimated more than 250,000 people are dead so far – the majority civilians.

Another 11 million – roughly a third the population of Canada – have been forced from their homes. Of those, four million have fled the country in a pitiful exodus not seen since the Second World War.

That Canadians are just waking up to this crisis does not change the history. It does not change the fact that children born into this tragedy will soon celebrate their fifth birthday having never known peace and security.

Canada has a chance to change that, at least for some.

The effort to accommodate a small percentage of refugees is gathering momentum. In Chilliwack – and across Canada – individuals and organizations are planning for their arrival. They’re gathering funds, finding accommodations and marshaling services. They are demonstrating the same compassion that led to our earlier acceptance of those fleeing unrest and persecution: the Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Ismailis, Czechs, Chileans, Iranians, Ukrainians, Vietnamese, Bosnians, Kosovars and others.

Of course Canada’s record is not without blemish. The plight of 907 Jews who tried to escape Nazi Germany in 1939 aboard the ocean liner St. Louise offers a good example. Canada refused them, and 254 later died in concentration camps.

It is not a chapter we can be proud of.

But it is one we can learn from.

Canada has agreed to take in 25,000 refugees. Of the four million Syrians fleeing the murderous carnage in their homeland, that’s 0.06 per cent.

Yes, accommodating them will bring challenges.

But turning them away puts us in uncomfortable company. It places us on the side of the fearful, in the camp of the selfish, and in league with the intolerant.

That is a betrayal of a tradition that shaped this country and should not be entertained lightly.