WAYNE YOUNG: Embracing diversity

P.E.I. welcomes newcomers – no need for values test

Wayne Young comments@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 3, 2016

I don’t have to part many branches in my family tree to discover I have deep roots in at least four European countries.

My four grandparents, as young Islanders growing up at the turn of the 20th century, would likely have heard first-hand accounts of their families immigration to Canada from Ireland, Scotland, England and France during the 1800s.

They all made their way to a tiny island on a new continent and, over the next century and a half, the Bulgers, MacDonalds, Maddixes and Youngs helped to populate and build communities across the province.

Today, immigrants in record numbers are still helping to grow and strengthen our Island communities and for that, we should all be grateful.

Over the past year, about 1,800 newcomers including 300 Syrian refugees have settled here. According to the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers, the Island welcomed more refugees on a per capita basis than any other province in Canada.

My hat is off to the association; to immigrant sponsors and to several hundred volunteers who pitched in to ensure the transition for these newcomers to P.E.I. went as smoothly as possible. Hopefully many of them will choose to make this their permanent home.

In return, we ask that they adhere to our laws and embrace our Charter that spells out the rights and freedoms we feel are necessary in a free and democratic society, among them, freedom of expression, conscience and religion, and equal rights for all.

Given those expectations, I’m puzzled by a proposal for more stringent testing of immigrants by Kellie Leitch, a candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. She wants to screen potential immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values.” She hasn’t clearly defined those values, although she has said they could include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, and violent or misogynist behavior.

It seems to me by signing on to our country’s Charter, immigrants are accepting the rights and freedoms we value in this country. They’re given a criminal background check and if, once they arrive, they step outside our laws, they will be prosecuted.

So I don’t see the need to further screen them for values that Leitch may deem to be anti-Canadian.

In P.E.I., we’re well known for helping out in times of need. By stepping up to welcome and resettle several hundred refugees from war-torn Syria, we’re hoping they’ll be able to build better lives here.

Immigrants like my European forebears helped build this country and this province, and we should celebrate the fact that people from countries from around the world are still coming with their families to help us grow and prosper.

I doubt Kellie Leitch’s proposed values test for newcomers will gain enough traction to win her the Tory leadership, even if pitching culturally divisive ideas seemed to pay off for U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

I hope our leaders and would-be leaders will have the sense to encourage all Canadians to accommodate diversity and to foster tolerance and understanding among immigrants and those who were born and raised here.

As we welcome thousands of newcomers to our province, Islanders are choosing to highlight the values that unite us – among them generosity of spirit, equality and respect for cultural differences. Leitch might take a lesson.

 

 

- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.