We are all immigrants
I remember well one of the best teaching sessions I ever had with surgical clerks. This session happened many years ago when I was a surgeon at the Toronto General Hospital. As was often the protocol, one of the senior medical students started rounds by presenting a case. I recall that the patient had been admitted with a small bowel obstruction. When reviewing the history and physical, the student made the comment that the history of the present illness was a bit fragmented because the patient “had a language problem.”
I remember my reaction; I stopped the reporting of the case and went around the room, student by student, asking each one of them about their paternal grandfathers. There were eight students in the room. Each student told me a brief story about their grandfather, and then I went around the room and asked each clerk, about the ability of each of their grandfathers to speak in English. As it turned out, none of the eight students’ grandfathers spoke any English. With that, I ended the rounds, reminded the students that we are all immigrants, and I left the room.
I was reminded of this event, over and over again, in the last few weeks as we learned, day after day, of the tragic and unimaginable crisis of the Syrian and other refugees as they tried to seek asylum in European countries. The deaths, the suffering, and the indignation has been nothing short of shameful and catastrophic.
This past week, we were reminded of the gravity of the situation through the words of Pope Francis as he addressed the United States Congress. He commented on the current situation in Syria drawing parallels to immigration to the U.S. from Latin America. His Holiness said: “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”1
And where is Canada?
In essence, we have been admitting a trickle of refugees into Canada, and in very limited numbers. Our Government is reticent to accelerate access to our country claiming concerns over security.
We can, and must, do more. Adelman, Alboim, Molloy and Cappe, in their recent article in The Globe and Mail, call for Canada to accept 50,000 refugees.3 Their article outlines an eight point plan underscoring its feasibility. I am personally convinced that we can accept this number of refugees, perhaps double that number. We are a country of 35,000,000 people. Surely we can absorb and support 100,000 men, women and children, desperately in need of a sanctuary, across this vast and great country.
We have a long history of humanitarianism in this country. It’s a history we should be proud of. We need a strong public outcry to prevent us from looking back at this time in history, in shameful reflection.
If you have any thoughts or comments about this current crisis, comment on the blog, or better yet, please stop by the Macklem House. My door is always open.