After the universal slaughter ended in 1945 and millions had to leave a shattered Europe, 270,000 Germans made their way to Canada to start a new life. Despite having been the mortal enemy of Canada and the Allies for five brutal years, they were taken in.
No doubt they all paid a personal price for a time. The sound of slurs like “square head” and “kraut” was often in their ears. And “Nazi”, of course. I heard those words a lot in the neighbourhood where I grew up. They came from a strange source — adults. I knew they didn’t like these people. I just didn’t know why.
Like the Germans, the Italians also came to Canada, though they arrived in two distinct waves after both great wars. For part of the time in between those wars, they were designated as ‘enemy aliens’. Italy was the enemy in the Second World War and yet 500,000 Italians came to Canada for the same reason as the Germans — to start a better life, in what they hoped would be a better place.
And like the Germans, they often did not begin life in their new land with a toast to their health and an embrace from their fellow citizens. They were “wops” and “dagos” and “spaghetti-eaters”, people who turned their backyards into vegetable gardens. They smelled like garlic. They wore funny clothes to school. They were “DPs”, short for “Displaced Peoples”. But “Different People” was also a good descriptor.
Then, to complete the picture, the Japanese came — though in their case it didn’t happen until the mid-60s and their numbers were smaller. The reason for that delay is that Japanese-Canadians had been cleared from the West Coast of Canada under the War Measures Act during the Second World War.
But when the restrictions were lifted, on they came. By the 2006 census, 98,900 people of Japanese descent were living in Canada.
My point? People who had once been our mortal enemies have become some of our strongest, most productive, most brilliant fellow citizens. Canadians. And that’s because life is bigger than war, and the human condition stronger than the most carefully nurtured hate.
Which is why the reaction of some Canadian politicians to the terror investigation into the unspeakable attack on a Christmas market in Berlin is so rancid. As reported by iPolitics reporter Janice Dickson, CPC leadership hopeful Steven Blaney solicited donations for his political campaign the day after 12 people were killed by a man creating mayhem with an 18-wheeler loaded with steel.
How complete was Blaney’s stupefying vulture imitation? He asked for $51 dollars — playing off Bill C-51, the Harper police-state legislation that the Trudeau government has yet to amend as promised. Just send Blaney the $51 smackers, sign away some serious civil liberties, and he’ll make you safe. And not just from terrorist attacks, but the nefarious fashion infiltration of the niqab.
Sadly, Blaney has allies in the CPC leadership field. Kellie Leitch is so far out to breakfast, lunch and dinner that she is giddy with excitement about Donald Trump’s recent electoral victory. Yes, the pussy-grabbing plutocrat who gives hope to the super-rich is her new idol.
What is it, Kellie, that makes you such a Trumper? His treatment of women, his serial lying, his pimping of the presidency for a million dollars a meeting? (Oh, sorry, his sons backed out of that one.) Or maybe it’s his itchy Twitter finger. He may end up being the first U.S. president to start a war on social media. He’s already been sucked into a new nuclear arms race by Vladimir Putin.
More likely it’s Trump’s recent claim that events in Berlin have vindicated one of his wackier ideas: banning all Muslims from the United States, despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of religion. That fits well with Leitch’s proposed screening exercise, in which immigrants’ thoughts would be vetted to make sure that they conform with ‘Canadian values’. Screening is Tolerance, Kellie tells us. Yes, and War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength and Freedom is Slavery.
The same sick message being peddled by these two CPC leadership candidates is popping up all over the western world. The National Front in France is flat-out anti-immigrant. The ultra-right mayor of Beziers was quick to point out that the terror suspect in Germany was once again a refugee. “The wave of migrants,” he said, “is a wave of death.”
Austria now has its Freedom Party, which spouts the same anti-immigrant line.
Even in Germany, which has been a beacon to the world in its acceptance of over a million desperate people displaced by war in the Middle East, the extreme Right is rising.
The Alternative for Deutschland party, once mired at 3 per cent in the polls, could get as much as 16 per cent of the vote in the 2017 elections. They want to ban minarets and calls to prayer and march under the slogan “Islam does not belong in Germany.”
What all of these salesmen of fear and hate forget is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are fleeing terrorism in its worst forms; they are not supporters of it, let alone practitioners of it. The Germans, Italians and Japanese who fought against us in the worst war in history were able to come here and heal. They went on to contribute tremendously to Canada’s success. Muslim immigrants hold out the same promise — provided we resist the unjust impulse to equate them all with ISIS or al Qaida.
I don’t recall a purge and banning of all Catholics after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.
Author: Michael Harris