Let’s keep an open mind about refugees

Published on January 6, 2016
Peter Jackson

While the concept wasn’t new, the horror of killing one’s own child to preserve family pride truly hit home to Canadians in December 2007.

On the morning of Dec. 10, police in Mississauga were called to the home of a man who said he had just killed his daughter. Sixteen-year-old Aqsa Parvez was clinging to life. She later died in hospital from what was determined to be strangulation. In the 2010 murder trial, it was learned her brother had killed her because she refused to wear a hijab.

Honour killings were in the news again in 2009, when an Afghan immigrant, Mohammad Shafia, along with his son and second wife, were convicted of murdering four women — the couple’s three daughters and Mohammad’s first wife.

They are shocking cases, and raise serious questions about the sort of cultural baggage some newcomers to Canada may be bringing. But they are not the norm, and are not, more importantly, specific to one religion.

That’s not to say honour killings don’t primarily occur in Muslim countries, but that the practice has more to do with a twisted view of society rather than faith.

I was interested to learn recently that the same applies to female circumcision — or, as it is more appropriately called, female genital mutilation.

This cruel practice originated predominantly in Africa, but is not, as some may think, an exclusively Muslim custom. It also occurs among Christian populations.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even in countries where these practices still abound, they are rarely officially condoned.

I bring this up after reading Ujjal Dosanjh’s recent blog posting about the so-called silencing of “white men” in Canadian society. The National Post published it Monday.

Dosanjh, a former B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister, laments that political correctness has become a silencer of free speech.

 Before you laugh it off as so much white privilege nonsense, keep in mind that Dosanjh is technically Indo-Canadian himself. His references to “white guilt” refer not so much to skin colour as traditional Canadian values. And this, he says, has been squelched in the rush to promote unconditional cultural relativity.

“What started as a legitimate change to bring about equality and transformation of how we viewed, treated and spoke about each other has now ossified into a rarely breached wall of silence,” he wrote.

I think he’s right, and this inhibition to speak the truth has helped foster much of the extreme prejudice we see today over Muslim immigrants and refugees.

“This fear has habituated many Western leaders in their frailty to speak the unvarnished truth about the need for the refugees and immigrants welcomed into these societies to fully integrate in them,” Dosanjh says.

Integration doesn’t mean assimilation. We expect new Canadians to keep their essential traditions: to eat the foods and worship the gods they are accustomed to, and to raise their children as they see fit.

But there should be no question that sexual inequality, discrimination and violence have no place here, for Canadians of any generation.

If we are cowed by political correctness against discussing these concerns openly, we create a vacuum that’s easily filled with irrational fear and the unchallenged rants of bona fide bigots.

Are we sufficiently screening potential refugees? Will we be creating parallel and unequal societies? What are the limits to cultural freedoms?

These are all fair topics. What’s not fair is to jump to conclusions: to stereotype Muslims as barbaric and violent, or to decide purely in our own minds what’s going on in theirs.

We are supposed to be living in an open society. It’s time we practised what we preach.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s news editor. Email: