Saturday, June 18, 2011

If Vic Toews Had Lived Then ...

I spent several years researching my family history, not only to create a genealogy, but to find the stories that brought my ancestors to Canada.

The first arrived in 1632 as an army surgeon. His future wife would join the colony at Port Royal, a few years later, but it's what brought her here that is interesting.

Her father was escaping the law. Apparently he was among a group, that included a Catholic priest, who were caught stealing firewood from a nobleman's estate. Had they not they would have froze to death, but that didn't matter. All the wealth was in the hands of a few, and you didn't try to get any of it for yourself.

Had that been today he would no doubt have been detained and shipped back, but he found refuge in Canada. His daughter would marry my ancestral grandfather, raise a large Acadian family, and contribute to Canadian history.

One of their descendants would later meet the son of an Irish immigrant, better known as my grandparents.

What brought his family to Canada is also an interesting story.

My dad had always told me that his grandfather was a "freedom fighter". An Irish Catholic who had joined a group of rebels opposing British rule.

I mentioned this to an aunt several years ago, when I was visiting her in New Brunswick, and she brought out an old Irish newspaper that she had from 1833. In it there was a small story about three men who had blown up an "outhouse" and were still at large.

I laughed thinking it was just a prank. A desire to watch the crap fly. But she informed me that the "outhouse" was actually a munitions shed, and had they not escaped to Canada, would have probably been executed.

They were just teenagers then, and by today's standards, "terrorists". But given the suffering of the Irish at the time, especially Irish Catholics, who were refused basic human rights, it's easy to put it into context.

Those rebels found wives in Canada, raised large families, and produced many mayors, judges, and even a provincial fisheries minister.

Bruce Cheadle has a great story on the ancestors of our current Public Safety minister, Vic Toews. He reminds us that had someone like Toews been in his job in 1929, the future Vic Toews would not exist.
There's a global recession and Canada's economy is not immune. Shiploads of strange, foreign refugees — economic migrants and oppressed minorities — have been landing on our shores, fleeing civil war, economic upheaval and famine. No one is certain how they can be assimilated and there are concerns about criminals, subversives and agitators in their midst.

"If (their) ... government is threatening to deport them ... it is probably because they refuse to obey the laws of the country, and we should have full information regarding the facts," one mainstream advocacy group objects.

No, it is not 2010. The year is 1929. The migrants are Mennonites fleeing Joseph Stalin's Soviet Russia and deportation to certain starvation in Siberia. Canada's doors are slamming shut to refugees. Among the massive Mennonite influx who had helped fuel that public and political backlash were the Ukrainian refugee grandparents and parents of current Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
I had written a similar story when Peter Van Loan was Public Safety minister, and I learned that he was engaged in horrific workplace raids.
With the stage being set for war, the small Republic of Estonia declared neutrality, not wishing to take sides in any conflict.

However, a month before the Invasion of Poland that precipitated World War II; Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was a treaty of nonaggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This sealed the fate for the Estonian people, as they soon fell under the Soviet sphere of influence. Mass political arrests, deportations, and executions followed, as Stalin's scorched earth philosophy was inflicted on the country.

Peter Van Loan's mother and grandparents fled during this horrible time, and were among three thousand Estonian immigrants, given asylum in Canada.
Toews refuses to discuss his family history, I suppose believing it to be irrelevant. But it is very relevant.

We could argue that the world is a dangerous place, but the world has always been a dangerous place, and Canada throughout our history, a refuge, where many sought safety from oppressive regimes, starvation, and in the case of my Irish ancestor, political asylum.

Do we really want to be a country that closes the door, and turns back those suffering? For example, Jason Kenney once claimed that the Roma from Czechoslovakia, were not legitimate refugees, only opportunists.

But Peter O'Neil, European Correspondent for Canwest News Service, wrote in May of 2009:
A ghastly arson attack that has left a two-year-old girl fighting for her life contradicts Canadian and Czech government assertions that an exodus of Roma refugee claimants to Canada is driven by economics, rather than fear of persecution, say members of the Roma community here.... They say they face a constant threat of neo-Nazi attacks and hateful demonstrations, where marchers head into Roma communities and call them "parasites," organized by increasingly sophisticated organizations such as the far-right Workers' Party."We are afraid for our lives," said Martin Duna, 31 ... "We are worried that Hitler is coming back." ...

Duna's reference to Hitler, who sent Roma, as well as Jews and homosexuals, to extermination camps during the Second World War, isn't as extreme as it may sound ... Czech municipal politicians have won nationwide public praise for evicting Roma from apartments to live in metal containers in city outskirts; and human-rights groups have reported involuntary sterilizations of Roma women from the late 1960s to as recently as late last year.

Growing neo-Nazi violence, as well as discrimination and even segregation in areas such as health, housing, education, criminal justice and employment, have been reported in numerous publications issued by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International.
We are becoming a country without a heart, and one that ignores its rich history.

I'm just glad that Vic Toews, Peter Van Loan or Jason Kenney, were not around in 1632 or 1833. If they had, I would not be in 2011.

1 comment:

  1. There was a BBC documentary shown on CBC Newsworld many years ago which I never forgot. It was called "What Magdalena Said". Made in 1993, it explored the relationship between Czechs and Roma; here is a summary:

    "What Magdalena Said. Dir. Michael Stewart BBC1, 49 minutes,1994 Czech-Slovak, England. In 1993 the runner up at the Miss Czech-Slovak competition, Magdalena Babicka, won worldwide notoriety when she decclared that her life-time ambition was to become a public prosecutor, in order to cleanse her town of 'its brown-skinned inhabitants.' Social Anthropologist, Michael Stewart, who had lived in a Romany settlement in Hungary under communism, took a film crew (camera Barry Ackroyd) to Magdalena's home town to explore the roots of a beauty queen's racist attitudes. There, just as the Czech and Slovak Republics were celebrating their 'velvet divorce', he discovered a Romany family living under a bush in the public park, having - as Slovaks - just lost their right to reside in the Czech Republic. The film follows the trials and tribulations of members of this family and Magdalena's mother who takes us into the dark past of this part of the world. "

    There is no doubt that Czech Roma are discriminated against: "...surveys do show anti-Roma sentiment is widespread. The European Union EURoma website says Czech Romas endure extremely high unemployment rates, low educational standards, isolation, and the prejudices of the majority population."

    There can also be little doubt that Jason Kenney would have been briefed about that little girl who had been firebombed; his determination that Czech Roma are just "opportunitistic" asylum seekers came at the same time.

    The little girl lived. But she still suffers, and likely has much suffering still ahead of her.

    Yeah, right Jason... Roma in the Czech Republic are just making it up...