By John Moore, Special to the National Post
You're shivering in the sharp cold of a winter's night outside of the hottest club in town. You try your hardest to attract the attention of the doorman. You smile and say clever things to your friends in a raised voice to look more deserving than everyone else in line. Eventually -- if you're lucky -- he unclips the velvet rope, the door swings open and you're swept into the party. He refastens the rope. Now everyone behind you is a sucker.
Every immigrant to Canada thinks he's the last good newcomer. It's been like that since the arrival of the first settlers. The natives thought little of the French. After the conquest, the English were reviled as inferior, maladroit rubes. As the countries of origin of our newcomers became more diverse, each new wave was regarded as lazy, grasping, unwashed and unwanted. Trace your family's roots and not only are you guaranteed to find an immigrant but also likely an ethnic or cultural community that was denigrated in its time.
And how soon we forget it. Every year we throw glorious parades to celebrate the Irish. In the 1850s the Irish were so hated, the city of Toronto struck a committee to figure out how to stop them from destroying the fabric of its culture. George Brown described the travail of being waylaid by Irish beggars in the pages of The Globe and Mail: "They are as ignorant and vicious as they are poor. They are lazy, improvident and unthankful."
With the arrival of a boat load of Tamil refugees, those of us already inside the velvet rope have a new minority to fear and demonize. The charges are always the same. "They're terrorists!" one listener to my radio show wrote to me. "And they will import their civil war to Canada." The listener can be forgiven for forgetting that the Irish spent years fighting out their sectarian conflict in the new world and shaking down ex patriots for money to fund the war at home. One of only two political assassinations in our country's history -- that of Thomas D'Arcy McGee -- was carried out by Irish terrorists.
True these might be valid arguments against letting in anyone from a country torn by civil strife, but I wonder how many of those descended from the Irish think it was a terrible mistake to let their forefathers in?
When I described to my listeners how the Italians were tarred following the Second World War and yet today we celebrate the enclaves where they continue to live in large concentrations, a man named Mario texted me: "Yeah but Italians look after their neighbourhoods. These filth have no respect for where they live." He might want to ask his parents or grandparents how many times they were referred to as "filth" back in the day.
A caller named Marion upbraided me for being out of touch with the spirit of the people. "You pay for these immigrants if you want them. Everybody here is losing everything; their health care [and] the roads are in poor condition."
One of my colleagues has griped indignantly that by raising our history of intolerance toward newcomers I am necessarily calling anyone with concerns about the arrival of the MV Sun Sea a racist. Not at all. But if Public Security Minister Vic Toews and others who like to stir up panic over this latest arrival of refugees find themselves sharing political terrain with unabashed racists, that's their burden to shoulder.
This doesn't mean we don't need to have an adult conversation about whom we welcome and how we integrate them into our national culture. But as long as people don't even know what the difference between an immigrant and a refugee is, one has to question just how adult a conversation it's going to be.
But it is good to be inside the velvet rope isn't it?
(John Moore is the host of Moore in the Morning on Toronto's News-Talk1010 AM. His people came from England, Ireland and the United States)