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canada_flag_halifax_9_-04Canada is the envy of the world. It is a dream accomplished by those who immigrate to this country and do their best to become a part of her. Half a century ago, when I left my motherland, it was not for Canada.  It was for the UK and USA. Destiny added Canada to the list.

As soon as I landed on the west coast in 1970, I started feeling alive breathing her meditation-clean air and dating its snow clad lovely mountains and beaches.  In addition to her seductive beauty, I found Canada warm and caring like my mother. Her compelling attitude made me think of making her my permanent home.  And Canada is where I have been ever since, though initially living a life split between my new love and loyalty to my old love was not easy. Several times I thought of returning to India, which still pulled my heart strings.

My first friendly encounter with the Hon. Ron Basford at a street festival has been unforgettable experiences to date. I was standing aloof and away from the barbecue smoke with my wife Tripta and our three year old daughter, Aparna. He noticed us; he came and introduced himself with a business card. I felt shocked. I had never dreamt a Cabinet Minister would come to us to shake our hands.

The impact of that hand shake was that I began to dream of running for a public office in India. Why in India, because I was new to Canada, where I had no support system, yet.  I wrote to my eldest brother for advice. His response was like being showered with freezing water.  “You are not wealthy enough to buy votes or hire goons, who would do your dirty work. Don’t think of running for an elected office in India.”

When you have spent a few years out of your birthplace, you start comparing it with the country you plan to settle in. Almost every time I had a new Canadian experience, I compared it with India or England or the United States.  For example, in Canada buses and trains did not charge fare for children under five. After a year, when we returned ‘Home’ to introduce Aparna to her grand parents, the Bus Conductor assuming our daughter was more than five years demanded her ticket. I told him she was not five then. He argued.  I showed him her passport to prove her date of birth. He refused to look at the document and said, “Her passport has no value on my bus.” I found his response insulting, annoying and concerning.  

Slowly, I began to experience Canadian democracy in action. Like England, Japan, Sweden, and many other countries, Canada is a constitutional monarchy, meaning the Queen is the Head of the State, but this made no difference to living an every day normal life.

Canadian parliamentarians are democratically elected. They make laws to serve and protect the country and make a positive impact on its citizens and immigrants alike. They do not discriminate no matter who you are.  In few words, the laws of Canada are equalizers.

Canada respects and practices Rule of Law and expects its citizens to respect and follow it.  Here conflicts are resolved through negations, mediations, arbitrations and courts, not in back alleys through muscle power.  Canada’s Justice Mantra is, “You are innocent until proven guilty.”  If charged, you are given every opportunity to prove your innocence.

Terms like equity, social justice and tolerance that I was not familiar with, mattered in Canada. The proverb: “Might is right” was hard to find in play. In Canada officers neither ask for nor accept bribes for service.

As you already know that my landing in Canada was completely uncharted. It was my destiniy that played a hand in paving my path and ensuring that Sir Richard McBride and Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King types were gone before I came to Canada. Actually what I learned about these elected officers was hurtful and has remained hurtful to this day.   Here are two short stories about their evil behaviour.

 In the early morning of May 23, 1914, a chartered Japanese ship Komagata Maru steamed into Vancouver harbour with 376 people on board. The Canadian authorities barred their entry using the so-called “continuous journey clause,” which was put in place to limit immigration from non-European AKA non-white countries.

“To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean the end, the extinction of the white people.And we always have in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man’s country,”  said Sir Richard McBride, the then the premier of B.C.                                        — Source: Jim Coyle; News, Insight, May 16, 2016.

In 1939, history repeated itself. The Prime Minister, Sir William Lyon Mackenzie, refused to accept 907 Jewish refugees who came to Canada on St. Louise, a German Ship seeking sanctuary. The ship was returned to Europe, where 254 of its passengers were later killed in concentration camps.

“Nobody wanted us … We were Jews, we were expendable … It was terrible — terrible, terrible of Canada and the United States, of all countries, to not let us in;” said Dr. Messinger, a retired physician in Buffalo, N.Y. in an interview to the National Post, January 17, 2011.

 However, in June 1957 a new star was born on the political horizon of Canada. He was Hon. John Diefenbaker. First he enacted the Canadian Bill of Rights on August 10, 1960, and then opened the doors in 1962 for one hundred Chinese refugees fleeing the Communist China to Hong Kong. His government even financed their travel and their settlement in Canada.

Sir Diefenbaker, I would say, was the first Prime Minister, who started humanising Canadian immigration policies. Ever since, Canada has been working hard to improving its democracy and its democratic institutions – legislature, judiciary and executive.

[Part-2 to follow.]

-By Dr. Suresh Kurl

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