To the elected leaders of this country—
My family immigrated to Canada when I was a child. They came here because this country offered them a way to escape from the economic and political uncertainty that had plagued East Africa for years, and they came with the hopes of setting up a new life in a country that was stable, safe, and supportive.
We didn’t have much when we arrived, but we had the support of a loving community of friends and neighbours, and of a social structure that allowed us to access education, healthcare, and services that helped us settle, grow, and thrive. For the past thirty years, my parents have given back as much as they can, invested in the community and the city and the country, and done everything possible to help those who come to this country—like they did, thirty years ago—because staying where they were isn't an option anymore.
Not a single day goes by when I am not thankful for the opportunity to have come here, to make Canada my home, and to have the freedom to be myself and become the man I want to be. I have spent my career in public service—and hope to continue to spend my life in the public sector—working on projects that make Canada a better place for everyone that lives here, and for those who will come to live here in the future.
Our geographic neighbours to the south, under the leadership of their newly-elected President, have made it clear that people like me, like my family—brown-skinned, Muslim, African immigrants—are not welcome in their country. More than this, they have taken clear steps to ensure that my story, the story of a family looking for peace and solace and who spend the rest of their lives giving back to the country that gave them that opportunity, will never be allowed to happen again.
I am in shock and dismay (I have been breaking out in tears sporadically over the past few days) to know that so many people, in the United States but also in this country of Canada, do not feel that I (and people like me) belong, and in fact would choose extermination over compassion. I am saddened, but I am also angry at those who allow this to happen, who tacitly endorse this sentiment through their silence.
To them, I say: Not here. Not now. Not anywhere. Not ever.
I am calling on the leaders of Canada to speak out against this practice and this sentiment, not through vague generalities about multiculturalism and acceptance, but through the explicit denouncing of the refugee/Muslim ban and of the people who are responsible for the ban.
I am calling on the leaders of Canada to commit to providing safe harbour for those who have lost their families, homes, livelihoods, and lives because of the impetuousness of this ban, and to allow those who have been displaced to receive sanctuary in our country.
I am calling on the leaders of Canada to recognize that this populist sentiment is not unique to our southern neighbours, and to publicly admit that our country also grapples with similar issues and that ignoring the problems here will lead to the same kind of rhetoric that is now de rigueur in the United States.
Most of all, I am calling on our country’s leaders to be vocal in their opposition to bigotry, misogyny, and hatred of all kinds, and to not rest on the platitudes that we so often repeat. It is not enough to say “Canada is not like them”—we must speak out against atrocities, and we must take tangible, quantifiable action to fight against these policies that threaten our multicultural social fabric. Most of all, we must take concrete action to eliminate this kind of hatred here, at home.
My parents came to Canada because they believed in this country; they came because they knew that, here, they were free to be themselves in a cosmopolitan, tolerant, and supportive society. They spent their whole lives telling me how lucky I am to have been raised here, and that I must spend my life making this country better as thanks for all it has done for us.
I will do my part, every day, for the rest of my life—I implore my country’s elected leaders to do theirs.
With fear, but also hope,
(The above message was personalized and sent via email and hand-written letter on January 28, 2017 to: Kate Young, MP; Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship; Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.)