Syrian Refugees

To readers of my blog:

A few of you have inquired what I am up to since I have not sent out a blog for ten days. Basically, I am serving as an indentured unpaid but voluntary bondsman on Vancouver Island helping my son Daniel establish his aquaponics business on the farm he purchased near Duncan, BC. I am also helping another son in providing feedback on his film script. I am also catching up on long delays to answering my correspondence. (I receive an average of fifty emails per day, about 5-20 requiring answers and 1 or more needing extensive replies. I have written parts of three different blogs but had to get on the road again to get here, and since then have been so busy that they were never completed. I will try to get back to them this week. However, in the interim, you may be interested in one reply to an inquiry that I sent out this morning on Syrian refugees. The reply follows a copy of the inquiry.

 

Dear Mr. Adelman,

Hi! I would like to thank you for being willing to do this interview with me. As a reminder, I am inquiring about why there are so many Syrian refugees in the world, and what can be done to improve their situation. I am really passionate about this because through the news, I have acquired a better understanding about Syrian refugees, and where they are coming from. I believe that these refugees deserve a better future after all of the violence that they have experienced. Unfortunately, Through this interview, I am really hoping that you will be able to answer a few of my questions. I have not been able to find answers to my questions over the internet, since much of the information I came across does not present a clear, solid answer.

I have a few questions about you. I found your biography on the York University website, under “Centre for Refugee Studies”. I noticed that some of your interests included refugees and several other fields surrounding it, including refugee policy and resettlement. How did you become interested in this topic, and for how long have you engaged in these studies?

Below, I have included four questions about the Syrian refugees and their situation that I have been trying to seek answers to.

  1. Canada has pledged to accept more than 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Many of the Syrian refugees want to embark on a new journey; however, I’m wondering whether Canada is even prepared to host the refugees. I understand that there will definitely be additional costs in order for the Syrian refugees to resettle, such as food and a place to live. With these costs, how long will Canada be able to sustain their population with the allotted budget? Moreover, if Syrian refugees resettle in Canada, how will this impact the current population or people who are already living here? Will things such as job competition, a new identity, or other factors soon become an issue?
  1. Some economists believe that if Syrian refugees come to Canada, they will make a great contribution to the society and help to stimulate the economy, through an increase in workforce and productivity. However, what proof is out there that the Syrian refugees will not be a burden on Canada’s shoulders? Could the refugees actually drain or potentially weaken the economy instead? Some other facts to consider is that the Syrian refugees are indefinitely going to experience initial hurdles when they first settle in Canada. Issues that could arise include specific job qualifications or experience, language barriers, or even exclusion from the existing population. Is there a definite answer to this question, or is it too early to tell the effects?
  1. I am wondering how the media is able to influence how people view Syrian refugees, perhaps in a negative way. They seem to have the power to sway the minds of people across the entire nation. Is it because of our existing uncertainty towards Syrian refugees, or another reason altogether? After Germany was so generous and accepted so many refugees, ISIS rose up and there were accounts of attacks that had happened. This was also the case in Paris; one of the terrorists was found with a Syrian passport. Could situations such as these potentially jeopardize the futures of Syrian refugees?
  1. My fourth question is a matter of your opinion. Do you feel that accepting Syrian refugees should be considered as a “global responsibility”? Many of the European Union (E.U) countries have had past experiences with these types of refugee crises; however, I question whether they are applying this knowledge to today’s Syrian refugee crisis. Have their views shifted over time? If so, why?

Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Adelman. I appreciate your time to participate in my interview and to answer my questions. I hope you respond soon!

Sincerely,

Martin

 

MY RESPONSE

Martin;

  1. About myself and my interest in refugee studies:

I first became involved with refugees sixty years ago when I was in charge of the student co-operative residences at the University of Toronto and helped organize the use of those residences for the initial housing of Hungarian refugees when they came to Toronto, Canada. But my intellectual interest only took off twenty-three years later when, in 1979, I began Operation Lifeline, the organization to encourage the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees. After the initial flurry or organization, in 1980 I helped found the journal, Refuge, and set up at York University the Refugee Studies Project to collect literature and encourage research and scholarship initially on the Indochinese refugees and subsequently on all refugee populations.

On Syrian Refugees:

  1. What policies and practices are in place in Canada to host Syrian refugees?

The answer is threefold:

  1. We have a Department of Immigration which has had a long policy and years of practice in the resettlement of refugees, but which had grown rusty with relative disuse in resettling large numbers over very recent years. But the institutional memory remained and Canada had a sixty-year history of gearing up rapidly to ensure the resettlement of large numbers of refugees.
  2. For years, churches and organizations, like the Jewish Immigration Service (JIS), have been involved in partnering with the government in helping resettle refugees. In the Immigration Act that came into effect in 1978, provision was made to allow those private organizations and religious institutions, as well as any group of five or more Canadians who could prove they could support the refugees for one year, to initiate the private sponsorship of refugees. Hence Operation Lifeline and the huge outpouring of efforts to privately sponsor refugees led initially by the Liberal government and then, after June 1979, by the Tory government of Joe Clark.
  3. Since, and in good part as a result of the resettlement of large numbers of Indochinese refugees beginning in 1979, Canada has set up a system of privately-organized and publicly funded resettlement agencies in major centres across the country to help facilitate the resettlement of refugees.

So the main issue is institutional, not funding. Within the overall Canadian budget, the cost of resettling refugees is relatively small. Further, though in the Syrian refugee resettlement program it may end up costing $400 million, those funds could be considered as a long-term capital investment in human resources rather than simply an expenditure allocated to the budget in a single year since those refugees, once resettled, more than pay back the costs of resettlement in increased tax revenues for the government years after the refugees are resettled. Canada has a population base 50% larger than in 1979 and can easily afford to take in 50,000 Syrian refugees per year.

As for the impact on Canadians already here, any addition to the work force, whether from Canadians born here and entering the work force, from immigrants and refugees who arrive here as children and teenagers or from mature adult refugees and immigrants entering the labour market, increases the competition for jobs, but, at the same time, increases the demand for jobs, and, for immigrants and refugees who are compelled to spend a much higher percentage of their income on resettlement and immigration, a higher percentage of their income is spent on locally-produced goods and services.

As for identity and cultural and social conflicts, these always exist in all societies, but the major source of problems by far always come mainly from the existing population and, thankfully in Canada, the percentage of the population resisting the intake of foreigners has become a minority. Enlightened political and social policies are important in reducing that minority further. The issue of cultural and racial clashes has been enormously reduced in Canada since 1979.

  1. Costs versus Benefits of Resettling Refugees

As Canada has developed a more sophisticated economy far more dependent on the development of high skill levels as the economy became more diverse and more globalized, the payback in initial investment has taken longer, but there is still a significant payback, and certainly from the next generation born from and raised by those immigrants and refugees, who, in general, are raised with a built-in pressure for success. As for proof, you will have to do your research on the studies by economists in Canada. The overwhelming evidence is that over the long term, refugees, as well as immigrants, are a net benefit to the Canadian economy in spite of initial hurdles when they first settle in Canada over specific job qualifications or experience, language barriers, or even exclusion by the existing population, the latter, as I stated above, having become greatly diminished over the years.

  1. The Role of the Media

There is a definite correlation between the support by the media and the response of Canadians. The Canadian media in general have demonstrated a long history of support for the intake and resettlement of refugees that has been crucial to the outstanding Canadian success story in resettling refugees. Further, in every refugee movement, or almost everyone – the Bahá’is may be one exception – there have always been some “bad apples”. The Syrian refugee movement has been branded as a potential terrorist threat from a very small minority who infiltrate the refugee movement. That danger is infinitely small in Canada given our process of selection. The real danger comes from homegrown terrorists who emerge generally but no exclusively from among second generation refugees who are marginalized. Canada has overwhelmingly escaped that problem because of our history, our practices and our institutionalization of successful integration, not to be confused with assimilation.

By the way, there is absolutely no evidence of a causal connection between Germany’s generosity towards Syrian refugees and the rise of ISIS. But certainly when those who carry Syrian passports commit atrocities, this brings about bad public relations for the intake and resettlement of refugees. Hopefully, enlightened minds and deep institutional practices will surmount that perceived threat as they did when a group arose objecting to the intake of Indochinese refugees, not only on racist grounds, but over alleged fears that foreign governments and bodies would use the Indochinese refugee resettlement to infiltrate Canada with Communist spies. That proved to be wholly false in the case of the Indochinese, but in the case of my own community of Jewish immigrants and refugees years earlier, a very few, usually second generation, turned out to develop as communist spies, but the numbers were so tiny and the proportion making such a huge contribution to Canada so extremely large, that the risk proved to be very heavily weighted towards taking the very small risk.

  1. The Global Responsibility to Refugees

Yes, accepting refugees is a global responsibility, but just because most countries do not take on that responsibility does not mean that the countries that do should not. When I was much younger, only a small minority of states defended democracy and the cause of universal human rights, but those numbers have increased since. This too has happened with the acceptance of helping refugees as a global responsibility. In 1979 at the time of the Indochinese refugee movement, there were only ten countries that accepted a responsibility to help the proximate countries deal with the huge burden of refugees. That number has increased enormously since, but still constitutes only a minority of even developed nations and there remain in Europe and elsewhere states, or, more accurately, governments that refuse to accept he principle of burden sharing. Further, it must be remembered that it is the adjoining states – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in the case of Syrian refugees – that have the overwhelming and primary burden of the Syrian refugees. For example, the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan constitute 15-18% of its population. That is equivalent to Canada, a very much richer country, taking in over 5 million refugees instead of 500,000 or 10% of that number or the 50,000 we will likely take in by the end of this year, that is 1% of that number Jordan has taken in.

Hope this helps.

Howard

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Refugee Policy: Indochinese versus Syrian Refugees

Secularist Religions – continued.

  1. Refugee Policy: Indochinese versus Syrian Refugees

How we treat and incorporate the stranger into the we that we want to become? This emerged as a central issue in the recent Canadian election. Language was used to convey the very opposite message than it appeared to have on the surface. Generosity stood for stinginess or miserly behaviour. Compassion stood for relative indifference. Balance came to stand for a very deformed policy. A speedy and sensitive response came to mean tardiness, delay and interference from the very top.

Stephen Harper asserted in debates and talks that the Conservative Party had been very generous but also very balanced in welcoming the stranger. But his government’s actions and behaviour demonstrated miserliness of the most extreme sort. Generosity came to mean the government sponsoring the intake of at most 2,000 out of over 4 million Syrian refugees in 2016, that is, .00005% of the refugee population. And the balance between ensuring security for the self and generosity by the self was the assurance that the process could be accomplished without spending any more money. Balancing the books took precedence.

In 2013, the government pledged to take 1,300 Syrian refugees over the next 12 months. It did admit 1,300, but over 20 months, or 780 over twelve months. Most of these were sponsored by the private sector, meaning the government merely had to financially support the intake. The government of Canada then announced that it would take 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years, or 3,300 per year with 60% allocated to the private sector, or almost 2,000. About 1,300 were planned to be government sponsored. The pressure on the government built, some of it from Tory party members. The government then upped the planned intake by 10,000 more, but now over four years. Further, they were to be a mixture of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, or 5,000 additional Syrian refugees over four years or 1,250 additional Syrian refugees per year, only 500 of them to be government-sponsored refugees.

It is one thing to announce miserliness dressed up as generosity. It is another to actually sabotage the process put in place. The Globe and Mail in a scoop revealed the Office of the Prime Minister had ordered a “temporary” halt to the processing of Syrian refugee applications. Conservative Leader Stephen Harped then acknowledged that his government had ordered an audit of Syrian refugees admitted to Canada. Why? To ensure security concerns were being adequately addressed. But that did not mean, the government insisted, that members of the PMO were processing files. Presumably, they were just vetoing some, but that was not processing. According to CTV News, quoting Citizenship and Immigration insiders, the PMO went through Syrian refugee applications to ensure that religious minorities, such as Christians, were being accepted over applications from Shia and Sunni Muslims. But the Prime Minister insisted the audit was warranted to ensure security issues were being taken care of properly. Security for the refugees themselves was barely a consideration.

Refugee issues had never heretofore been a significant factor in a federal election in Canada. But in 2015, the pressure on the government grew further. Bowing to pressure, the government announced on 19 September 2015 that it would take the initial 10,000 in 2015 instead of over three years. Further, applicants would be processed faster for they would not have to be cleared first by UNHCR and designated as Convention refugees. Canada would take them as prima facie refugees. This was the key step that would allow the government to take in the 10,000 refugees in one year rather than three.

The government then did take some important steps to help speed up the process.

  1. Even before the next steps, it waived the requirement of prior UNHCR approval for refugees to be considered for resettlement by Canada.
  2. Two top quality civil servants were appointed to coordinate an expedited Syrian refugee program, one for managing external relations with sponsorship groups  and settlement agencies, and the other for governmental coordination of Citizenship Immigration Canada (CIC) with provincial and municipal governments, UNHCR, the IOM, and overseas agencies which might perform specific functions for CIC; the two appointees were, respectively, Deborah Tunis and Bruce Scofield, two very seasoned and accomplished officers of CIC.
  3. In the last few weeks, the number of personnel at the Centralized Intake Office (CIO) in Winnipeg has doubled.
  4. The number of visa officers assigned to Lebanon has been increased to 15.
  5. As long as applications for sponsorship have been substantially complete, acceptance will not be delayed until corrections have been made; instead, acceptance will be issued and time given to make corrections.

Late, but nonetheless steps that will allow Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to get off to a running start on the Syrian refugee issue. However, by the time the writ was dropped and the election held:

  • No monies had been allocated to help private sector organizations complete the 64-page application (it was 6 pages at the time of the Indochinese refugee crisis);
  • Monies were not allocated to settlement agencies to assist with the additional responsibilities in settlement.

It has been a slow running start.

When stinginess is dressed up as humanitarian generosity, when selection of the most vulnerable comes to mean selection of Yazidis, Chaldeans and Assyrians (Christians all) from the urban wastelands of the Middle East rather than a broad selection of refugees from the camps, when processing times become so lengthy because of a shortage of personnel and political interference from the PMO, when we enter into the discourse of extreme contradiction, then we have to recognize that we are in the strongest expression of the post-modern ethos. In the name of the old values, in the name of “old-stock” Canadians as well as newcomers, in the name of us, we define who we are. And instead of a reputation for generosity towards refugees that had been built up after WWII culminating in the Indochinese refugee movement, Canada had become a terrible laggard.

Any quick examination of who we have been will tell you that it was only for a very short period, a half century at most, that we exemplified a Canada that welcomed the stranger and opened its doors to the oppressed. Perhaps since 9/11, the new issue behind the scenes was security and perhaps, Islamophobia. However, when I was in Calgary both before and as the election results were rolling in, I conducted interviews. Only one of my interviewees expressed outright anti-Muslim sentiments. “There were already too many in Calgary.” But security was mentioned by all those who said they were voting for the Conservatives.

All three parties had pledged that all Syrian refugees would be carefully monitored to minimize any security concerns. However, when I interviewed a Syrian mother and her three sons aged 18, 22 and 26 and they described the process they had been through, they were never interviewed by any security officer. Further, in reviewing the questions they were asked, no obvious security issues seemed to have been raised directly or indirectly, except to ask whether they were or ever had been members of ISIS. Again, there appeared to be an apparent discrepancy between rhetoric and what seemed to be happening on the ground, especially since, if individuals come to Canada on a student visa, on a vacation or as a tourist, it is far easier to avoid notice and suspicion of being a terrorist. The refugee route is the worst path for a camouflaged terrorist to come to Canada. Previous scholarship indicated that the refugee process into Canada was the route least likely to be taken by an undercover terrorist since it was a process through which would allow Canada to develop an extensive file on them. Coming as a student or preferably a tourist offered far better chances of avoiding detection.

But we now lived in the post-modern world of doublespeak. In the modern era, solidarity had substituted for unity in order to have a foundation for democratic thinking and practices. Religious tolerance and cooperation in a multi-ethnic world were celebrated. Even in the ancient world, the dictum was welcome the stranger. It meant expressing hospitality to him or her. It did not mean admitting the other into membership. Even Aristotle, by far the best of Plato’s pupils, but a Macedonian, was not allowed to inherit Plato’s academy.

The apogee of modernity in Canada was the acceptance of the Indochinese refugees into this country in what is known as the Boat People Movement. In that effort, there was a partnership of government and civil society, of political leaders and civil servants trained to serve that society as well as their political bosses, and, most interesting of all, a partnership of religious and secular communities in that civil society.  (Cf. Dionne and Dilulio 2001) In fact, the lead organizations in that effort were neither Operation Lifeline nor Project 4000 in Ottawa, but the Mennonite Central Committee and the Christian Reformed Church. They were on the scene both first and last and they contributed the most per member.

This was the great irony – the apogee of accepting the Other as oneself, of recognizing the rights of the Other as a human being, a right that necessitated making provision for those denied rights in their own state – was a movement that was lead, in terms of both order and priority, by religious organizations. The Mennonite Central Committee based in Winnipeg was the first organization of any kind to sign an umbrella agreement with the Government of Canada, to effectively partner with the government in the intake and resettlement of refugees. The Christian Reformed Church was both an advocacy organization on behalf of refugees, in spite of strictures that religious organizations, to retain their charitable status, could not engage in advocacy. More importantly, the church was deeply engaged in the process of sponsoring and resettling refugees. But it was all within a Christian religious context. They wrote that, “We remember that just like the child Jesus and his parents, millions of men, women and children around the world must flee because of violence, racial tension, religious bigotry and natural disasters. And we remember that God has much to say about welcoming the stranger.”

This seemed quite contrary to the traditional view of the separation of church and state, a separation that required a degree of distance between the two, “a wall of separation” in Jefferson’s phrase, and not a humanitarian partnership.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

But the partnership went further. In the Indochinese refugee movement, in Canada, the state had a politically contractual obligation to follow the lead of the civil society because of its guarantee to sponsor a refugee for every refugee sponsored by civil society over and above the number to which it was already committed. So, in the name of one strand of traditional religion and the new strand of the secular human rights and humanitarianism religion, both streams partnered with the government to bring into Canada 60,000 refugees in a period of eighteen months.

But the movement was not without an opposition. After the Canadian government announced its program to welcome the entry of 50,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada, the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) published two full-page ads opposing the new policy. NCC is a Canadian conservative lobby group that campaigns against public services, trade unions, and favours smaller government; Canada’s recently defeated Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was once president. It is not a membership organization. It was founded in 1967 by Colin Brown, backed by a small group of economic conservatives. However, in 1979 it ventured into opposing Canadian refugee policy.

The first full-page ad[1] declared that for every one refugee allowed entry, 16 more would follow sponsored by those already here. Thus, the 50,000 figure would mean 800,000 Indochinese immigrants would be moving to Canada within a few short years. The projections were a gross exaggeration stemming, in part, from using outdated and inapplicable immigration rules about family sponsorship in force after WWII. However, behind the ad were racist beliefs that an influx of a large group of Asians was unwanted based on the fear of “The Yellow Peril,” an interpretation reinforced when Colin Brown and a few others with whom he was associated were interviewed in the media and appeared on TV and radio shows to debate Ron Atkey, the Minister of Immigration.

Operation Lifeline and a large swath of the public, especially the segment involved in private sponsorship, saw nothing wrong with a significant increase in Canadians who could trace their origins to Asia. Nevertheless, this initiative of the National Citizens Coalition, stoked by further falsehoods rooted in racial fears in Canada, could be bad for the movement and would discomfort the refugees after they arrived. The ad was disturbing both in its challenge to refugee policy and in undercutting a positive integration for newcomers. The opposition to the new Canadian Indochinese refugee policy had its first organized leadership.

At the end of the summer of 1979, the NCC sponsored a second full page ad[2] in a number of Canadian newspapers. Based on a survey it had conducted and which it published, the NCC claimed that a majority of Canadians were opposed to the policy permitting the entry of 50,000 Indochinese refugees. The survey questions were both leading and misleading and did not follow scientific protocols for objective opinion surveys. The leadership of the private sponsorship movement viewed this initiative as a real threat to the successful sponsorship and integration of the Indochinese refugees. As it turned out, although the questions were misleading and significantly exaggerated the results, the totals opposed to the policy were not so far off the mark. A fairer secret survey, to which Operation Lifeline did not have access at the time, did indicate that a majority of Canadians opposed the Indochinese refugee program, in good part because of a latent racism in Canada.

Yet the leading sectors in Canada – professional organizations, business associations, municipal leaders, political parties without exception, most Tory cabinet members – all strongly favoured the policy, not just as policy, but as active participants in making the sponsorship program a success. Nevertheless, the private sponsorship movement saw an enormous potential for causing significant damage. Racism and anti-immigration are always potent dangers for a democracy. They stir passions and fears and do not enhance rational debate. They are also very hard to combat, for entering the fray in public just exacerbates the fears and enhances the credibility of those stirring up those fears, though this runs counter to the belief that the public sphere should be founded on rational and civil discourse and respect others.

Dr. Joseph Wong, a leading figure in the private sponsorship program, who would go on to become chair of Operation Lifeline, chair of the United Way in Toronto, leader of a number of important social causes and a recipient of the Order of Canada, met with the founder of Operation Lifeline to discuss this new challenge.[3] The two decided that they could not just fight the NCC by appearing in debates as opponents of the NCC position on the Indochinese refugee program. Nor would quiet diplomacy work behind the scenes. They needed leverage to cut off NCC support given their conviction that the financial sector, though opposed to big government, was not generally racist. In fact, given the amount of support Operation Lifeline had received from that sector, they were convinced that generally economic conservatives would be opposed to the NCC challenge to the policy. Hence, they launched what was then called “Operation Intellectual Kneecapping” to cut off NCC financial support. (Why it was called “intellectual kneecapping” was neither explained nor now recalled; it presumably had something to do with sending a message that the effort was non-violent.)

As it turned out, Joseph Wong knew a prominent supporter and contributor to the NCC. He also knew that this individual was not a racist, but did not know whether he supported the intake of Indochinese refugees. Joseph phoned him and he agreed to meet the two from Operation Lifeline for breakfast at a downtown Toronto hotel at 7:00 a.m. the next day. At that breakfast, the twosome outlined the problem. The businessman indicated that he actively supported the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees and was appalled that an organization that he supported financially would engage in such racist-baiting. He asked for a bit of time and he promised Joseph that he would get back to him. The breakfast ended before 8:00 a.m.

At noon he phoned Joseph and informed him that he had taken care of the problem. He had called a number of his friends who helped finance the NCC and asked for permission to speak on their behalf to Colin Brown who then headed the NCC. They unanimously agreed. He then phoned Colin to say that he was calling, not only in a personal capacity, but representing the group that he had called. He told Colin that if he or the NCC published or said another thing on behalf of the NCC opposing the sponsorship of Indochinese refugees, he and his friends would not only withdraw their financial support, but he would personally phone additional financial contributors of the NCC to urge them to withdraw their support. The NCC would be destroyed.

He assured us that we would hear nothing further from the NCC on the subject. He was true to his word. Operation Intellectual Kneecapping had been a success with relatively little effort on the part of the refugee activists. The credit belongs to the enlightened leadership within the business community. However, it was an example of the new reliance on networking to get things done, a method developed by activists in the sixties. Further, it reinforced a belief that public discourse would best serve a humanitarian cause and conflicted with the values espoused by the secular religion of rights and humanitarianism.

Contrast these events where there was strong government leadership, a solidarity amongst all the political parties and with the leading sectors in Canadian society with the role of government in the current Syrian refugee crisis. A strong letter had been sent to the government by leading figures in support of refugees which argued for a much larger intake.[4] At the beginning of 2015, the Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, finally announced a relatively modest but what appeared at first to be at least a significant program for 4,000,000 Syrian refugees, the largest single group of refugees under UNHCR responsibility on the planet. That figure excludes those who are internally displaced estimated to be over seven million. The announcement was widely communicated by the media that Canada had pledged to resettle 10,000 additional Syrian and 3,000 Iraqi refugees. UNHCR, in light of past performance, had set a very modest target of 100,000. Canada had pledged to take its normal allotment of 10%, or 10,000 refugees. But not in one year. The initial announcement spread the intake over three years, only subsequently modified under pressure to one year. Modest indeed!

This was on top of the 1,300 Syrian refugees Canada had pledged to take the previous year but somehow seemed unable to take even that number. Given the scope of the crisis, the pledge at the same time of $90 million in humanitarian aid was at least responsible, but it also communicated that Canada was far more interested in warehousing rather than resettling refugees.

Refugee sponsorship organizations[i] had advocated the entry of 10,000 Syrian refugees, but in a rapid resettlement program, not one spread over three years. The government seemed to have capitulated under pressure. But not in actual performance. Further, the refugee support community had advocated special expedited measures for those with family members already in Canada. The government subsequently backed off the ratio assigning 40% of the 10,000 to be sponsored by the government while 60% were left for private sponsorships, moved to expedite processing, the initiatives always came late and under pressure in contrast to the leadership role of the new Tory government in 1979. Harper had not provided a form of leadership designed to galvanize a nation. In contrast, Sweden, a smaller country in geographical and population terms, had already accepted 40,000 Syrian refugees and expected 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 alone. Germany had pledged to take in 800,000 and settle 500,000. Canada had totally abandoned its leadership role in refugee resettlement.

In does not help that the UNHCR greeted Canada’s initial announcement with diplomatic obsequious pussyfooting. The original pledge was dubbed “substantial” and a “generous commitment” when it was neither. It was not in keeping with Canada’s strong humanitarian tradition to offer resettlement to refugees worldwide.” It might be rationalized as a result of the weak response to UNHCR’s previous appeals. After all, it took an enormous effort to get the 30,000 in the last round, just over 1% of the Syrian refugee population. UNHCR had upped its target to 2.5% of the Syrian refugee population. Even with pledges not spread over several years, it would take 40 years to resettle all the refugees. Of course, this is somewhat of a distortion since most of the refugees will have settled in countries of first asylum like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. But the Canadian targets and pledges were so miniscule as to be embarrassing.

It does not help that the Canadian performance on the ground had been even worse. By the end of 2014, 1,285 of the year’s pledge of 1,300 had been approved for entry into Canada and Alexander insisted that 1,100 were already here. However, only 360 of that 1,300 had been government-sponsored refugees – 160 above Canada’s initial pledge of 200 – and the rest were privately-sponsored refugees. The refugee sponsors were constantly complaining about the slow and dragged out process of fulfilling those private sponsorships. Alexander’s contention that 1,100 had arrived hardly seemed credible. Further, when one recalls that in the Indochinese refugee movement, the government with only 16 employees in the field was transferring similar numbers of 1,300 per week rather than per year, one realizes how atrocious the Canadian performance has been and was likely to continue to be under a Conservative government. Doubling the total by another ten thousand intake, a number that included both Iraqi and Syrian refugees, yielded only an additional 1,250 Syrian refugees per year, only 500 to be sponsored by the government.

Generous indeed!

There was one ray of light in the announcement. “Canada is focusing on vulnerable individuals and those facing persecution. We make no apologies for putting focus on people in need, some of whom are being persecuted based on their religious beliefs,” said Alexander. In a message sent to the media, a government spokesperson, Kevin Ménard, said that, “Our priority is and will continue to be on those who are at risk because they are a religious minority, a sexual minority, or victims of rape.”[5]

Why is this a ray of light? Isn’t sponsoring Christians ahead of Muslims discrimination? The LGBT community who have been one group of sponsors for Syrian refugees at risk because of sexual orientation should have been delighted. But Professor Nicole LaViolette of the University of Ottawa, who passed away at the end of May 2015, disagreed. She denounced the discrimination. LaViolette, a research pioneering scholar on the persecution of LGBT members overseas who flee as refugees, had advised the LGBT community about the use of private sponsorship to help their cohort in Syria. She deplored the discrimination favouring using sexual orientation as a preference guide. As she wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on 11 February 2015, “Canadian LGBT communities must insist that the Conservative government respect its international obligations to provide refugee protection without discrimination. Sexual minorities know only too well the harm caused by discrimination. Queer Canadians should not support doing unto others what has long been done to us.”[6] So, in the name of the universal secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism, acceptance of the most vulnerable was rejected.

It is truly a strange world in which we live.

[1] The Globe and Mail, 24 August 1979.

[2] The Globe and Mail, 12 September 1979.

[3] This information is based on interviews and recollections of Joseph Wong and Howard Adelman.

[4] The signatories on the open letter included Dr. Muhammad Shrayyef and Fayaz Karim of the Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN), Chris Friesen, Chair, Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA-ACSEI), Brian Dyck, Chair, Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association (SAH Association), Professor Jennifer Hyndman, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University, Dr. Aliya Khan and Dr. Irene Turpie, Doctors For Humanity (DFH), Dr. Anas Al Kassem, Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM) and Loly Rico, President, Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR).

[5] CBC News, 7 January 2015. www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-to-resettle-10-000-more-syrian

[6] See Nicole LaViolette, “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and the Refugee Determination Process in Canada,” Journal of Research in Gender Studies 68:123, 2014. See also two chapters of hers: “Overcoming Problems with Sexual Minority Refugee Claims: is LGBT Cultural Competency Training the Solution?” in Thomas Spijkerboer (ed.) Fleeing Homophobia, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Asylum (Oxford: Taylor & Francis Books, 2013); and “Sexual Minorities, Migration, and the Remaining Boundaries of Canadian Immigration and Refugee Law,” in Soheila Pashang (ed.) Unsettled Settlers: Barriers to Immigration (Whitby, Ontario: Sitter Publications, 2012).

Operation Lifeline

Operation Lifeline

Part 6 (Final) on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program

by

Howard Adelman

The generation of the sixties led by New Leftists, who went on to have careers of their own and who married and settled down, became the core of the Indochinese Refugee Movement even if the forerunners were Mennonites and members of the Christian Reformed Church steeped in a strong Christian tradition of giving of oneself for another in need. In 1979-80, 499 groups were sponsored through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Of those, 99 were non-Mennonite churches and 85 were “non-church” groups; MCC was a hospitable flag of convenience. The sixties generation made that inherited culture part of the cosmopolitan present by using their faith in themselves, their trust of others and their belief that if you just will it, whatever you will can become reality. Most of all, they used the art of networking that they had mastered in the sixties.

How else does one explain the growth of an organization within eight days, before cell phones and the internet, into a trans-Canada phenomenon with sixty-six chapters across the country? Operation Lifeline was but the most notable expression of this phenomenon. Project 4000 in Ottawa, for example, was an expression of the same phenomenon. The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees into Canada in partnership with government initiatives is correctly viewed as the pinnacle of a humanitarian response to refugees into Canada unequalled before or since.

After the Canadian government announced its program to welcome the entry of 50,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada, the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) published two full page ads opposing the new policy. NCC is a Canadian conservative lobby group that campaigns against public services, trade unions, and favours smaller government; Canada’s current Prime Minister of Canada was once president. It is not a membership organization. It was founded in 1967 by Colin Brown backed by a small group of economic conservatives. However, in 1979 it ventured into opposing Canadian refugee policy.

The first full page ad declared that for every one refugee allowed entry, 16 more would follow sponsored by those already here. Thus, the 50,000 figure would mean 800,000 Indochinese immigrants would be moving to Canada within a few short years. The projections were a gross exaggeration stemming, in part, from using outdated and inapplicable immigration rules about family sponsorship in force after WWII. However, behind the ad were racist beliefs that an influx of a large group of Asians was unwanted based on the fear of “The Yellow Peril,” an interpretation reinforced when Colin Brown and a few others with whom he was associated were interviewed in the media and appeared on TV and radio shows to debate Ron Atkey, the Minister of Immigration.

Operation Lifeline and a large swath of the public, especially the segment involved in private sponsorship, saw nothing wrong with a significant increase in Canadians who could trace their origins to Asia. Nevertheless, this initiative, stoked by further falsehoods rooted in racial fears in Canada, could be bad for the movement and would discomfort the refugees after they arrived. The ad was disturbing both in its challenge to refugee policy and in undercutting a positive integration for newcomers. The opposition to the new Canadian Indochinese refugee policy had its first organized leadership.

At the end of the summer of 1979, the NCC sponsored a second full page ad in a number of Canadian newspapers claiming, based on a survey it had conducted and which it published, that a majority of Canadians were opposed to the policy permitting the entry of 50,000 Indochinese refugees. The survey questions were both leading and misleading and did not at all follow scientific protocols for opinion surveys. The leadership of the private sponsorship movement viewed this initiative as a real threat to the successful sponsorship and integration of the Indochinese refugees. As it turned out, although the questions were misleading and significantly exaggerated the totals opposed to the policy, a fairer secret survey, to which Operation Lifeline did not have access at the time, did indicate that a majority of Canadians opposed the Indochinese refugee program, in good part because of a latent racism in Canada.

Yet the leading sectors in Canada – professional organizations, business associations, municipal leaders, political parties without exception, most Tory cabinet members – all strongly favoured the policy, not just as policy, but as active participants in making the sponsorship program a success. Nevertheless, the private sponsorship movement saw an enormous potential for causing significant damage. Racism and anti-immigration is always a potent danger for a democracy. It stirs passions and fears and does not enhance rational debate. It is also very hard to combat, for entering the fray in public just exacerbates the fears and enhances the credibility of those stirring up those fears.

Dr. Joseph Wong, a leading figure in the private sponsorship program, who would go on to become chair of Operation Lifeline, chair of the United Way in Toronto, leader of a number of important social causes and a recipient of the Order of Canada, met with me to discuss this new challenge. We decided that we could not just fight the NCC by appearing in debates against proponents of the NCC position on the Indochinese refugee program. Nor would quiet diplomacy work behind the scenes. We needed leverage to cut off NCC support given our conviction that the financial sector, though opposed to big government, was not generally racist. In fact, given the amount of support we had received from that sector, we were convinced that generally they would be opposed to the NCC challenge to the policy. Hence, we launched what we called “Operation Intellectual Kneecapping” to cut off NCC financial support. (Why we called it “intellectual” kneecapping, I cannot recall, but it had something to do with sending a message that the effort was non-violent.)

As it turned out, Joseph Wong knew a prominent supporter and contributor to the NCC. He also knew that this individual was not a racist, but did not know whether he supported the intake of Indochinese refugees. Joseph phoned him and he agreed to meet us for breakfast at a downtown Toronto hotel at 7:00 a.m. the next day. At that breakfast, we outlined the problem. He indicated that he actively supported the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees and was appalled that an organization that he supported financially would engage in such racist-baiting. He asked us to give him a bit of time and he would get back to us. The breakfast ended before 8:00 a.m.

At noon he phoned Joseph and informed him that he had taken care of the problem. He had called a number of his friends who helped finance the NCC and asked for permission to speak on their behalf to Colin Brown. They unanimously agreed. He then phoned Colin to say that he was calling, not only in a personal capacity, but representing the group that he had called. He told Colin that if he or the NCC published or said another thing on behalf of the NCC opposing the sponsorship of Indochinese refugees, he and his friends would not only withdraw their financial support, but he would personally phone additional financial contributors of the NCC to withdraw their support. The NCC would be destroyed.

He assured us that we would hear nothing further from the NCC on the subject. He was true to his word. Operation Intellectual Kneecapping had been a success with relatively little effort on our part. The credit goes to enlightened leadership in the business community. However, it was an example of the new reliance on networking to get things done, a method developed in the activities of the sixties.

Can we replicate what the sixties generation and others did in 1979? Are the Millennials either in a position or capable of launching a campaign to deal with over three million Syrian refugees, just to take one example?

In 2015, the Millennials (Generation Y, Generation 9/11, the Echo Boomers) are in the same position as the Sixties Generation in 1979. If the Sixties Generation matured as an influential force by 1979, when they made their distinct mark in the seventies, particularly 1979, the Millennials were born after that date. Just as the Sixties Generation included those born before the end of WWII, they were a small cohort to be followed by the largest cohort ever, Generation X, the Baby Boomers who, in turn, gave way to the Millennials.

The Millennials were predicted by the authors who coined their name to be like the GI generation that preceded the Sixties Generation, that is, civic-minded with a strong sense of responsibility both to the local and global community. And they are that as evidenced both from a few small focus groups I conducted as well as from more extensive studies, even though Jean Twenge dubbed them the Me Generation. The term only applies generally to the children of parents born here and not necessarily to the children of immigrants.

If the Sixties pioneered in breaking away from established institutions, they were rebelling; they were not, like the Millennials, detached and indifferent to parental values. On the surface, they appear to be surprisingly upbeat and hopeful in facing the future though any in-depth probing reveals them to be haunted by the impending ecological crisis that is expected to result from climate change. The shifts in employment depicted earlier where they suffer from higher levels of unemployment and far more “voluntary” and part-time and under-employment that began to emerge in the eighties has struck them with full force. In contrast, the Sixties Generation knew there were job offers around every corner. Further, the Millennials graduate with high levels of student debt – the Sixties Generation had virtually none. On top of that, the Millennials carry a far higher proportion of public debt than the Sixties Generation carried in 1979.  While the Sixties Generation was characterized by their disparagement of living a life devoted to wealth accumulation, while almost half of all Baby Boomers switched that around and held wealth in high esteem, three-quarters of Millennials have turned wealth accumulation into a lofty virtue.

The most noted characteristic of Millennials is the general disinterest in politics, an activity that consumed the minds and imagination of the political leaders of the Sixties Generation. However, one of the ironies of this cohort is that while probes indicate that they are fatalistic about the world that they were born into ending in climate catastrophe, unlike the Sixties Generation, which made its prime goal ridding the world of nuclear testing and racial injustice, the Millennials despair about correcting the momentum moving the world towards disaster even while they make sporadic efforts to halt the momentum. However, in practice, most evince far less interest in engaging in environmental cleanup programs. So the small focus group I held in Victoria saw themselves as exceptions, committed to the environment, but somehow, though very sympathetic and empathetic, not committed to doing anything about the refugee crisis. Not one person in the three focus groups I ran seemed to be caught up in the current refugee crisis while showing every evidence of sympathy towards the refugees.

They were not selfish, hence I dislike the term Me Generation. They were very loyal and committed to helping members of their own cohort of friends. In some sense, they were more like a clan than individuals who populated the Sixties who were so busy breaking away from what they experienced as clannish suffocation that they had no time and interest in forming new ones. By contrast, Millennials love and remain far more attached to their helicopter parents who hovered overhead and overprotected them as they grew up. Further, instead of throwing off the social and cultural capital they inherited as the Sixties Generation did, treating most of the sophisticated artistic production esteemed by the older generation like the cargo of tea in Boston Harbour in 1774, the Millennials sometimes seem to love the cultural capital they inherited even more than their contemporary music and art.

However, they have thin skins. Criticism is regarded as negativity when they want and expect positive vibes. Further, while they carry far greater economic burdens, they do so with a sense of entitlement while the Sixties Generation experienced that beneficence but without any expectations. However, on other measures the generations are remarkably similar – wanting status and recognition, security and pleasure in their lives. Millennials have come to take for granted as givens the liberal values for which the Sixties Generation fought.

While the Sixties Generation never experienced a single major depression until they were mature adults, Millennials began with the very serious recession that contaminated the early eighties. They directly experienced the much more serious recession from 1989-1994 that struck Canada so unusually hard, but escaped the worst of the 2007 Great Recession which only sideswiped Canada.  But the astronomical cost of housing and the debt they carried when they graduated has meant most cannot expect to purchase a home without parental assistance. The dream of their generation being better off than the one before has disappeared into thin air. Thus, they live with their parents for a longer period and generally have postponed the rites of passage into maturity and responsibility much longer – marriage and children for example. For they are determined to succeed in those areas and avoid the large divorce rate of the previous two generations. After all, the Sixties entered adulthood in which divorce in their parents’ generation was a rarity.

So with all these overhangs and anxieties, why would and how could anyone expect the Millennials to launch an Operation Lifeline for Syrian refugees. They bleed no less for them than the Sixties Generation, but do not feel they can afford to donate a pint of blood to the cause. Further, since far fewer attend and have affiliations with religious institutions, they lack the regularity of their churches and synagogues guiding them in their humanitarian work. Yet they volunteer more and dedicate more personal time to areas of their concern.

That is why a sponsorship model that largely removes the economic burden is preferable. When economic costs are covered by employers ready to help, this can provide a boost and enhancement so essential to a new private sponsorship model. Further, if the Sixties generation pioneered networking as a form of organization, the Millennials have mastered the techniques in their teens. They are all digital kids wired to each other through cell phones and computers like no cohort that preceded them. They are the Facebook and Twitter generation.

For a generation that feels so comfortable with the idea and expectation of responsible government, that expects as a matter of course a society governed by the rule of law rather than the rule of men, that believes that no matter how rich you are or even how poor, the middle class is the proper norm for all, for a generation that believes in pragmatism, but without a built-in set of charitable institutional practices – after all, the founders of Operation Lifeline refused by and large to institutionalize what they had created – the Millennials respond to the immediate rather than inherit deeply inculcated institutional practices. While the news of the waves of refugees in leaky boats assaulted the sensibilities of the Sixties Generation so unacquainted with an immediate connection to disasters, the Millennials are assaulted from all sides from diverse areas of the world with disaster after disaster, natural and created by humans. They accept it as an inevitable part of life rather than an exception while they get on with carrying their debts, fearing they will never have a home of their own, burdened, not just by their own personal insecurities, but by a very deep sense that climate change will destroy the world which they have inherited. More importantly, the little they do – sorting garbage or cleaning up beaches and ravines – is just far too little and far too late. Outwardly positive, inwardly they are very profound existential pessimists.

As much as I will try, as much as I may pray for it to happen, Operation Lifeline was an experience of giving belonging to its place and time and unlikely to be repeated any time soon in the same manner. But variations may. Who knows? Perhaps I am the existential pessimist, not the Millennials. In any case, the chance may only be 10%, but the effort is both necessary and beneficial.

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Part 1V on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program

by

Howard Adelman

In one sense, 1979 was very much like 2015, most noticeably in the number of spectacular airline crashes that took place: the American Airlines DC-10 that crashed on takeoff from O’hare Airport in Chicago killing 273 in May 1979, the collision of two Russian airliners in August killing 173, the crash of a DC-10 at the end of October in Mexico City that killed 74 and the Air New Zealand DC-10 that crashed at the end of November into Mt Erebus on Antarctica killing all 257 on board. 2015 also resemble 1979 in the number of stories of migrants fleeing on boats from Africa and drowning at sea. Otherwise, 1979 belonged to a very different world, especially in Canada, which seemed to occupy a privileged and happy Eden of its own with some exceptions, such as the train derailment in Mississauga near the end of 1979 that forced the evacuation of 200,000.

The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees took off like a rocket in the summer of 1979. The Liberal government had committed itself to bringing in 5,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada during 1979. On 22 May of that year the government of Canada was defeated in a national election and a very young and eager Progressive Conservative Party led by Joe Clark won the election and formed a new minority government. Joe Clark at the age of 39 became Canada’s youngest Prime Minister on 4 June.

No sooner had the Conservatives come to power than they faced the question of what action to take in response to the dramatic increase in refugees fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats that were often attacked by pirates. Ron Atkey had been briefed in detail by Bud Cullen, the previous Minister of Immigration in the Liberal government, on the need to take further action. Atkey, named by Joe Clark as the Minister of Immigration, had obtained government approval to increase the total intake for 1979 to 12,000, 8,000 to be sponsored by the government and 4,000 allocated for sponsorship by the private sector. By July, the government had increased the target to 50,000, including 8,000 sponsored by the government, 21,000 additional government sponsorships on a matching basis with 21,000 to be sponsored by the private sector.

What was happening in Canada, in its cultural and political life that led the population of Canada to become so active and involved in the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees? Before the end of the year, the Canadian private sector had surpassed the target of 21,000 sponsorships with almost 30,000. Further, the success was not only in quantity but in the successful adaptation of the refugees to Canadian life. Though Canada was a cold country, the welcome and outreach by Canadians involved in the refugee sponsorship movement was anything but.

That period in Canada was a time of dramatic political change yet unusual continuity. On 16 August 1979, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker died but he had left a legacy of rights that infused all political parties in Canada at the time. When the short-lived Clark government was defeated in February 1980, the Liberals returned to power and they increased the total targeted intake of Indochinese refugees from 50,000 to 60,000 to ensure that the government kept its previous matching pledge.

The superficial shifting of political power did not threaten the progressive unity underneath these political changes epitomized by Bud Cullen briefing Ron Atkey in detail on the Indochinese refugee problem and the need to enhance Canada’s role. Canada was a place of calm and confidence, whatever the political shenanigans. Humanitarianism seemed to captivate the political imagination.

However, much deeper and more profound changes were underway in Southeast Asia. Following the initial Nixon initiative, the U.S. and China had exchanged diplomatic missions. On 29 January 1979, Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping visited Washington.   Deng would emerge subsequently as President to initiate the most substantial changes in China to move the country from a peasant economy to an industrial and trading economic power based on private ownership and entrepreneurship while the Communist Party retained a monopoly on power.

At the same time, America had begun to deal with its own failure in Vietnam. Two anti-Vietnam war movies won top honours at the 51st Academy Awards, Deer Hunter nominated nine times and winning the award for best picture, best director (Michael Cimino) and best supporting actor for Christopher Walkem, while Coming Home nominated eight times won awards for John Voigt as the best actor and Jane Fonda as the best actress as well as the award for the best original screenplay. Shortly after the awards ceremony the world experienced the release of  Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.

During this very same period, Vietnam invaded another communist state, Cambodia, and captured Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was an ally of China and China invaded Vietnam setting off the Sino-Vietnamese War. The People’s Republic of China withdrew its troops from Vietnam a month later, but not without eventually extracting severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics.

At the same time, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were on a long decline with some brief intermissions, the latter on a steep economic and political one and the former on a very gradual hardly noticeable retreat restricted to the international political arena. The year was an auspicious one for the United States, beginning with the major nuclear accident and partial meltdown at 3 Mile Island in Middletown Pennsylvania. America’s protectorates in the South Pacific were achieving independence, though they remained satraps of America under American tutelage and protection. On 1 October, the U.S. would return the Panama Canal to Panama. But the United States was also undergoing a major cultural revolution as the period of LGBT rights began, ironically, with the murder of Mayor Moscone of San Francisco and the passing of the first gay rights bill in Los Angeles. The beginning of the retreat from its self-perception as the world’s policeman went hand-in-hand with the beginning of a surrender of a macho culture that had built into it the repression not only of non-macho men who come out as gay or transsexual, but the oppression of women, especially lesbians.

While all this turmoil was underway abroad and nearby, Canada was going through very peaceful elections that produced an upset and the displacement of the long ruling Liberals with the conservatives in power. In South East Asia, Vietnam, in part in order to pay the large costs of its war, began to confiscate the wealth of its ethnic Chinese and South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, encouraging their flight while charging them a “tax” to take leaky and unseaworthy boats to escape. The North Vietnamese had evolved into a regime that stole from the rich in multiple ways and pushed the ethnic Chinese minority and subsequently Vietnamese businessmen out of the country.

In the meanwhile, though U.S. turmoil had ended in Southeast Asia, in the near east, events were not as tranquil. The year had begun with the flight of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Egypt and the interim Bakhtiar government was soon displaced by the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini from Paris, who declared an Islamic Republic on 1 April. Iran was in turmoil and that turmoil allowed OPEC over a period of three months to raise the price of oil by 30%. The Iranian government was at war with its Kurdish population; a virulent pogrom was launched against Iranian Kurds and its own non-Kurdish population as book burnings and mass executions took place over the next six months.  On 4 November, 400 radical young Islamists raided and occupied the American embassy in Tehran taking many of the diplomatic personnel hostage, though some escaped to Canadian facilities. Female and black employees were soon released. Khomeini assumed absolute control and declared America to be the “Great Satan.” The U.S. responded to the provocation, not by bombing Iran to smithereens for such a provocative action, but by freezing Iranian assets and stopping the import of Iranian oil and gas. Iran reciprocated by cancelling all American contracts.

While Iran was a bubbling volcano and while a war had broken out between North and South Yemen that would continue with periodic eruptions to the present day, Israel and Egypt were forging a peace agreement that took effect on 25 April. The oil fields that Israel had seized in 1967 were returned in November and Israel transferred back the Sinai, or almost all of it. The unbelievable had happened. The most powerful state by far in the Arab world, the centre of Arab filmmaking, book publishing and intellectual creativity, had given up on its ambition of becoming the regional hegemon. Who knew then that Iran and, to some extent Turkey, would attempt to move into the vacuum left in the wake of the Egyptian retreat.

In the meanwhile, Latin American dominoes seemed to be falling into communist or fascist hands. The New Jewel Movement overthrew the Gairy dictatorship in Grenada and the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua as dictator Anastasio Somoza fled to Miami. In El Salvador, it was another story as a military coup forced President and General Carlos Romero to flee. In contrast, in Africa things seemed to be looking up, with the emphasis on “seems”. Tanzania invaded Uganda and the mad man of Africa, President Idi Amin, fled the country. In Rhodesia, finally a black government replaced the repressive white minority and Bishop Muzorewa assumed power. Even the Congo adopted a constitution, but it, like many reforms in Africa, would prove to be mirages though everyone was pleased to see the last of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, overthrown in a coup. Perhaps after Rhodesia, the most hailed event was the accession to power in Angola of José Eduardo dos Santos.

While the United States was in turmoil overseas, Britain was in lock-down mode at home. 10,000 public sector workers went on strike. The IRA violence was rising and Richard Sykes, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, was assassinated in The Hague. In late March, Airey Neave, a British parliamentarian, was killed by a car bomb outside of Westminster. As bombs were going off all across Northern Ireland, as members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were being murdered and British soldiers were being ambushed, as the violence culminated in the assassination of Earl Mountbatten in September, Margaret Thatcher had become the first female Prime Minister of Britain after the James Callaghan government had collapsed in May. She would set off a political revolution that Britain had not seen for a century, providing a preview of what would happen when Ronald Reagan won over the incumbent Jimmy Carter who had so bungled the Iran file. To top the humiliating period the UK was going through, Sir Anthony Blunt, art advisor to the Queen, was outed as the fourth member of the Soviet spy ring. Is it any wonder that, compared to Canada’s success, Britain’s program of resettling Indochinese refugees went so badly, quite aside from the foolish decision to resettle the refugees in vacant public housing, that is, precisely in areas with very high unemployment levels.

Even though the Red Army hockey team beat the New York Rangers, the runner-up in the Stanley Cup contest, by a score of 5-2 in Madison Square Garden, by year’s end, the U.S.S.R. had made the fatal mistake that would doom the Soviet empire when at the end of the year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, overthrew President Hafizullah Amin and seized the presidential palace in Kabul. The fall of the Soviet empire had probably already been triggered by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in June. At the height of all this publicity in Canada about the Boat People and as Canada was in transition from a Liberal to a Tory government, the world seemed to be going through hell as well as growing seeds for a new future.

All that is to say is that Canada was a peaceable kingdom engaged in peripheral and irrelevant debates over whether to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as the U.S., U.S.S.R., China and France seemed to be racing each other before the Salt II test ban treaty took effect to test and explode as many nuclear weapons as each could, weapons that were useless if ever used and only of use in deterrence if they were never used. It was indeed a mad mad world and Canada seemed an island of tranquility in a global epidemic of insanity. The sign – sports. The NHL was expanding to absorb the four teams in the World Hockey Association – the Oilers, Jets, Nordiques and Whalers. On 21 May when the news o the boat people was reaching a fever pitch just two weeks before the Tories were to take power, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4 games to 1 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was great time to be a Canadian and a relatively easy time for a Canadian to be a humanitarian.

Possible Explanations for the Genesis of Operation Lifeline

On the Genesis of Operation Lifeline:

PART II – Possible Explanations

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

for delivery at the conference

Indochinese Refugee Movement and the Private Sponsorship Program 1975-80″

22 November 2013.

 

II Possible Explanations for the Canadian Response

The media coverage around the world of Vietnamese refugees suffering was credited with generating an unprecedented level of compassion and creating a desire to help those refugees. Empathy, in this interpretation, was the impetus behind the resettlement of the Indochinese refugees on an unprecedented scale. However, bleeding hearts do not automatically produce practical programs of assistance.

In a second, but complementary theory, credit is given not to the compassion itself but to an additional factor, the translation of that compassion into a willingness to act and sacrifice time and money by private citizens in civil society: “private sponsorships for the refugees indicated the existence also of a pro-refugee public response, which may have encouraged the Canadian government to raise its quota in June 1979 to 8,000.” (Felicity Somerset (1982) “Indochinese refugees in Canada: Government policy and public response,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 10.1: 106-114, p. 110.) Public support was evidently a factor in the expansion of the intake from 5,000 to 8,000 with 4,000 more anticipated as coming from private sponsorships when the Canadian government first expanded the program in late June of 1989. However, as depicted above, at the time of the Hai Hong initiative, widespread public sector support was not evident until and after the Canadian government upped its intake from 200 to 600.

Further, in July 1979, when the government upped its intake from 8,000 government supported refugees and 4,000 sponsored by the private sector to 29,000 government refugees and 21,000 from the private sector based on a 1:1 matching formula for the increase over and above 12,000, a majority of Canadians opposed the increase and less than 40% supported it. Further, even when the original commitment to 5,000 was announced at the beginning of the year, a February 1979 Gallup Poll at that time showed that 52% of Canadians thought the figure of 5,000 was too high. In July,only 37% supported an intake of 50,000. Even in June when support went up and exceeded those who opposed, the number supporting an intake of 8,000 with 4,000 sponsored by the private sector never exceeded 50% and was neck and neck with those opposed. The opposition returned to a majority when the target of both government and private sponsorships went to 50,000. Further, in the end though 7900 sponsorships involving perhaps up to 100,000 persons may seem to be a great deal, at that time, these only involved about 3% of the population. How could support by such a relatively small number be credited with pressuring the government to bring about the target of 50,000 refugees?

Undoubtedly, public support, not the same as public pressure, played a part, as did compassion, but given the low overall figure of private supporters, support from the private sector can hardly be considered the decisive factor. Even if one counts the whole of a religious congregation and not just the active donors and time givers as supporters, we still do not approach even a majority of Canadians. Compassion and active self-sacrifice and involvement undoubtedly enabled the generosity of the policy but not its formulation. Which, if any, of the factors thus far cited was decisive?

 

Pat Marshall, who has written material for the Bulletin of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society (CIHS), one the two prime co-sponsors of this conference, credits media coverage of the Hai Hong for turning the tide of public opinion leading to the new and expanded program. “Constant media coverage brought the faces of the refugees into all our homes…By June, 1979…refugee sponsorships by private groups had been made possible.” (Pat Marshall  (2009) “From Friends to Hosts to Friends: Memories of the origin of the host

program,” CIHS Bulletin. The Canadian Immigration Historical Society, 55.) Compassion was not sufficient. Nor was civil society active involvement or public support let alone pressure. There had to be the stimulant for that compassion and involvement and that credit was given to the media. Pat Marshall’s thesis was supported by Felicity Somerset: “(E)xtensive media coverage of the plight of the ‘boat people’… may have helped to awaken a humanitarian response in the general public.” (Pat Marshall  (2009) “From Friends to Hosts to Friends: Memories of the origin of the host program,” CIHS Bulletin. The Canadian Immigration Historical Society, 55.)

 

Compassion, active self-sacrifice, public pressure, media stimulation – each was credited in turn as the decisive factor. In all these cases, the emphasis was placed on different elements in civil society. But other analyses give credit to individuals – Bud Cullen for one on the occasion of the Hai Hong. “The impetus provided by the Hai Hong resulted in Canada taking the largest number of Indochinese refugees per capita in the world.” (Dara Marcus (2013) 16.) But the liberals were defeated in June of 1959 and the Tories under the leadership of Joe Clark came to power. The Tories increased the intake form 5,000 to 8,000 government sponsored refugees and 4,000 from the private sector and Ron Atkey made his senior staff read a academic article by Irving Abella and Harold Troper that would become a chapter in their subsequent book, None Is Too Many that depicted the cold shoulder the Canadian government gave to Jewish refugees from Europe fleeing the Nazi regime. Atkey told his senior staff that he did not want to go down in history as the Frederick Blairs of forty years later.

 

Then in July, the Tory government upped that total to 29,000 government sponsored refugees and 21,000 from the private sector. Was Flora McDonald and/or Ron Atkey to be given the credit? Or were historical factors to be given primacy of place – such as the memories of being a refugee or inability to assist refugees in an earlier time (See Howard Adelman (ed.) (1980)  The Indochinese Refugee Movement: The Canadian Experience, Toronto: Operation Lifeline; (1982) Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, Regina: L.A. Weigl Education Associates Ltd.) – or ideological factors such as the state of the Cold War at the time, or, demographic pressures such as shifts in the Canadian population and the decline in the birth rate, particularly among French-Canadians (Somerset 111), or, looking more into the future than the past, evolving ideas about global responsibilities and obligations that resulted in the Canadian-initiated doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) by the end of the century. Or was the response simply a catalytic reaction to a unique combination of circumstances at the time?

 

Different national narratives emphasized different factors – in Australia, foreign policy and the antagonism of the Australian government to the Vietnamese communist government. (Nancy Viviani (1982) Australian Government Policies on the Entry of Vietnamese: Record and Responsibility, Griffith University: Centre for the Study of Australian – Asian Relations; (1984) The long journey: Vietnamese migration and settlement in Australia, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.) In the case of New Zealand, racism was used to explain that country’s initial late and eventual relatively tepid and ambivalent response at the time (Robin Galienne (1988) The Whole Thing Was Orchestrated, PhD Thesis, University of Auckland.) that was more akin to the response of Hong Kong rather than Canada. (Chan Kwok Bun (1990) “Hong Kong’s Response to the Vietnamese Refugees: A Study in Humanitarianism, Ambivalence and Hostility,” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 18:1, 94-110)  Yet the outstanding performance of Canada called for some explanation since between 1978 and 1981, Indochinese refugees constituted a quarter of the immigrants to Canada compared to a usual figure of 10% of a worldwide response and 10% of the domestic gross intake of immigrants.

 

Why?

Operation Lifeline – Part I: The Backstory

On the Genesis of Operation Lifeline 

[Part 1: The Backstory}

by

Howard Adelman

 

for delivery at the conference

Indochinese Refugee Movement and the Private Sponsorship Program 1975-80″

22 November 2013.

 

After two initial sections outlining the back story of the Indochinese refugee movement and exploring the alternative explanations for Canada’s exceptional response, the paper will cover the origins of Operation Lifeline, its timing and organizational structure; I will knit into my discussion the role of the media in both the formation of Operation Lifeline and the encouragement of private sponsorship dealt with in the previous panel. I will then zero in on two crises that emerged in the development of Operation Lifeline with respect to two major policy issues: a) Operation Intellectual Kneecapping dealing with pre-empting a backlash, and b) the so-called reneging on the matching formula. I will then tie both into revisiting which, if any, of the various explanations outlined earlier best account for the generosity exhibited by civil society. I will then draw some general conclusions.

 

The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees into Canada in partnership with government initiatives is correctly viewed as the pinnacle of a humanitarian response to refugees into Canada unequalled before or since. So a question naturally arises: why did that moment in history create in Canada the culmination of any effort before or since to develop an outstanding humanitarian agenda on behalf of refugees in need, a moment that subsequently earned for Canada the award of the Nansen Medal by the UNHCR?  Since the national outpouring was complemented by significant actions and initiatives by other western countries, the explanation for what happened should integrate both local and transnational factors.

 

I The Back Story

The back story in the creation of Operation Lifeline is easily told. In 1967, Canada broke through its legislative racist-based immigration policies when the Immigration Act was revised to be based on an abstract point system rather than favouring specific countries of origin. This was the beginning of the large scale arrival of so-called “visible minorities” to Canada. The first major influx was that of the Ugandan Asians when Idi Amin, then President of Uganda, on 4 August 1972 ordered the expulsion of the Indian and Pakistani populations of Uganda within 90 days. Of the up to 70,000 ethnically cleansed Ugandan Asians, Canada took in 7,000, the highest number for resettlement anywhere except Britain which took in almost 30,000 who were formally “British protected persons”. (Cf. M. Mamdani (1976). Politics and Class Formation in Uganda, New York: Monthly Review Press and C. Pereira, B. Adams, and M. Bristow (1978) Canadian beliefs and policy regarding the admission of Uganda Asians to Canada. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 1,(3), 354-366.)

In 1975, after the termination of the Vietnam War, dubbed by the Vietnamese as the “American War”, as the In Memoriam short video demonstrated, Americans felt a special obligation to assist Vietnamese who had been associated with the American side in the conflict. The USA put pressure on its allies to assist in the humanitarian endeavour, including Canada which, unlike Australia, had remained aloof for any military involvement in Vietnam. Canada offered a token response and took in 5,608 Vietnamese humanitarian immigrants in 1975 (3100) and 1976 (2500). Prior to that, there were only 1500 Vietnamese living in Canada, the vast majority in Quebec, usually students and graduates (and, in some case, their children and families) at Canadian French-speaking universities. The numbers taken in were only token in comparison to the huge numbers the United States admitted following the immediate termination of the Vietnam War. Given that the general Canadian attitude was an assignation of blame to the United States for the responsibility for both the war and the refugees resulting from that war, this number was considered more than sufficient to demonstrate Canada’s humanitarianism without identifying the problem as a Canadian one.

The situation changed in 1978. The Hoa or Chinese Vietnamese, like the Indo and Pakistani Asians in Uganda, disproportionately dominated the South Vietnamese business and economic sector as well as its educated and upper class; they controlled an estimated 75% of the South Vietnam economy before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Once before in 1956, the Diem government had tried to break the dominant ethnic Chinese control of the Vietnamese economy but failed. (The Ngo Dinh Diem regime in 1955 decreed that all Chinese born in Vietnam would automatically become Vietnamese citizens and in 1956 issued a decree nationalizing all categories of trade. Further, non-ethnic Vietnamese were excluded as butchers and fish mongers, rice or grain traders, in the trade of fuel (coal, charcoal, fuel oil), and from the textile industry at both the wholesale and retail levels. However, the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam circumvented these decrees most frequently by taking on Vietnamese “partners” rather than becoming citizens.) Further, by 1961, in spite of Diem’s “forced nationalization” program, only 2,000 of approximately one million ethnic Chinese in South Vietnam had become Vietnamese citizens. Nevertheless, in 1976 Hanoi demanded that the ethnic Chinese register for the elections of the National Assembly. At the time, business for the ethnic Chinese seemed to flourish as usual in spite of Hanoi’s introduction of currency reforms to break the control of the Hoa on the economy as the businessmen managed to use bribes on the Vietnamese communist cadres to allow their businesses to continue. The maintenance of the status quo was also helped by the utility of these businessmen to the Vietnam government in fostering regional trade. The Hanoi government efforts initially seemed to follow Diem’s failed footsteps.

The crucial turning point was political rather than economic, though the economic crisis of 1977 as a result of crop failures that year and general economic mismanagement did not help. Hanoi’s initiatives were pushed by relations with both the Khmer Rouge Cambodian regime on one side and China on the other. Between 1975 and 1978, there had been occasional clashes along the border between the two communist regimes, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea, punctuated in 1975 by the Cambodian attack on the Vietnamese island of Phú Quȭc and a second major attack in April of 1977against the Vietnamese provinces of An Gang and Chāu Dȭc, killing over one hundred Vietnamese civilians. This coincided with a Communist Party of Kampuchea Central Committee directive instructing local officials to arrest all ethnic Vietnamese, all Khmer who spoke Vietnamese and even Khmer who had Vietnamese friends. The Pol Pot genocide began with the mass murder of the vast majority of those who had been arrested in the effort to purify Kampuchea of Vietnamese influences and to reclaim lost Khmer lands in Vietnam, primarily in the Mekong Delta. (Cf. Kanika Mak (2004) “Genocide Irredentism under Democratic Kampuchea (1975-79), Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Working Paper 23.) China, given its traditional rivalry with Vietnam over influence on Kampuchea, seemed to side with Cambodia. Hanoi began to fear the emergence of a fifth column and pressure was exerted on the ethnic Chinese in what had been North Vietnam. In February 1978, China accused Hanoi of forcing an exodus of ethnic Chinese, especially in the border area as tens of thousands streamed into China.