Canadian Values

by Tayyab Rashid

The Sunday morning roads of Toronto were empty and eerily salient. I felt an uncomfortable calm as I approached Ahmed’s apartment. I was also excited, despite red tape, a friend of mine was able to secure this gently used iMac for Ahmed, a Syrian refugee who recently arrived with his wife and young son. I called Ahmed. Minutes later, Ahmed appeared. He greeted me with a hug and mid-air kiss on my both cheeks…I found it bit unusual; Ahmed is not a hugger. I should have, but I didn’t make much of it. With excitement, I said, “Ahmed, finally your computer is here. And I am sorry for the delay.” I wanted to explain him the causes of delay but I refrained for I sensed that something is off. “Ahmed are you OK? I asked.  Instead of responding, he opened his cell phone and showed me picture of a young man…handsome, with bright blue eyes filled with hopes and dreams complemented with a gentle friendly smile. Before I could comment about this charming face, Ahmed swiped to the next image. I looked at it and gasped.…It was a face, tattered with what seemed small holes, blood and dust smeared all over. Before, I could have recompensed to collect my thoughts, Ahmed said, “He is Shami. Amna’s brother. Amna is Ahmed wife.  27-year-old Shami was killed in a bomb raid this morning. Next his showed me the bus Shami used to drive between Damascus and native city, he never left.

I immediately hugged Ahmed and this time, my shoulder felt his sobbing, he cried and didn’t let go of me…neither did I. We sobbed—almost in unison. This was my longest physical contact with Ahmed. His wife and his 15-month old son landed at the Pearson in the wee hours of a summer night. They initially stayed in our 110 plus year old downtown home for a week before finding their own, in their new homeland. Recently Amna gave birth to a healthy son—a Canadian of Syrian heritage.

Some politicians want to assess if a refugee is compatible with our Cultural values.  Defining our values with consensus is hard, and harder to assess.  The only value, that I espouse for Canada is being humane, gentle, kind and courageous. A value that Trumps fear, isolation and anxiety of xenophobia.  I would like to think that some 30, 000 refugees have not only landed on our shores but became a part of our collective consciousness and character. They are no longer refugees; they are residents in our neighbourhoods, and towns. Much like we will support anyone in our community and city who go through trauma, the tortured spirits and tattered lives our new residents need our true compassion—a value that has no country and creed.

Indeed, Ahmed and Amna are grief stricken and will carry this, along with many other traumas, as they navigate their way into North American landscape.  We may not have a quick antidote to erase their traumas and tragedies but at the very least, we can reassure them, we are with you and you are with us–within the safe circle of our neighbourhoods, towns and cities.  Far away from sky that spits bombs and land that is a seized maze whose entries and exits are controlled by unempathic political exploits.

We also need to inform, enlighten and at times instruct our fellow Canadians what values weave the fabric of our national character before voices of fear, hate and xenophobia encroaches the inner space of collective consciousness which has far more compassion, care and cooperation than fear, doubt and isolation.

Names of the Syrian family changed to protect the identity.

Tayyab Rashid is a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC). His group, Young Professional Council (YPC) of the International Development & Relief Foundation(IDRF), is working with a Syrian family to help them settle down.