Color & Control:

Our Word

This is the Canada I grew up with, open to diversity, and full of compassion and caring.

You can stay

By Cameron Graham, PhD.

The past week, as I write, has seen the arrival in Canada of the first Syrian refugees. They are fleeing terrible violence in their country. As I write, Canada has opened up its arms and welcomed hundreds of them already, with thousands more to come.

This is the Canada I grew up with, open to diversity, and full of compassion and caring. I know that not everyone in Canada has had the same experience as me, a white and visibly able-bodied male, but I did grow up believing that Canada was multicultural and diverse, and was proud of it. The scenes at Pearson Airport—named after the Prime Minister who, faced with a minority government, oversaw the multi-party agreements that established the foundational pieces of our social welfare system—showed the human and humane side of Canada, the part that resonates with the words spoken by the current Prime Minister as he greeted the first refugees coming off the plane: “You are here and you are loved. You are here and you can stay.”

We like to think of Canada as compassionate and inclusive, but these attitudes cannot be taken for granted. We must work together to make everyone feel welcome and included. For we have not been compassionate and inclusive towards everyone as people with disabilities well know. The obvious place to see this is in Canada’s relationship with our First Nations. The past week has also seen the release of the report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, founded to create a process of healing for the survivors of Canada’s residential school system. This system has been described as institutionalized cultural genocide. It abused multiple generations of indigenous children. The TRC allowed non-indigenous Canadians to hear and acknowledge what took place.

This is without a doubt a pivotal time in our understanding of ourselves and our nation. Syrian refugees and First Nations alike—the newest Canadians and the oldest—need us to renew our commitment to inclusion.

So what can Canadians with disabilities contribute to this renewal? It is worth recognizing that the incidence of disability amongst First Nations is higher than amongst other Canadians, and that people with disabilities are amongst the Syrian refugees. But Canadians with disabilities have something to say to everyone, not just those who share their experience of disability.

Canadians with disabilities know all about exclusion and inclusion. They know what works and what doesn’t. Now is a time for Canadians with disabilities to speak up, to be heard, to share stories, but also to listen and learn from others who have their own stories to tell.

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