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Markham Should Open its Door to Refugees

As community organizations working with residents of Markham, we welcome the proposal by Mayor Frank Scarpitti to co-ordinate with the York Catholic District School Board to host some asylum seekers at unused buildings in Markham.

Collectively, our organizations work with tens of thousands of clients every year, including many refugee claimants, permanent residents and Canadian citizens who came to Canada as immigrants and refugees, as well as those who are currently living in Canada with precarious immigration status.

As organizations that work with many Markham residents of Chinese descent, we are particularly aware of the checkered history of Canada when it comes to its immigration and refugee policy.

For decades, Chinese Canadians were subject to racist immigration policies including the Chinese Head Tax and the Exclusion Act that were designed specifically to restrict and/or exclude Chinese from coming to Canada. Even after the Exclusion Act was repealed, restrictions on Chinese immigration continued, limiting entrance to only spouse and children of Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Chinese descent. About 11,000 Chinese came to Canada illegally as "paper sons" in that period. In 1960, the "Chinese Adjustment Statement Program" was established to provide an amnesty to all the "paper sons".

In more recent years, as Canada becomes more diverse, our immigration and refugee policy has also become more open. For our role in resettling over 130,000 Indochinese refugees – a significant portion of those are people of Chinese descent - Canada was bestowed with the United Nations Nansen Medal in 1986, an achievement that all Canadians are proud of.

Increasingly, countries around the world are turning their backs on refugees, which has forced many refugees to risk their lives by making ever more treacherous journeys just to find a safe harbour. As Canadians, we want our political leaders to show courage and compassion by opening our doors to refugees. Doing so will not only save lives, it will also ensure Canada fulfil our obligations under the UN Convention for the Rights of Refugees.

Domestically, Canada as a nation has benefited from the determination and hard work of immigrants and refugees, once they are over the initial hurdle of settlement. We need to take the long term view as Canada's aging demographics mean that increasingly we will rely on immigrants and refugees to meet our labour demand and fuel our economy.

The City of Markham is one of the most diverse cities in Canada – and in the world, with 78% of its population made up of communities of colour, and about 50% born outside of Canada. Mayor Scarpitti's proposal is in keeping with Markham's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We applaud Mayor Scarpitti for his leadership and we encourage him to stand up against xenophobia and racism.

Endorsed by:

  • ACCES Employment
  • Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia (ALPHA) Toronto 
  • Centre for Immigrant and Community Services
  • Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
  • Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter
  • Chinese Canadian Nurses Association of Ontario
  • Chinese Family Services of Ontario
  • Chinese Interagency Network
  • Chinese Workers Network
  • Hong Fook Mental Health Association
  • Support Enhance Access Service Centre
  • Senior Persons Living Connected
  • The Cross-Cultural Community Services Association
  • Toronto ALPHA
  • Toronto Christian Community Church
  • Under the Banyan Tree Centre
  • Unionville Oasis Church
  • Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care
  • WoodGreen Community Services

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