Standing on guard for our country

Comment, Toronto Star
Jul 06, 2007 04:30 AM

I had just finished reading the front-page story in the Saturday Star about Canadian identity or “what it means to be Canadian” when I heard the news about an attack at the Glasgow airport. This violent incident took away all incentive to celebrate July 1.

So, unlike previous years when I’ve arranged parties or picnics, this Canada Day found me sitting on the shores of Lake Ontario, reflecting, searching and very concerned about the security of Canada.

As I looked at the skyline of downtown Toronto, I reflected that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives us just that. To truly experience the power of the Charter, we immigrants have to build our own charter of duties and responsibilities, including a compelling sense of duty to safeguard this peaceful haven in a world gone mad.

Today I worry that the madness can strike here and it’s up to us to stand on guard for our country.

At a recent social evening, I asked the guests, including youth (all of them immigrants), if they know and believe in the words of our national anthem. It was a bit of a blow to realize that many of them don’t know the words and don’t really care. To some of them, being Canadian only means a piece of paper and a passport. They still work in oil-rich kingdoms, coming here only to use the benefits. So I wonder, how they will ever stand on guard for Canada?

I’m not ignorant of the fact that everything is not rosy in our land of milk and honey. Many guests expressed their angst at the new travel rules where they are questioned, fingerprinted, eyeball checked and searched. Some of them have lived here more than 30 years and are CEOs of companies who feel that Muslims are being unfairly targeted. They are also perturbed by the way the extremist rant has taken over the dialogue of Muslims.

Our discussions led us to the decision that this is the reality today. It exists and may get worse as Al Qaeda expands its nasty network and as long as we don’t rise as a community to condemn all acts of violence attributed to our faith. Upon asking why the silent majority doesn’t speak out, many expressed fear and some frustration that their voices are not being heard. So what are we going to do?

Most of us migrated to Canada searching for a better future for our children. If our youth are hearing mixed messages from leaders, the community needs to openly condemn these voices and silence them. We need to instil a strong sense of loyalty into the new generation of Canadians in the hope that they will protect this land from those who want to hurt or change it, and also relate to “the other” with tolerance and sincerity. This is the rhetoric missing from the religious lectures being spouted from many pulpits. We need to pull our heads out from the sand and take our future into our own hands, dealing with the good, bad and ugly around us in a democratic and educated way.

This is not to say that all immigrants have soft feelings for Canada. While many Canadians are embroiled in a debate about whether or not they should display ribbons supporting our troops, our friend Ishrat Ansari of Toronto has motivated his two sons and a daughter to join the Canadian Armed Forces. “This,” says the proud father showing off their photos in uniform, “is what I owe Canada.”

As we wave our Canadian flags with pride, let’s also ask ourselves not what Canada has given us, but what we can give Canada.