This Family Day—and every one going forward—my family and I are going to do what we can to build the kind of Canada we want to live in.
When you're living outside your birth country, with friends and family scattered around the world, you get used to running conversations over Skype and text message. In fact, when news of the ban stopping all refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations entering America broke, I was texting with a close friend from Palestine who moved to Washington D.C. with her husband and three children in 2015.
They left Gaza because of the uncertainty and instability shrouding the region. She wanted what all parents want for their children: a better future. Now, she's been plunged back into uncertainty. A Green Card holder, she doesn't know if she can visit her family and friends in Egypt. Her texts became worried questions: What will happen to her family if the ban expands to include Egypt or Palestine?
Since the ban was announced, the sands have continued to shift beneath refugees' and migrants' feet as legal battles are fought over its legitimacy. No one is sure from day to day whose travel plans will be affected, but millions of people are on edge—and there's a strong psychological toll to the uncertainty. I've certainly felt it: I'm a Palestinian-Canadian, and I travel frequently for work. I can't shake the fear that on my next visit to the US, they'll only see my birth country, my last name or the colour of my skin.
As I took in the news, I did what most of us in this country probably did in response and silently gave thanks that I'm Canadian. My immediate thought was to encourage my friend in Washington to move here with her family. Then, days later, I watched reports of the attack in Quebec City and learned of the six men who were killed while praying at their mosque.
We may not have a so-called "Muslim ban" and I'm proud to think of the nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees who now call Canada home, but we are not immune to the hate and division that is growing both north and south of the border. The ban and the attack are connected by the poison of intolerance.
Since the attack, MPs have been calling on each other to ditch the divisive politics that plays on peoples' differences. This is a good start—but it doesn't answer the question of why the mentality of "us" and "them" so easily wedged itself between Canadians.
As we mark the 150th anniversary of our nation, we need to recommit to a true culture of inclusivity for the next 150 years.
Hate comes from ignorance. The best way to learn empathy and to combat ignorance is with exposure. And that's where parents, and the lessons they teach in the safe and supportive space of the home, play a decisive role. As a family, my husband and I plan to use Family Day—this year, and every year moving forward—to help build the type of country we want for all families.
If you live near a new Canadian family, help your children get to know the neighbours, why they left their country and why they chose Canada. Select children's books that emphasize diversity. Connect complex issues back to something kids can relate to, like schoolyard and classroom antics. Ask them how it makes them feel when they get left out or picked on for being "different." Volunteer at a New Canadians Centre, or learn to cook a meal from one of the seven countries affected by the back-and-forth ban in the US.
There are incidents of Islamophobia in this country, but as both a Canadian and a Muslim, I have hope. At a funeral service for the victims, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard stood in front of thousands in attendance and declared, "We are all Quebecers." We are all victims of hate and we all have a chance to recommit ourselves to the best of Canada.