Dany Assaf is the author of Say Please and Thank You, and Stand in Line: One Man’s Story of What Makes Canada Special and How to Keep it that Way.
As we continue to mourn the tragic killings of four family members in London, Ont., an act reportedly motivated by anti-Muslim hatred, Canadians have been left to pick up the shattered pieces.
It was an attack on us all. It was an attack on the promise that this is a land where who you are will never determine what you can be. Now is the time for us to collectively ask: Where do we go from here?
Will we be able to use the pain and anguish we feel to form the fuel to renew our journey to see the best, brightest and most united Canadian chapter yet? Or will we continue to be swept by the intense currents of this small, but loud and sometimes violent, stream of voices of hate that seeks to divide us?
I’m familiar with those voices. After 9/11, a neighbour erected a sign pointed at my parents’ Edmonton home: “Osama bin Laden lives closer than you think.”
Yet, despite that act of hate directed at my family, and despite the horror in London, I continue to believe our Canadian framework is strong to light our path forward.
We can resist the howling voices of division and never let them define us. There are any number of ways for us to define the Canadian framework – politically, constitutionally, philosophically – but for me, the way forward was best articulated by Munir Hamdon, a Muslim-Canadian whose parents had immigrated to Alberta at the beginning of the 20th century and who, along with my great-grandfather, built the first Canadian mosque in Edmonton in 1938. When my own father arrived in Canada from Lebanon 60 years ago, Mr. Hamdon told him that our national creed was to “say please and thank you, and stand in line.”
Those are words almost every Canadian understands instinctively. They mean that we fundamentally respect one another, and expect to be respected in turn. They mean anyone can join the Canadian family without compromising any part of our heritage or personal identity, so long as you show mutual respect.
It is an inherently inclusive concept – powerful, timeless and unifying.
We can also double down on its implicit promise that who you are will never determine what you can be – the promise that through the years has attracted so many hungry and hard-working immigrants to make a future in our country. Those immigrants escaped the suffocating historic class and social structures of the “old country” for the wide-open promise of Canada. The vast majority of them knew this was a precious gift and did not squander it, helping build Canada into what it is today.
This is no time to abandon our creed and go back on our promise, but that’s easier said than done. We need to strengthen, not undermine, our values in the 21st century, and broaden the opportunities we offer “new” and “old” Canadians, and especially our Indigenous sisters and brothers.
As a competition lawyer, I spend a lot of time analyzing markets. I’m firmly convinced that enduring peace and prosperity are dependent on a country’s values, and I believe Canada is poised to be rewarded for its values like never before.
After all, technology, travel and immigration have made the world smaller, and will continue to do so after the COVID-19 pandemic. Going to work each morning, we have no idea who our next customer, supplier, employee or employer may be. People of different backgrounds from around the world can work together and engage with each other like never before. As one of the most educated and diverse countries on Earth, Canada is uniquely positioned to lead and succeed in this new world.
We have few historic enemies, and stable legal and political systems. We can help set an example for the rest of the world, connecting disparate peoples and spreading civility and prosperity around the globe – and that would be a remarkable asset to export in these fragile times.
And to those who hold hate today, know that it will not give you the peace, prosperity or meaning you seek. Instead, call out those who peddle these ideas to you, often anonymously, as the false prophets they are; they offer only solution-less rage to the issues of our age. Propagating hate against one another, whether online or offline, is something we all must strive to eliminate. And we should know that doing so does not affect our right to free speech, because that right has never extended to falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre.
As we approach the 154th anniversary of Confederation, Canadians should be asking – for ourselves and our children – what will the future hold for us in this uncertain century. How do we respond to the senseless violence that wiped out a wonderful family nearly in its entirety? Will we let hatred drive us to its inevitable dead end? Will we honour the intergenerational trust to hand our children a Canada that is better than we got?
I’m sure we will not squander the opportunity before us. In my experience, a bet on the Canadian people has never been a bad one.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.