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Nov. 14, 2019 | Thursday
Editorials and Opinions
A Canada Day essay: Love and acceptance of our differences
Colin Brezicki met this Iranian family in NOTL on Canada Day last year. (Supplied)


Four months away from a federal election and immigration is again a burning issue.

With all our challenges — climate change, a history of genocide, economic instability — we still lock horns over who gets to live here.

Niagara-on-the-Lake recently witnessed a brief hate campaign against immigrants that was commendably defused by the town’s counter messages of welcome.

Our prime minister believes welcoming new arrivals isn’t enough and that Canadians “need to talk about love and acceptance.” I was reminded of Christ when he — Jesus, not Justin — also told his followers to love their neighbour.

“Who is my neighbour?” asked one listener. A good question, which Jesus answered with the parable of the good Samaritan. A man travelling to Jericho is attacked and left for dead at the roadside. A couple of passersby take no notice, but a third stops to help him. Go and do likewise, He said.

He didn’t add qualifiers. Nothing about questioning the mugged traveller first to see if his belief system was acceptable.

Same with Justin. Love everyone of whatever race, creed and values. Just do it.

Or at least, say you do.

Ticking the box is easy enough, but when it comes to putting theory into practice a special kind of person is needed.

Like a saint.

What if I’m asked to love unconditionally a xenophobe, or a misogynist, a homophobe, anti-Semite or Islamophobe? How about an opponent of the carbon tax and a lover of pipelines?

Then there are pro-lifers and those who resist the progressive sex-ed. curriculum in our primary schools, and others who aren’t dog-lovers.

The trouble with loving everyone is that when you scratch the surface you find some aren’t all that lovable any more.

Philosopher Edmund Burke believed that as imperfect human beings, we find it impossible to live by top-down universal rights and freedoms, and international pieties that say all you need is love, though such things are easy enough to sing about.

Burke believed such easy mantras can lead to a zealous righteousness and even fanaticism.

Neither a saint nor a zealot myself, I’m more comfortable with ordinary people.

I met some on Canada Day last year. At a roadside, like in the parable.

My mother and I were picnicking at a secluded spot by the Niagara River, when two minivans pulled in. Two Middle Eastern families emerged from their vehicles, carrying blankets and picnic baskets. I could see Mum wasn’t pleased by the invasion — there were suddenly a lot of people around us.

One of the party approached and asked, smiling, “Can we share your picnic place? We will go elsewhere if you want.”

We had no claim to the spot and they were being polite.

“Please join us,” I replied. “There’s plenty of room.”

They thanked us and spread their blankets. Eventually, the man reached over to hand us a full paper plate and a drink each. “Iranian food, I hope you like it.”

We accepted his offering and thanked him. I enjoy Middle Eastern food, though the yogurt soda was an acquired taste. We exchanged small talk for a while and then let them get on with it.

Before we left I asked if I could take a photo. They mugged for the camera and shouted “Happy Canada Day” as I took the picture.

I didn’t know them, nor did they know me. We didn’t exchange views on politics or religion. It might have spoiled the day. Instead, respectful of our presumed differences, we shared pleasantries on a small patch of grass.

“Diversity Is Our Strength,” a political platitude, wasn’t what I felt that day. Civility was more like it, a bonding, despite differences.

Diversity is a given. Civility is how we make it a strength.

I think of Canada as a mosaic, a picture composed of many disparate pieces requiring an adhesive. Our civility is that adhesive, a willingness to accept differences, especially the ones we might not love — like the belief that abortion is murder, women are subordinate and must dress to a code, gender is non-negotiable.

We live amidst cultures that determine who the children can marry, or what medical treatment they may receive, or whether women can go out to work. There’s nothing illegal here — it’s not hate speech, or sexual abuse — but while I can’t love such values, I respect another’s prerogative to have them.

Neither do I love all my neighbours, but I know who they are. I found them at the roadside, not beaten or robbed, thank God, only asking to share a patch of ground.

* Colin Brezicki is an author and member of the Writers' Union of Canada.