How do we remove fear from the refugee equation?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the constructive and respectful dialogue online over the last day or so pertaining to refugee policy. Despite the anti-foreigner rhetoric over the last few days, there has been some clarification of views and some middle ground to be found between the various pro and anti immigration perspectives being shared online.

From what I can tell, everyone has a common desire to be helpful. The biggest problem though is fear and concern for our safety and well being. These are valid concerns, considering the potential for danger when people from a war-torn area are being relocated.

Another concern is that the needs of new immigrants would trump the needs of existing Canadians, particularly the homeless, the elderly and others that rely on an already stretched thin social assistance program.

I’ve done some digging and I’ll try to address both of the above concerns.

First, safety:
ccr-logo-web_0The Canadian Council for Refugees ( provides some helpful facts about refugees and refugee claimants in Canada. It specifically says that “Refugees and others seeking protection pose very little risk to Canada’s security”. It outlines Canada’s front-end security screening process, which is also detailed by the Government of Canada ( In a nutshell, CSIS checks all refugee claimants on arrival in Canada. It also says that, “It is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor, because the refugee determination process involves security checks by CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. It is not likely that a person intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to such detailed examinations. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes refugee claimants if they are found to be inadmissible on the basis of security, serious criminality, organized criminality or human rights violations.”

Various other sources echo these same processes as a key protection against the arrival of malicious individuals as part of the immigration process.

Further to this, a CBC interview today mentioned that government refugee screeners are looking for scenarios where safety is ensured: families with children (particularly women and children) and other similar scenarios that suggest stability and a desire to build a safe, stable family environment. And, in another interview on CBC, an interviewee mentioned that the refugee screening process would not be a good way for potential jihadists to reach their goals as the risk of being discovered was too high. Malicious actors would prefer more subtle routes to accomplish their goals. (sorry, I can’t reference a source for this particular interview so feel free to take this portion of my post with a grain of salt).

economist - refugees in americaAnother fact to consider:
As per this factoid from The Economist: 750,000 refugees have been resettled in America since 9/11. Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.

While nothing can offer absolute certainty pertaining to safety, I do think that security screening and the desired demographics do help to minimize the potential for abuse that many people are concerned with. And, the path of least resistance that a potential terrorist would prefer does suggest that they would shy away from the screening process that a refugee claim would bring. This does offer me a level of comfort pertaining to support for refugee arrivals in Canada.

Now, what about the potential drain on Canada’s social assistance resources?
According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, “Refugees receive limited, if any, social assistance from government authorities” ( “For several years, a persistent chain email has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension. The information, which is based on a letter published in the Toronto Star has been disproven by the federal government”. The Government of Canada posted the following:
“Question: Do government-assisted refugees get more income support and benefits than Canadian pensioners do?”
“Answer: No. Refugees do not get more financial help from the federal government than Canadian pensioners do. A widely circulated email makes this false claim. The email mistakenly includes the one-time start-up payment as part of the monthly payment. The amount of monthly financial support that government-assisted refugees get is based on provincial social assistance rates. It is the minimum amount needed to cover only the most basic food and shelter needs.

Many refugees selected for resettlement to Canada have been forced to flee their country because of extreme hardship. Some may have been living in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they must start their lives again in a country very different from their own.

In keeping with Canada’s proud humanitarian traditions, individuals and families get immediate and essential services and support to help them become established in Canada.”

The same myths and facts page ( also offers that “the cost of healthcare for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to a fraction of that of other Canadians”.

So, while I do think that many people do not receive the social assistance that they may need, I do think that the above answers highlight a fair and balanced approach to helping people in need.

So yeah… I found the above by doing only a quick Google search. The Government of Canada is quite transparent on their immigration policy and they provide a good overview of the protections that they provide. They also provide a good overview of their funding model to support new immigrants (and dispel the myth that immigrants get a lot more financial support than pensioners).

What do you think? Does this help alleviate your safety and fairness concerns? Any other questions, comments or concerns? Or, any refutations to the information that I’ve highlighted above? Feel free to provide your feedback in the comments below.



(In)tolerant – which do you want to be?

It’s been a while since I have written about religion, politics and world conflict. For a while, I felt like I had nothing new to say or that I was wasting my breath saying things that were unpopular in a world filled with hate, racism and right wing just war theorists.

I’ve been compelled to write over the last few months, but finding the time has been difficult. But the activities of the last 24 hours have finally pushed me to put “metaphorical” pen to paper.

Yesterday’s attacks on Parisians by ISIS-backed militants is just the latest in an increasingly offensive reign of terror being perpetrated by a minority faction that is being mistaken for the majority view of Muslims the world over.

Anecdotally, I have many friends who are Muslims, none of whom want to kill me because I am a westerner or because I am from a country that supported the “war on terror”. Should I isolate myself from them or have them deported simply because they share the same religion as the perpetrators of yesterday’s violence in Paris? I think not. The logic is simply ludicrous. But that is what I am hearing today. People are saying that we should lock the borders, that we should ship out the immigrants, that we should “save us from them”. It’s ridiculous.

Following this same logic would imply that we should hate all Canadians because some of us are criminals, or, as Stephen King tweeted today, “Hating all Muslims for what happened in Paris is like hating all Christians because of the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church” (link).

It is illogical to jump from the actions of a few to the hatred of so many. This is how things like slavery, the holocausts (there have been more than one against many different groups!) and McCarthyism (Better dead than Red!) were perpetrated. Fear of the other is a powerful motivator to lock your doors and justify hate and intolerance behind the banner of protection.

But unfortunately, this fear is making us punish ourselves. Modern western political, ideological and philosophical thought prides itself on transparency, freedom and safety for all. But by limiting freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of thought, we do ourselves a disservice.

In Canada, we have prided ourselves on being multi-cultural. Toronto and Vancouver are great melting pots of various faiths, ethnic backgrounds and lifestyle choices. We benefit greatly from the positive aspects of so many people. Canadians are known the world over for being tolerant and accepting of people of all nationalities. When we start being seen as intolerant and hateful, something is wrong.

Part of the problem here is the problem of perception. We are worried about attacks from people from a distant land, intent on bringing their struggles to our peaceful country and giving us a taste of what they are living through. We are right to be fearful of this. I don’t know about you, but I live a pretty charmed life. I have a house, two cars, a loving wife and three wonderful children. I am living in a dream world compared to most of the world. One of my paycheques could support an entire community for a year in some areas of the world. That sort of discrepancy speaks to the injustice of our world simply because of the circumstances into which we are born.

We have a right to be worried. We don’t want violence in our peaceful lives. Yet we don’t think much about the violence that we are supporting or turning a blind eye to elsewhere in the world.

Wait a minute… did I say supporting? Yep I did. There are various arguments for who started these conflicts. We could go all the way back to biblical times and the tribal conflicts that today’s division of land in the middle east is based upon and we would still be no closer to identifying the root causes of our world instability. At best, we could articulate that somebody started it, which is no better than trying to pull apart two children who are fighting over their claim of real estate in the backseat of the family car.

Bottom line: it’s a lost cause to try to ascertain rightness in who is entitled to what land in the middle east. Judaism claims first rights, Christians claim to trump Judaism and Islam claims to trump the other two. However, these are all faith-based claims, which are dangerous to try to sort out in the best of times. I am a faithful Christian, but even I have grown tired of trying to justify my actions based solely on the word of God as The Bible can be interpreted so differently by so many. Add two other major religions and you end up with an impossible debate based on nitpicking using out of context quotes and logical leaps that even a kindergartener will tell you isn’t fair.

But back to my point about the west supporting violence in the middle east. I’ve been mumbling to myself for a while that the current refugee crisis should be solved by a big backyard BBQ held by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I blame their insanely fanatical “war on terror” in Iraq for grossly inflating the 9/11 crisis into a horribly misguided full-blown bonfire. They used fabricated evidence to justify an invasion of Iraq. They were irresponsible in their planning for their invasion. And they were incompetent in their post-invasion nation building in the region. In a nutshell: they lied, they skimped and they blundered. They abused their power and they messed up the lives of billions (yes, billions) of people as a result.

And they made a bundle off of the whole thing. I don’t know about you, but if I am in charge of policy decisions, my company should not benefit from my choices. That is called a conflict of interest. If my memory is correct, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton for a while and Halliburton was a major beneficiary of the war years. I’d be curious to know if Dick’s friends George and Donald benefited similarly.

So yeah… I think they are adequately funded to help host the whole 2 million plus Syrian refugee contingent in Texas with a big backyard BBQ for as long as it takes to sort out the problems George, Dick and Donald created in the middle eastern homeland. I think that’s a fair tradeoff, don’t you?

And it’s not just me that blames George and his buddies. The Huffington Post raises a compelling argument as well, as does The Washington Post:
For The Record, Yes, George W. Bush Did Help Create ISIS
The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein’s.

(TL;DNR: Basically, George’s war in Iraq displaced a bunch of Iraq military who went on to form ISIS.)

So where does that leave us? Living in fear and increasingly hating those that we don’t understand.

I get it. ISIS has already threatened to attack other countries. They are threatening similar attacks in other cities across the western world. They are threatening to infiltrate refugee camps so that they can sneak into Canada and the US and launch attacks on our soil. Some of the stories coming out of Paris are suggesting that the attackers were from Syria and that they snuck into France via refugee routes. So yes, the path from refugee to terrorist is realistic.

But so is the path from native born to fanatic to terrorist. And so is the path from multi-generation Canadian or American to terrorist. Does this mean we should deport all foreigners? Do we deport anyone who questions our current military and political strategy (they might be an extremist, after all)? Where do we send them? What do we do with them?

Or should we take a step back and think rationally for a moment. The vast majority of refugees are in dire need of assistance. They are not planning a terrorist attack. They do not have malicious intent. They are simply looking for a safe refuge for themselves, their spouses, their children and their extended family.

The vast majority of refugees are tired, hungry, scared, in shock, alone and completely upended. Many have seen close family members or friends killed. They have lost all sense of normalcy and civility. They have traded their homes for the discomfort of long journeys to places they do not know, to foreign lands that don’t want them, after leaving all of their worldly possessions behind.

In this context, I feel ashamed to say this, but to me, a 10 hour car drive during a vacation with my three kids in the back is stressful. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to attempt to relocate my entire family to who knows where, with no end in sight, no timeline and no idea where my next meal will come from.

And we have the audacity to worry that a few of them might be bad apples or that they will come over here and leech off our government assistance.

Shame on us. Shame on all of us for turning our backs on the most needy among us. Especially when we so heartily helped to create this mess.

I don’t know about you, but my biggest problem this Christmas is telling my 10 year old son that Santa will not be bringing him an Xbox One. He already has one game console (an Xbox 360), the value of which is more than which many families can afford (and which is also greater than the complete net worth of many families in the world). When I think about it from that perspective, I cringe, as I know that 25,000 lucky people will win the “come to Canada” lottery this Christmas, where they will be allowed to come live in a faraway land, with no family and friends, no possessions, little understanding of the local language, few prospects for immediate employment and a hostile welcoming party. But they will be coming to a place free from war, free from terror, free from the hostility that made them choose sleeping in fields and on unpaved roads over staying in their homes.

And we want to paint them all with the same brush: dangerous. threatening. terrorist.

But we have a choice. We can choose to be humanitarians. We can choose to change the story. Rather than discriminate and hate, we can love, we can welcome and we can strive for peace.

We can embrace those that need help. We can embrace those that are struggling. We can welcome those less fortunate than us. We can support people as they try to make a better life for themselves and their children in a faraway place.

We can tell a new story – a story of love, peace, tolerance and kindness. This is the kind of story that can help to heal. This is the kind of story that can build bridges to peace. And this is the kind of story that Canadians should be about.

We can create a welcoming environment through:

  1. our thoughts (be compassionate)
  2. our actions (be part of a community that hosts a refugee family or donate money or goods for refugee families)
  3. our values (tolerance, acceptance and multi-culturalism)
  4. our destiny (set an example of universal peace and love)

We have a choice: we can be the tolerant or the intolerant.

Who do you want to be?


Dawkins Part 8: Are All Ideologies Bad

So… Dawkins has been going on and on about how religion has been so bad and that it should be abolished in favour of scientism, evolutionism or some other worldview of his liking. He suggests that a religious worldview leads to child abuse and human rights violations.

Dawkins argues:

“As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect for the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need no urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith. This is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called ‘extremist’ faith. The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” (pg 306)

I find this extremely short sighted and dangerous. Isn’t it this kind of narrow-minded censorship that religious extremists have exhibited in their abusive theocratic rule throughout history? As I have mentioned numerous times during this series, I am in complete opposition to the extremist views that fanatical religious adherents try to push on other people, but I adamently oppose any sort of censorship or blanket persecution of a worldview or ideology just because a few twist that perspective for their means.

In fact, I’d like to suggest that in many instances, it hasn’t been religion that has been persecuting people, but instead, it has been the political ambitions of the religious leaders that has hijacked religion for their own needs. Throughout most of recorded history, the church provided the main religious AND political leadership throughout the developed world. This often led to a conflict of interest when it comes to following Jesus and satisfying the material needs of society. Consider these examples:

  • 313 CE: Augustine & the Political Realm – In the early 4th century, the Roman empire was being attacked from barbarian hordes from lands that surrounded the Roman empire. At this time, the population was becoming more and more Christian which was problematic as Christianity was a religion of peace up until this time. And, since the population was becoming more and more Christian, willing military conscripts were becoming fewer and fewer. This meant that in order for the Roman empire to survive, the military required Christian participants. At this time, Augustine (one of the early church fathers) developed a Christian justification for violence in order to support military participation. It has been suggested that Augustine was under extensive political pressure to develop this treatise.
  • 1095 CE: Pope Urban II & The CrusadesI’ve argued in the past that Pope Urban II abused his authority as Pope to kick off the Christian Crusades, which are one of the greatest blemishes on the face of Christianity, even today.
  • 2001 CE: Modern Day “Crusades” – This one’s kind of a no-brainer, but the US is currently involved in a political and economic war in the Middle East to secure oil rights and to advance economic interests in the area. George W. Bush kicked off this campaign against the “war on terror” with this rousing quote:

    “On Sunday, Bush warned Americans that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.” He and other US officials have said that renegade Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden is the most likely suspect in the attacks.”


    So far, the US has done a great job of creating their latest victim (who remembers the red menace of communism?): Islam. While vilifying this same enemy that the US used to be so chummy with (who remembers the assistance that the US provided to the Taliban in fighting against Russia in the 80s?), Bush has done a fantastic job of creating a “cover” under which to obtain carte blanche to stir up a hornets nest of resentment in the Middle East that is sure to last for at least the next generation. For more on this topic, check out this article: A Tragic Picture of Death

  • Economic Human Rights Abuses – For more on this topic, I’ll defer you to an internationally respected organization and their extensive catalogue of abuses: Amnesty International – Economic Globalization and Human Rights.

So yeah… if we apply Dawkins’ logic, we may as well disassemble our democratic state and our economic system in its entirety. In fact, I’d argue that religion has in some cases indrectly led to human rights abuses by a few, extremely influential yet extremely misguided individuals. The economic and political ideals that we as a modern society have adopted, on the other hand, provide a system whereby a few are allowed to prosper, while at the same time ignoring the plights of the majority who are underfed and under cared for.

Dawkins seems intent on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Religion has also been responsible for the majority of the world’s charity up until the 20th Century. And, these institutions (hospitals, orphanages, schools, etc.) were set up with the ideal goal of providing universal well being. Today’s capitalist health care system doesn’t seem to reflect those same ideals.

So where’s the problem here? Is it religion, or the abuses that its members have commited? In my opinion, we need to focus on oversight to ensure that the needs of everyone are met and that abuses don’t occur. And when abuses do occur, we should be proactive in removing the abuser(s) and correcting the situation. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

Next up: “Childhood abuse and brainwashing


Dawkins Part 6: The Problem With Fundamentalism

We’re all fundamentalists in some way. I find it quite contradictory that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the like criticize others for being fundamentalists when they themselves are so adament about their atheistic worldviews.

Dawkins spends a fair amount of time criticizing the extremist views of some religious people. He talks about Christians that kill abortion doctors. He talks about Muslims that kill people that have converted from Islam to Christianity (or other religions). And we’re all aware of the many “fundamentalist preachers” in the US and throughout the world that discriminate against homosexuality, women and other differences that they claim somehow make people unequal.

This is one area where I’ve gotta agree with Dawkins. I agree that fundamentalist views are problematic. They divide us. They split us into factions. These divisions work against all of us. There is no community spirit in division. That being said, we’re not all going to agree on everything. Human nature doesn’t make this possible. We all ahve different opinions. We all like different things. We don’t all like the same movies, the same food, the same music or the same books.

So, why does that mean that we all have to like the same worldview?

It doesn’t.

But, does that mean that we should impose our opinions on other people? I’d argue no, but then I’m bound to be called a fundamentalist by someone that disagrees with me. And there’s the rub… we’re all fundamentalists in some way, shape or form. Does this make us wrong? No. What is right and wrong when you’re debating ideas that have competing evidence? There’s a whole lot of grey in those discussions.

For a lot of years, I loved to live in the black and white of right and wrong. I didn’t function well with shades of grey. Structure and rules provide comfort and stability. But I eventually realized that each of us look at things through different sets of eyes. I see things as a middle aged white male living in a middle class neighbourhood after growing up in a blue collar family. There are plenty of other perspectives though. Factors that influence our perspectives include gender, cultural background, colour, age, education level, geographical location, etc. All of these things will impact our views, our values, our opinions and our prejudices (whether real or perceived).

Trying to view things as others see them is a worthwhile exercise, as it allows us to understand each other better. Give it a try. Juggle some of the factors that I mentioned above. Imagine how you’d perceive the following sitatuations:

  • Money if you are rich versus poor
  • Food if you are hungry versus well fed
  • Sex if you are loved versus abused
  • etc. – the list could go on and on

So my question here is: What makes religion any different? Why can’t we all have differing worldviews? What’s wrong with understanding and connecting with God in different ways?

The problem here, as Dawkins has so articulately put it, is that some people don’t allow for freedom of religion or of expression. Some people believe that it is their duty to convince others of their perspective, even to the point of persecuting them if they don’t agree. Thus, we are faced with the problems of extreme responses that I mentioned above.

My religion tells me:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

But surely, Jesus, saying these words, didn’t mean to forcefully convert people, did he? That would be contradictory to his earlier teachings on peace. Remember, Jesus also said:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)

These two quotes are two of the “biggies” in Christianity. The first quote, Matt 28:19-20, is known as The Great Commission. The second, Matt 22:37-39, is known as The Greatest Commandment. Thus, these are primary verses for Christians to understand.

Some have had a difficult time interpreting these two and allowing them to coexist together. To some, the order to “go and make disciples” has been understood as an active, forceful directive in which coersion is to be applied to convert people. One of the greatest recorded abuses of this is by the Spanish and others that arrived in the New World only to massacre hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Native Americans. These massacres were at least partially justified through the directive to “convert or die”. Yet, this directly contradicts Jesus’ pacifist message of love, as highlighted in The Greatest Commandment.

This type of tension is present in numerous different worldviews. Religion isn’t the only place that this is present, but it is worrisome when it leads to extremism.

The media has reported numerous examples of religious extremism coming from the Muslim faith lately. As I look at the facts in the situations of suicide bombers and freedom fighters, I do understand some of the motivations behind their actions. Persecution and lack of options is high on the list of reasons for what pushes people to go to such extremes. But, when these people claim to be doing the work of the Lord by carrying out such acts, that doesn’t really jive with what others within their own faith believe. Further investigation tends to suggest that these extremists follow an extreme interpretation of their texts, in much the same way that Christian extremists distort and disregard the message that is provided in the New Testament of Christianity. Thus, there is some concern with the validity of their claims.

And really… do we really think that killing someone will make our point of view any more right? I argue no. If anything, it will distract anyone from listening to the original argument and will instead focus them on the violent action. If I need violence to defend my opinion, then I’d best re-examine my argument because it can’t be that strong of an argument if I can’t defend it by other means.

The key here is tolerance and confidence that we are following the right path for the right reason. No matter what factors play into our individual worldviews, I do believe (here goes the fundamentalist in me again!) that we are each, individually responsible for having a rational and well thought out worldview. Otherwise, why do we believe what we believe?

So yeah… I’m onside with Dawkins here. I agree that extremist views do exist and that violent coercion to convince others is the wrong way to go. If your argument isn’t convincing enough, then perhaps you need to reconsider your argument. And, if your argument doesn’t make sense, then why do you believe what you believe? And further, if you hold a religious worldview that involves Jesus or the Quran, which both preach love and peace, then why would you follow a violent path to represent that faith? Doesn’t it make you a hypocrite?

That’s my challenge for you today… take some time to examine what you really believe.

Next up: More moral discussion in “The Slippery Slope of Abortion“.


What are Christian Pacifists supposed to do?

Part four in my four part series entitled “What Are We Fighting For?”

The question then becomes: what are we supposed to do? Do we just continue to turn the other cheek? Definitely. Lead by example. If you claim that you are a disciple of Jesus, then you have to live the part. That means standing up for the principles of Christian living, as they are provided to us in the Bible.

I think we have to go further though. Others are speaking on our behalf in the public square. Christians are speaking up and saying that war is okay. Christians are speaking up and saying that violence is allowed if it’s in OUR best interests. It is our responsibility to speak up and correct these false assertions about Christianity. Ours is a religion of love and peace, not of war and domination.

We have so much potential. We live in a land of free speech. We have access to the internet. Blogging is so simple. Writing and publishing books has become a breeze. Organizations like MCC are just waiting to help us channel our energies into positive changes across the world, represented by the healing and loving hand of Jesus.

We need to embrace our gifts and take advantage of the opportunities available to us to make a difference, to represent our faith in a positive manner and to build a relationship of love and peace throughout the world.

Let me leave you with this thought as I wrap up:

Current U.S. expenditures in Iraq (according to Harper’s, Oct 2006):

  • $246 million each day, or more than $10 million an hour
  • direct costs. And those costs continue to grow:
    • $77.3 billion in 2004
    • $87.3 billion in 2005
    • $100.4 billion in fiscal year 2006
  • Estimated that staying in Iraq another four years will cost at least $1 trillion.

By comparison, Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2007 provided the following numbers required in Afghanistan:

  • Amount raised during a 2006 summit attended by approximately 60 countries with the stated goal of providing economic and military aid to reconstruction efforts: $11 Billion USD
  • Amount required, as per estimated provided by the World Bank and the Afghan government: $28 Billion USD.

Something is askew when priorities are that far out of whack. Imagine investing those war dollars into the local economies to make them self sufficient? I don’t know about you, but it sure seems like a better use of money than building bombs and bullets that will only further divide all of us.

Now, it’s important that you don’t just take my word for it. Research the things that we’ve talked about today. Make up your own mind. And if you disagree, I’d love to talk further with you. I have yet to be convinced that the peace position is wrong.

My hope is that we will be able to work together to raise awareness of the radical reformation that the global Christian church requires sooner rather than later.

Thank you and God bless each and every one of you.

Todd Dow