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?


Tension in Tolerence: A Review of Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” – Part IV

While I do value the dynamic nature of McLaren’s system, I am concerned with how it is conceived. McLaren’s grounding is not clear. Are we to start with scripture? If so, how are we to interpret it? Or are we supposed to start with our own intuition? Or do we abandon established belief in favour of a new mash-up that includes socially acceptable rules while doing away with the more unpopular ideas?

I do support the idea of cross-denominational collaboration. And by extension, I also support the idea of inter-faith dialogue as well. McLaren’s approach lends itself well to generating the kind of humility that is required to open up a positive dialogue between competing denominations. The current decentralized model of Christian ministry and mission are valuable in terms of covering a wide variety of causes and needs, but I often wonder how much more effective some Christian ministries would be had they aligned or pooled their resources with other Christian denominations to accomplish the same goals. The impact of these “coalitions” would be tremendous.

And while I do appreciate McLaren’s attempt to adapt Christian thought with contemporary issues like postmodernism and secularization, I do find myself drawn to the “Radical Reformation” approach of the Anabaptists, whereby they forgo many of the progressive technological advancements in favour of a simpler way of life as a conscious decision to focus more on community than on “speed, style, technology, convenience, efficiency and mechanization” (McLaren, 230). To me, the Anabaptist approach of making Jesus Christ central and keeping uncluttered lives makes a great deal of sense. And, that ideal seems to be unchanged over time, which suggests that theological adaptations to contemporary issues are not required.

The urgency of discerning an appropriate worldview has recently been on the front burner for me. My father has been struggling with a blood disorder for the last year and it has just recently manifested itself in acute leukemia. This affliction is terminal and it will soon result in my father’s death. Thus, the need for “an accurate orthodoxy” in my life is quite pressing. Ultimately, we cannot be certain of any of our beliefs. McLaren offers a hopeful enterprise by suggesting that we simplify our approach to theology by focusing not on the divisive aspects, but instead focusing on the similarities of different denominational attitudes. I like this approach, as it suggests an inclusiveness that we can all participate in. I find this particularly settling for me as I contemplate my father’s destiny as he negotiates his peace with God.

I believe that McLaren’s strategy is viable, helpful and constructive. It provides an inclusive nature in which anyone can recognize their own denominational strengths, while also marginalizing their weaknesses. One can only hope that the strengths continue to be accentuated while the weaknesses are actually suppressed. As a whole, I enjoyed the book. It does present a tension that cannot be easily settled, but I believe that this tension is part of the beauty of the book. Without addressing the tension between denominations, the hope for interfaith fellowship cannot be attained. And without a central discussion, the kingdom of God cannot be fully realized nor can Jesus’ directive to live in love be fully experienced.

Todd Dow


Tension in Tolerence: A Review of Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” – Part III

McLaren’s response to these critiques is contained in the closing paragraphs of his final chapter, entitled “Why I Am Unfinished.” (McLaren, 339):

So here’s the tension: we must always be discontented with our portraits of orthodoxy, but we must never, in frustration, throw the Subject of our portrait out the window. Otherwise, the revolution fails and falls, sprawling facedown in the dirt, and the whole whirling adventure is over. Until God’s kingdom comes in fullness, the revolution of generous orthodoxy must continue: “In the upper world, hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration”. And so for this reason also, the adventure of generous orthodoxy is always unfinished (McLaren, 339)

Thus, McLaren avoids condemnation by claiming that his theology is always unfinished, a veritable moving target that pursues Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom without abandon. This makes McLaren quite slippery because it leaves him unable to be pinned down or typecast. But is this really a bad thing?

There are advantages to this approach. McLaren speaks of a tension between different views of orthodoxy. This tension is present with all claims of knowledge. How can one discern whether or not the claim is in fact truthful? Perhaps the answer is to live in tension. Rather than striving for black and white answers, why not live in shades of grey? The tension experienced when one gives up any claims to absolute truth can be discomforting at first, but over time, it can become a comfortable place to exist. Without the chains of absolute claims of divine truth, the individual is free to explore various experiences of God using various different methods of worship and revelation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people cling to their denominational beliefs out of a sense of fear or insecurity about giving up their particular grounding in faith. McLaren suggests that some Christians carry on the Protestant ideal of protesting in an effort to “prove themselves right and others wrong” (McLaren, 138). Regardless of the motivations, many people cling to their denominational affiliations in order to remain validated in their Christian walk. Leaving the comforting confines of a congregational confession of faith suggests leaving behind the protection, purpose and destiny that is offered by that particular worldview. Should denominational change be viewed as a step backwards, or is denominational drift an acceptable part of the Christian faith?

Up next: “Personal Reflection and Final Wrap Up”


Tension in Tolerence: A Review of Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” – Part II

The main problem with McLaren’s approach is that it fails to provide a concrete vision or set of beliefs that believers can attach themselves to. This “generous orthodoxy” turns into a “personal denomination” that is determined by individual preferences. McLaren does a great job of grabbing the good stuff from each of his denominational or thematic flavours of Christianity, while failing to address the shortcomings or contradictions that are bound to present themselves in such a model.

For example, McLaren offers competing stances on childhood baptism. In chapter 13, McLaren discusses adult baptism as a form of religious expression from the Anabaptist movement. He downplays the importance of the “how and when” of baptism in favour of the more important “why and whether you live the meaning of your baptism” (McLaren, 228). In this section, McLaren provides an encouraging place for Anabaptist beliefs to reside. And yet, in chapter 15, McLaren provides support for a catholic belief that subscribes to a sacramental faith and a respect for tradition that clearly, from a catholic perspective, supports infant baptism. McLaren clearly articulates the Anabaptist position pertaining to personal commitment, yet reinforcement of the catholic sacraments and traditions (without supporting each sacrament by name) does little to quell the uneasy cohabitation that this particular issue is bound to introduce.

Several other examples could be gleaned from the text, but for what point? It is sufficient to agree that Christianity has become segmented because of the sharp denominational lines that have resulted from the numerous protests that have brought us to this “Protestant soup” that we find ourselves swimming in today.

A second, and equally troubling problem for McLaren, is how to reconcile the postmodern bent that asserts, almost ironically, that absolute knowledge is unattainable. Early in the book, McLaren argues that “certainty and knowledge” are problematic in a postmodern worldview (McLaren, 28) and thus, one cannot be absolutely certain that they know right from wrong. This epistemological puzzle forces one to wonder how McLaren can be so sure that his solution is the right one. While McLaren does overstate his “completely unqualified” (McLaren, 38) status in the realm of theology, this does not excuse him from responsibility for his claims. At the very least, McLaren has provided the reader with a contradictory argument, first suggesting that we can know nothing with certainty and then offering a way forward that expects fellowship. Shouldn’t McLaren’s postmodern epistemological argument invalidate his suggestions entirely? How can his claims be discerned under this cloud of skepticism?

Thirdly, how would McLaren discern the conflicts and contradictions that present themselves in his “cherry-picking” of denominational best fruits. How can one be certain that McLaren was accurate in choosing certain denominational traits over others? And further, doesn’t this collection of denominational best practices contradict McLaren’s earlier suggestion to marginalize denominational distinctions (McLaren, 36)? Why does McLaren focus so much on those denominational best practices if his ultimate goal is to flatten the Christian experience into something that can be palatable to everyone?

Up next: “Responses to these objections”