Canada’s Syrian Refugees: Outing Our Immigrants? – OpEd


Canada’s yuletide welcome of 10,000 Syrian refugees (target 25,000 by February) continues to draw criticism. Originally, the criticism was from the Conservatives, arguing that a hasty infusion of thousands of Syrians would represent a security risk. One of the Paris bombers was reportedly carrying a Syrian passport. It turned out that the passport was a forgery (common practice among desperate immigrants everywhere), and all the alleged bombers were European citizens.

Nonetheless, Canada decided to limit Syrians to families, single women and children. This sounds like a human rights violation: discrimination against single men, on the pretext that they could be terrorists. Not fair, but understandable, given the Paris bombings and the need to be seen to act carefully. There are lots of women and children and married men still alive there to fill the quota.

But some vigilant and politically correct Canadians are raising a stink. Gay spokesmen have protested the exclusion of gay men from the list of preferred refugees. “We know, firsthand, from those types of countries, LGBT refugees are very vulnerable to violence and persecution,” said Pride Winnipeg’s Jeff Myall.

Wait a minute. Gays, so the conventional wisdom goes, have long been the much maligned minority, victims of quasi-racism. Since Stonewall, newly integrated into mainstream society, but always on the lookout for signs of homophobia. Now western gays (the term doesn’t even exist in the nonwestern world) are exporting their newly minted agenda of ‘equality, liberty, fraternity’ not only to Egypt, Iran and Russia, but of all places, Syria, joining the sympathy bandwagon, not just as disinterested citizens by as disinterested gay citizens.

Reaching Out Winnipeg, a group that helps LGBTTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer) refugees and asylum seekers get settled in the city, is preparing for the arrival of Syrian refugees. That is big-hearted of them, given Canada’s Syrian refugees are limited to women, children and families, clearly excluding gay men and women, but they are not happy, and want a reversal of the no-male policy to allow for self-proclaimed gay men (presumably they would want self-proclaimed lesbians to get the nod as well). They are okay about banning straight Syrians. But please, don’t discriminate against gentle gay guys. Only the straight ones.

Pride Winnipeg and Reaching Out were awaiting a response to this issue from Immigration Minister John McCallum. So what if McCallum caved? Wouldn’t that make Canadian policy sexist and heterophobic? 21st century political correctness continues to confound.

The tricks of getting in

The standard policy in Canada’s immigration service has long been to favor families, especially the post-WWII mom-pop two-little-kids families, where both parents speak English or French, are university educated, with five plus years of experience in hardcore professions like engineer, computers, and medicine. This makes sense from Canada’s point of view: they are not terrorist risks, are easily integrated, easily employable, and profitable. The issue of whether such a policy is just, or whether it is actually a major factor in the braindrain from the third world to the first world, is never broached.

Single males are already (unofficially) not allowed for various reasons. Unless highly skilled, they are not good economic prospects, will likely return to their original homeland with savings to live as kings, or maybe they are gay, and not as likely to make a major contribution to Canada’s economy or produce children. The only way a gay Egyptian, Costa Rican, etc, can emigrate to Canada is to marry a Canadian expat at the embassy and thus slip through the net. A handful formerly came as political refugees, but that works only if you are from a country out of favour with the West, like Iran, or have managed to enter as a tourist and then plead your personal case of discrimination at home, no matter how tenuous. Risky but done.

The new marry-a-gay-Canadian loophole is widely known, and encourages males, gay or straight, to abuse it. Counters Pride Winnipeg’s Jeff Myall: “With any type of scenario, there’s always the possibility that somebody’s going to try to break the rules. The main thing we fall back to is [that in] the culture that a lot of these people are coming from, being LGBTTQ is extremely taboo … If you’re caught at all by the wrong people, your life could be in jeopardy.” Not true. As immigration procedures are confidential, such a loophole would likely be used without risk by Syrians, especially straights, to take advantage of the current crisis and get the coveted invitation to Canada, whatever their legitimate claims as imperiled refugees are.

Canada should be accepting “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (whatever they might do in the bedroom), but that policy happened only briefly in US-Canadian history, in the 19th and early 20th century, when large numbers of (white) Europeans were needed to take over all the native lands, allowing all Europeans who wanted to, to come, making a white North America a fait accompli. Since then, immigration has been much more selective, fuel for the economic engine. And increasingly, now, regulated according to the new 21st century politically correct agenda.

The humanitarian nature of the Syrian deluge is not to be denied. It is a noble gesture by Trudeau, in fact, a kind of silver bullet against terrorism, along with Trudeau’s decisive phone call to Obama hours after his election as Prime Minister to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. The only way to fight ISIS responsibly is to “do the right thing,” and expose their policy of violence as bad for Muslims, bad for everyone. That means, in the first place, not follow the same policy of violence, and, just as important, through humanitarian policies, showing Canada’s goodwill.

Even the mercenary (sic) subtext of who is accepted does not deny the new lease on life for all immigrant families, and the positive return for their countries of origin that their future financial support of relatives left behind will provide.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion’s first statement heralded a new Middle East policy calling for reassessing the Harper pro-Israeli bias, making Israel “a nonpartisan issue”. “For us to be an effective ally we need to strengthen our relationship with the other legitimate partners in the region.” The refugee policy is also part of this. Insisting that the g word be part of official government policy in deciding which Syrians are welcomed is not. It will do nothing to improve things in Syria, and will only encourage lying, cynicism and even contribute to resentment of openly gay men there.

Pinkwashing politics

The gay issue is a thorny one, abused by individuals desperate to snag a ticket to the western dream, and by western governments to distract their own public from serious issues of international relations between states which don’t follow a western agenda, in the first place, Russia and Iran.

By interfering with other countries’ internal affairs, this actually does more harm to those who face discrimination in those countries. Whatever their intent, international gay activists paradoxically end up replicating and even strengthening in other cultures the very situation of repression they set out to challenge in their own countries, as Joseph Massad argues in Desiring Arabs (2007).

Today the civilising mission of the “Gay International” (as Massad provocatively puts it) is to pluck individuals out of their social setting, forcing them to define their very essence according to certain acts, and then endow them with universal personal rights to perform these acts and encourage others to perform these acts wherever they like, be it in Teheran, Mecca or New York. In pursuing this invasive policy, it continues the work of Christian missionaries, paving the way for the economic system that imperialism seeks to spread across the world, giving western forces more room to incorporate other societies into its domain, and in the process, rewriting history.

The current policy clearly discriminates against men, but is understandable. It should be ‘all or nothing’.


Eric Walberg

Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s. He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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