The North Star: A New Chapter in the Flight to Freedom

“Canada is not merely a neighbour of Negroes.
Deep in our history of struggle for freedom, Canada was the North Star.

                                                                                                                 -- Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

     Most everyone has heard of the Underground Railroad that brought so many fugitive slaves to Canada, all of them following the hope that was "The North Star".

     Moreover, most have heard of stalwarts like Harriet Tubman, a brave conductor on the railroad, and Josiah Henson, the heroic man on whom Harriet Beecher Stowe based "Uncle Tom", both of them working in or out of Ontario.

     It is a proud -- if occasionally blotched -- time in this country's history. Since the 1790s, when slavery was effectively abolished in Upper Canada (now Ontario) by Gov. John Graves Simcoe, places like St. Catharines and Sandwich (now Windsor) were Mecca to African-Americans escaping the horrors of slavery.

     (A trip to Uncle Tom's Cabin, the historic site of Henson's settlement in Dresden, ON, with its symbols and implements of slavery, should disabuse any believer in the alleged "gallantry" of the Southern cause.)

     Today, the North Star is yet again a symbol of freedom, although, perhaps ironically, "Mecca" has taken on a different context.

     Literally hundreds of Somali and other Muslims, fearing their future in a Donald Trump America, are taking their lives in their hands to cross the border to the frigid wastes of Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec to find their own freedom.

     They come here as refugees, of course, and are apprehended mostly by border agents and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. All will be granted refugee hearings; most, if not all, will likely be granted that status.

     It isn't easy. Two men who stumbled in to Emerson, Manitoba, lost all the digits on their hands, save one thumb, to frostbite. It was, so they apparently said, worth it to them.

     Others bring in their entire families, complete with baby carriage. Border towns like Emerson are swamped, but are reacting with exemplary kindness and compassion. Food, shelter and help are readily and freely available.

     It's not -- as it was with the fugitive slaves -- without its sideshows of horror.

     In January, six Muslim men in a Quebec City suburb were murdered and others wounded at evening worship. A "Pure Laine" (literally "pure wool", or ethnic) French-Canadian has been charged.

     Meanwhile, a candidate for the right-wing Conservative party (with 14 contenders, it's horribly reminisicent of the Republican Clown Car debacle), has stupidly called for screening of potential immigrants for what she termed "Canadian values".

     She hasn't defined what those values are or should be. It'd be nice to think they include the spirit and ethos of John Graves Simcoe, rather than those of someone who would back-shoot people on their knees during prayer. But I somehow doubt it.

     If by some horrible circumstance she should become party leader, I can only hope my fellow Canadians will send this demagogue to where she rightly belongs: Political oblivion.

     For most of us, in the words of our prime minister, "Welcome Home."

Views: 132

Comment by M. C. Sears on February 21, 2017 at 4:36pm

To me Canadian values simply means decency, compassion and an open mind.

Nice piece of writing my friend. 

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on February 21, 2017 at 5:11pm

:)   terrific   thank you!

Comment by koshersalaami on February 21, 2017 at 6:31pm

Isn't it great to live in a civilized country?

Comment by Boanerges on February 22, 2017 at 7:23am

Yep, MC, I agree that those are part of who we are (or aspire to be). How one would test would-be immigrants for such values, however, is beyond me.

Thanks for suggesting it, Jon.

Yeah, Kosh, it kind of is, although God knows we have our faults. Red and I were discussing the issue this morning, hearkening back to when draft dodgers were given sanctuary here during the Vietnam war. The prime minister of the time was the current PM's father.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 22, 2017 at 7:43am

Welcome to our world... sigh.

Comment by Foolish Monkey on February 22, 2017 at 8:56am

what a lovely piece.  I'm tired by all this, the fear, the hate that comes from it shakes me and goes deep into me.  there's been a number of great pieces on the news, particularly about Jim Estill who is singlehandedly sponsoring muslims for the year required by law, giving them jobs in his Danby appliance factory until the find employment on their own.  and the fenchman cedric herrou being prosecuted for assisting immigrants trying to find their way into europe.  heroes.  we are living in a time of great heroics and it's inspiring. 

thanks boag. :D

Comment by Boanerges on February 22, 2017 at 2:18pm

Yeah, it can be depressing, JMac.

FM, I'm tired of it too, but it is heartening to hear such individual stories of brave people who are willing to tell the doom-sayers to go to hell and do what they know and believe is right. The two you mention are cases in point.

Comment by older/exasperated on February 23, 2017 at 1:18pm

My best friend and longtime business partner came to the US from Peru in the late 70's and we built the farm together. He and his wife both became citizens in 1985 and Juan went to work for the US Gov where I worked for the DoD. From the time he lived in Missouri he has always been referred to as an illegal alien by the redneck white hillbilly Baptist assholes who lived in the Ozark mountains. Today he is retired but the immigration fiasco has put many of our employees at risk working overseas who are dual nationals but are subject to detention and questioning it has to stop. Trump needs to be stopped along with his hateful racist shadow cabinet especially Bannon and Miller. Kudos for the story and people are stepping up now to help and speak out against the foolishness based on a lie. Adios Bo..................................o/e

Comment by Boanerges on February 23, 2017 at 4:14pm

I know what you mean, O/E. My last year at work, one of our roookie reporters (and a very good one) took me aside and said that a co-worker -- a department head, no less -- told her to her face she was a "wetback". In fact, she was born in Canada to parents who emigrated from Central America, and was, as you might imagine, mightily angry. It was a dismissive, racist and derisive term in any case, and I told her I'd be glad to do something about the asshole. She didn't want me to, figuring, probably correctly, that she'd get a reputation for being a complainer. So instead of doing something ABOUT the asshole, I did some things TO the asshole. Let's just say my last year was spent partly in very inventive ways of screwing him around. He never knew why.

Comment by alsoknownas on February 24, 2017 at 12:11pm

Boanerges,

 Just read your reply to o/e. Now that's my kind of guy.

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