Letter: Religious Leaders Support Refugee Initiative

Syrian Refugees

Update: CPJ joins unions, businesses, and community groups to support Syrian refugees in a joint letter, December 10, 2015.

Citizens for Public Justice has joined religious leaders from across Ontario who have written to the Premier Wynne and leaders of the Provincial opposition parties to express their support for Ontario’s role in welcoming Syrian refugees. The religious leaders also voiced their concern about the racist hatred being directed toward Muslims in the wake of recent events. In their letter they make clear, “There can be no religious justification or defence of racist and intolerant attacks on the essential dignity of people.”

Over 100 representatives from faith groups met at Queen’s Park in November at the Ontario Religious Forum organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC). Churches and faith groups have played a very significant role in previous refugee resettlement initiatives. “People at the Forum were concerned about some of the public statements that seemed to undermine public confidence in the plan to bring Syrian refugees to Canada,” noted the Rev. Susan Eagle, ISARC Chairperson. “People were also very concerned about the racist assaults on Muslim women in Toronto and the arson attack on a Muslim place of worship in Peterborough.” Eagle continued, “ISARC wanted people to hear the clear support from faith communities on these issues.”

In a plenary address to the Forum, Dr. David Pfrimmer, Professor of Public Ethics at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, reminded the representatives that the key message of all faith communities, one foundational for ISARC’s work is that “People matter … No one is anyone without everyone else!”  Pfrimmer went on to remind those from communities who feel threatened, “Without you, there is no us.” 

The Religious leaders recognize the complexity of the issues that have displaced so many people. As faith communities and others are preparing for the new arrivals, there will be “challenges and setbacks.”  But welcoming these refugees, the religious leaders believe “… is one concrete way that each and every one of us in Ontario can work to safeguard respect for human rights and build peace in the midst of conflict.”

ISARC is a multifaith coalition of more than two dozen faith groups representing the world’s major faith traditions  For thirty years it has addressed issues of hunger, homelessness and poverty in Ontario.

Letter:

Premier Kathleen Wynne,
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

Mr. Patrick Brown (MPP),
Leader of the Official Opposition
Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

Ms. Andrea Horwath (MPP)
Leader of the New Democratic Party
Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

December 2, 2015

Dear Premier Wynne, Mr. Brown, Ms. Horwath,

The deep pain we experienced as we witness the tragic events in Beirut, Paris, Mali and elsewhere has profoundly touched us all.  In the wake of these events, we are saddened by the racist actions taken by some people toward our Muslim neighbours in Canada.  Such violence and hatred have no place in our country.  There can be no religious justification or defence of racist and intolerant attacks on the essential dignity of people.

Bringing to justice those responsible and thwarting the capacity of the perpetrators of such crimes and acts of hatred is obviously important and essential.  But so too, is the Canadian response of reaching out and reaching beyond the violence and bigotry to build a peace founded on understanding, compassion and justice.  Particularly in Canada, such a response is supported by people of all faiths and shared by many beyond our faith communities.  Nowhere is that response put to the test more than in our response to the current national project to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.   We have been heartened by the generous and compassionate response of Canadians across the country.  Many in our faith communities have pledged their support and are working very hard to help welcome these people.

We write to encourage you as a leader in our Province as you undertake important work to ensure the human rights of all and build a culture of peace. We are painfully aware that seeds of doubt and fear have been sown amidst the compassion and commitment of Canadians.  The issues that have led to war in the region that that forced people to flee their homes is as complicated as they are horrific.   But this is a moment that summons all of us to exercise public courage in the face of such fears.  Extending a welcome to those who reject and have been displaced by such perverse visions is one concrete way that each and every one of us in Ontario can work to safeguard respect for human rights and build peace in the midst of conflict.

We understand the daunting challenges to prepare and be ready to receive such a large number of people and families.  Disappointments and setbacks will no doubt punctuate the moments of elation.  Nevertheless, without challenges, there are no accomplishments.  The work of building peace in our world and in our communities is a difficult, uncertain and an imprecise task but it remains a compelling one.  We do not write to you with simple answers to the very difficult questions you will have to address. We write to assure you of our prayers, the support of many of our members, and encourage you in your leadership in doing what is right for vulnerable people whose very lives are in the balance. 

We remain faithfully yours,

View all signatories here.

Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr