Canadian Refugee Champion: John Carlaw’s Story

Written by John Carlaw



As a Canadian citizen living on colonized lands who has had the privilege to work with, know and learn from many refugees, I am motivated to see Canada do much better for refugees and other migrants. We too often fail to justly treat those that seek safe haven here, as we also fail our First Nations peoples. We can and must do better.

Exclusionary immigration policies shaped Canada and inform our contemporary policies. These include the inequalities entrenched in Canada’s temporary foreign worker program and our efforts to keep refugees away from our borders, or to exclude them from protection when they arrive.

My doctoral work has focused on a very unwelcoming period for refugees in Canada under our last government, so it has been very meaningful to work on a project aimed in the opposite direction as Project Lead of York University’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative .  It’s been a privilege to work with fellow team members Pierre-André Thériault, Mariam Hamaoui and Ban Kattan, and an amazing community of students and scholars in this important campaign.

While in some ways a breath of fresh air, we have seen mixed messages from the new government. The recent outpouring of support for Syrian refugees is heartening- but we are now witnessing major slow-downs in sponsorship times of those refugees and continued long waits for resettlement of refugees from African countries in particular.  Public enthusiasm and gains for one group must help highlight rather than obscure the continued unfairness and inequities demonstrated towards refugees from other regions and barriers to family reunification. We need to keep repeating “Refugees Welcome Here!” and demonstrate this in our actions and calls for migrant justice.