Teachers can help make for a more just society, Leddy tells conference

By 
  • October 31, 2011

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - Catholic teachers, in their “noble and ethical task” of educating youth about the Catholic faith, can help create a more “just” Canadian society by welcoming refugees, social justice activist Mary Jo Leddy told the 15th annual When Faith Meets Pedagogy conference. 

The Oct. 27 to 29 conference, which was sponsored by the Catholic Curriculum Corporation, featured workshops for Catholic school teachers across the province.

In keeping with the conference's theme “Room for all at the table: Gathered, Nourished and Sent Forth,” Leddy spoke on welcoming refugees in Canada.

“(Teachers) have a noble and ethical task,” said the founder of Toronto's Romero House during an Oct. 28 keynote address. Romero House houses and assists refugees in Canada. “You are educating kids about what they believe, what their lives are for.”

She spoke of how Canada was“not just” and “not welcoming” to refugees because of the federal government's anti-human smuggling Bill C-4. Under the proposed bill, immigration officers would have the power to arrest and detain any foreign national or permanent resident on suspicions of criminal activity.

The bill, which the federal government says targets human smugglers, has been criticized by groups like Canadian Council for Refugees and “No One Is Illegal” who say it criminalizes refugees who are fleeing violence and death threats while not directly targeting smuggling.

Leddy shared her experience of visiting the detention centre where Tamil asylum seekers on board two ships from Sri Lanka were detained in British Columbia. The federal government had initial concerns about whether the asylum seekers were linked to the Tamil Tigers, an organization on Canada's list of terrorist groups.

But Leddy said she met with some refugees, including children, some women who were survivors of rape and a man who said his life was in danger in Sri Lanka.

“Is it a crime to want to live?” the man asked.

“I said, 'No,' it is not a crime to want to live,” she recalled.

“In times of social fragility, we have excluded. This is what we do when we are afraid,” Leddy said.

“I believe in Canada today there is a deep-seated fear that we have lost control of our borders.” 

To counter fear, she said, Canadians need to see refugees beyond labels or categories. Welcoming means not only giving food or clothing, but also to “welcome the fundamental human being of the other person,” Leddy said.

Welcoming refugees is part of our Christian vocation.

“We do not need to be good and caring people in order to welcome others to the table. It is in welcoming others that we become caring, good, just, become who we really are and find our true identity,” Leddy said.

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