›› Paul Taylor
It’s been an exhausting few weeks.
As we continue navigating a pandemic recovery, coupled with skyrocketing housing and food prices, we are also witnessing a humanitarian crisis unfold before our eyes.
The situation in Ukraine has left me grappling with uncomfortable truths.
Like the way that protest is treated as either righteous or unrighteous, depending on who is doing the protesting.
Right now, the entire world is uniting around the Ukrainian people to support them as they defend their lands—we should be.
But the way we celebrate certain, predominantly white, folks who fight back stands in stark opposition to how we treat other groups defending their lands. Like Palestinians. Like Indigenous communities here in Canada.
As Canadians, we can, and must, condemn this war and celebrate the resistance of Ukrainians. But it’s crucial that we acknowledge how we treat this same behaviour here at home.
I am also left thinking about the concept of “lethal aid.”
It’s a term many of us weren’t used to hearing prior to Russia’s war on Ukraine. I think about the messy business of supplying arms to other nations. How Canada positions funding arms to Ukrainians as righteous, and in the same breath, is heavily arming Saudi Arabia while they bomb the people of Yemen, all while making enormous profits.
It’s important to ensure we are not simply celebrating this type of “lethal aid” without acknowledging the fact that Canada has, and continues to, run the country as an arms business on occasion.
Finally, I am thinking about the humanitarian crisis unfolding.
I saw a Tweet from Matthew Behrens that read: “As we support 1 million Ukrainian refugees, please remember 2.5 million Ethiopian, 5 million Afghan, and 8 million Syrian refugees.”
I think about the way that Canada—and many other nations—are welcoming Ukrainian refugees with the open arms we aren’t used to seeing in response to similar humanitarian crises in non-European countries. Of course, I am also thinking about the widespread reports that Black folks and non-native Ukrainians are not being granted access to escape the country.
It’s critical that we remember that our job as a nation doesn’t stop when refugees land on our soil. Canada has made similar promises to countries like Syria in the past, and it’s well-documented how many challenges refugees face once they arrive in our country. There are many reasons for that: holes in social safety nets and plans that aren’t properly resourced, systemic racism, and low wages for newcomers are a few that come to mind.
While we open our arms to people fleeing war, we have to remember that it’s incumbent upon the Canadian government to ensure quality of life will be protected for refugees, and for all people in Canada.
None of this is shared to undermine the severity of the crisis in Ukraine, or the bravery of Ukrainians in the face of unimaginable circumstances.
But as we celebrate the heroism shown by the Ukrainian people, and as we find ways to support them as a country, it’s also important that as Canadians, we continue to challenge some of the narratives that come out of war.
Only then can we emerge from this crisis with human lives truly protected.
Fernwood NRG Executive Director’s note: It gives me great pleasure to reprint an article from my former mentor and close friend, Paul Taylor. Paul is currently the ED of FoodShare Toronto and is a lifelong anti-poverty activist. Paul and I worked together at Gordon Neighbourhood House in Vancouver, BC.