An immigrant and a refugee became our Governor General – talks at RBG of her experiences.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  November 13, 2011  For former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson there was no such thing as a short answer and if you were into great detail from an informed and knowledgeable speaker who was there right on the front lines, then you would have enjoyed the talk given by Clarkson at the Royal Botanical Gardens last Sunday afternoon.  Some 150 people were on hand to hear what she had to say about the ten people she wrote of in her most recent publication, Room for all of us, which is the story of ten people who immigrated to Canada and the contribution those ten have made to the welfare of the country.

Clarkson argues that we are a richer and at the same time more complex country because of our approach to immigration, which, she pointed out is, significantly different than that of other countries.  In Canada` she explained `we expect the people who arrive as landed immigrant to become citizens and some 80% of them do, which is the highest percentage in the world.  The Australians percentage is about 75%  while in the United States around 55% of those who arrive as immigrants eventually become citizens.

In Europe, added Clarkson, landed immigrants cannot become citizens.  They are in a country as workers and when they are no longer needed they are forced to return to the country of origin.  Clarkson told of a housekeeper she had in Paris where she served as Agent General for Ontario.   The woman had been in France for more than 30 years but could have been told to leave the country with just 24 hours’ notice.

The former host of CBC programs the Fifth Estate and Take 30 certainly knew her subject and she entertained her audience for well over an hour before she sat to autograph copies of her book.

Burlingtonians line up to have their books autographed by former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson.

Clarkson, whose  family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong and settled in Ottawa knew what it was to be an immigrant and told her audience of the less than honourable  past of Canada`s immigration policy `We were no better than many of the others when we interned our Japanese citizens during the Second World War or turned back a ship loaded with Jews during that time as well.

Clarkson at RBG book signing where she spoke of her immigrant experience and the contribution immigrants make to Canadian society.

Canada has changed significantly since that time and the waves of recent immigrants included men who did not want to serve in the Vietnam War and the thousands of Vietnamese Boat people who came to this country.  Tamils have come to this country as well, and each time a wave of immigrants arrives this county accepts them and they integrate and become a part of who we are today.  Clarkson believes we are a stronger and better country because of our immigration policies.

It was the story of these people that Clarkson wanted to tell.  Of the ten people in the book she knew five personally and two others were friends. Ì had to find the other three ‘explained Clarkson.

Clarkson passed on an interesting fact that few probably realized about the Boat People.  The federal government at the time agreed to admit 25,000 people and local church groups clamored to be able to bring in more.  The government agreed and said that if Canadians were prepared to sponsor more and put up $2500. per person then more could be admitted – and Canada eventually brought in 150, 000 boat people who quickly became part of the Canadian fabric.

Her audience learned more about what immigrants have done to and for Canada than most knew when they walked into the room.   In the very early 1900`s we brought in 20,000 new people and we know bring in 300,000 every year and they all eventually fit into the country and add to what we are.

Former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson spoke about her book at an RBG event on the weekend.

The Canada we are today explained Clarkson is much, much different than the Canada she came to in 1942.  Clarkson is the first immigrant and refugee to become Governor General of this country.  We have indeed come along way and after listening to Clarkson one can begin to realize, understand and appreciate the contribution immigrants have made to our country.

Upon leaving the Office of Governor General Clarkson, along with her husband formed the Institute for Canadian Citizenship that engages Canadians in citizenship through innovative programs, campaigns and partnerships designed to ensure new citizens are welcomed and included as equals, to create meaningful connections among all Canadian citizens, to foster a culture of active, engaged citizens and to celebrate what it means to be Canadian.

And that is exactly what Adrianne Clarkson was doing on a Saturday afternoon in Burlington at an event sponsored by A Different Drummer, a Burlington bookstore.




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