Burlington shows why it was named the best mid-sized city in the country - 400 helping hands at Mainway recreation centre offering to help the Syrian refugees

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

December 3, 2015


City’s do not get opportunities to show their true colours that often. For Burlington the place to display their colours seems to be the Mainway Recreation Centre.

In 2011 a public meeting was held over the plans the province had to push a highway right through the Escarpment from about Kilbride onto Hwy 407.
There was a very boisterous meeting at which the public let it be known that this is not what they wanted – the NGTA – Niagara to Greater Toronto Area Road is currently on hold.

Tuesday evening the people of Burlington were given another opportunity to show who they really are when close to 400 people took part in a public meeting to learn about what they could do to aid the refugees the federal government is bringing to Canada.

Dec 1 audience 400 +

Not a single negative comment from the 400+ people who were at a public meeting to learn how they could help Syrian refugees,

Mayor opened the meeting and quickly turned it over to the newly elected Member of Parliament, Karina Gould who pointed out that her grandparents were refugees.

McMahon and Gould doing Cogeco interview

MPP Eleanor McMahon and MP Karina Gould being interviewed for Cogeco television.

Gould then explained what the federal government was doing and how the public could be involved. She explained that there are five components to the federal level involvement after which the province gets involved. The Regional government plays a role at the affordable housing and social services level.
The municipality works with residents who want to be personally involved in getting the refugees settled into the community once they arrive.

The 400 hands at Mainway Recreation could not get their hands high enough into the air when asked to signify they wanted to help.
Steve House serves as the facilitator – his job was quite easy – it amounted to running around with a microphone – there was no need to control an unruly crowd – the room full of Burlingtonians were there to help.

Gould gave some background: 200,000 people have died in attempting to flee Syria and other parts of the war torn Middle East; there are 11 million displaced people and four million flooding into Europe. This is the largest refugee problem since the Second World War, said Gould.

She made a very interesting point when she told the audience that the Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said recently that if anyone could bring in tens of thousands of refugees – Canada could. We brought in refugees from Hungary when that country was going through a revolution; we brought in refugees when thousands of refugees were fleeing Vietnam and we brought in hundreds of refugees from Kosovo.

Canada is the only country that allows private sponsorship of refugees. Burlington has several groups that are sponsoring families. One well known couple (they asked not to be named) are part of a group of 18 sponsoring a family. Another consistent Gazette reader who has a home that she was preparing to put on the market – it has three bedrooms and is centrally located – wanted to know how she would go about working with other people to get a refuges into the home. She was not looking for any kind of a financial return – she just wanted to make the house available to someone who was coming to Canada as a refugee.

“The view these people have of Canada, indeed the view the world has of Canada” said this benefactor, “is being determined now by the way we behave. This is my kind of Canada” she added.

The five phase federal government work begins with identifying people in refugee camps who are interested in coming to Canada

These people then have to go through interviews and medical checkups – when that is done they are given the papers they need to come to Canada as Permanent Residents. One of the problems Canadians workers in the refugee camps have is getting exist Visas for the refugees to be able to leave the country.

Then comes the task of transporting the refugees and setting them into some form of accommodation where, as one of the public meeting participants put it “they will sleep on a bed, with clean sheets and rest their head on a pillow – something many of them may not have done for years.”

Muslin woman taking down information

There was a significant number of people from the Middle East who are now living in Canada taking down information and explaining what the refugees were dealing with.

Then Canadians welcome the refugees – many of the members of the Syrian community are looking for ways to be at the airport to greet these people – they will be coming into the country at the rate of 400 every day starting next week until the end of the year – this is a mammoth logistics challenge.

Some of these refugees will meet with their sponsors and move to the housing that has been arranged. The others will be part of the federal government compliment – they will be sent to different communities across the country.

Settling these people into the community is not a simple task: there will be language issues, getting the children into schools, acquainting them with the neighbourhoods they are going to be living in, helping them with getting bank accounts opened and taking them to super markets. It is going to be very confusing to all of the refugees.

Steve House, the facilitator explained that the public meeting was just the first part of the conversation with the people that Canada has opened its doors to.

A central information clearing site is being set up – it looks as if it is going to come out of the Mayor’s office – Tuesday evening there was a lot that wasn’t clear – everyone was going to have a web site and everyone promised to help.

The Muslim, Moms were in the room – they were going to help. The Halton Mosque on Fairview will be helping.

Once housing is found for those who are part of the federal government part of the program – that is those who do not have private sponsors – they will need clothing. The weather has been very unseasonable – a bit of a break for everyone.

MPP Eleanor McMahon will serve as the point person for problems that have to be resolved at the provincial level.
No one is quite sure just how many refugees will arrive in Burlington. There are a reported five sponsoring groups in the city – with many others wanting to  partner with others to become sponsors.

Mayor with participant - Baptist

Mayor Rick Goldring talking to a member of the North Burlington Baptist Church.

Mayor Goldring thought that Burlington could take in something in the order of 300 families – but at this stage all anyone has to go on is the interest and the willingness of the people of Burlington to help.

MPP Eleanor McMahon explained the role the provincial government was playing – getting OHIP cards for these people promptly was major. Social welfare is handled by the Region. The school boards are preparing for newcomers – how many – they have no idea at this point.

The logistics involved in this task are huge – it looks as if Canada is going to receive 450 refugees every day starting Thursday until the end of the year.

Helping hands exchanging information Gillian Kearns

Exchanging information and contact points – Gillian Kearns of the Wesley Urban Ministries is on the right – a Hamilton based group that has the best on the ground information.

Burlington’s role in all this became clear last night as the public heard from woman who lives out of her wheel chair, lives by herself and has a second bedroom she was willing to make available. “I live by myself and having a person living with me will do more for me than I do for them. “I can take care of their children if they have any and baby sit for them” she added.

The room broke into instant applause – and that was the way the evening went. There wasn’t a single negative remark made during the two and a half hour meeting.

Police presence

The police presence was much bigger than that seen at other public events – did they have public safety concerns?

There was some concern – there were about half a dozen police officers at the back of the room; including one of the Deputy Chiefs and the Burlington Superintendent and a female Staff Sargeant. It is rare to see that level of police presence at any event in Burlington. They obviously had their concerns.

Whatever the concerns were – they didn’t surface. This was a room full of people who wanted to learn how they could give – and give – and give.

There were staff in the room from the Region explaining what the affordable housing policy is – the 1.6 % vacancy rate with waiting lists in the thousands is going to create some social strain.

North Burlington Baptists

Members of the North Burlington Baptist church explaining what they are doing and welcoming anyone who wants to partner with them.

There were people from Port Nelson United Church; there were people from Burlington Baptist Church who were partnering with McNeil Baptist in Hamilton. The North Burlington Baptist Church was interested in anyone who wanted to talk to them

Food Banks let people know they were on board, the Compassion society was heard.

The evening closed with a close to middle aged man, Ahmed, who said he was a refugee from Iran and that he came to Canada when he was ten after experiencing eight years of war.

He is an engineer, gainfully employed and involved in the community. “I am the investment you are making in these people coming from Syria”

It was an excellent positive note on which to close a very successful community meeting.

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3 comments to Burlington shows why it was named the best mid-sized city in the country – 400 helping hands at Mainway recreation centre offering to help the Syrian refugees

  • Glenda D

    Yvonne your comments about 12 people living in a basement are so typical of things said by comfortable Canadians, those same things were said of my immigrant Grandparents (and Great Grandparents) back in the late 30’s early 40’s. Then hitting my young adult life in the late 50’s early 60’s I had newly married Anglo friends who were miffed that they had to rent an apartment from those people who can’t even speak English Immigrants that lived like cattle with multiple families crammed in a house so they could buy their own and when each were able to buy their own homes they were renting part of it to pay their mortgage….and now…all those early immigrant children and grandchildren have moved on and the unfortunate part, a lot have become so comfortable they express the same views as you, not remembering the struggles of their Grandparents and Great Grandparents…or the fact that their Grandparents also lived several families in one home and had neighbours horrified that those immigrants had moved into their neighbourhood …I know this first hand…I have experienced those very prejudices. I have a cousin who now lives in Texas and I cannot believe some of the things she say’s……Yes, there are people who are evil but we cannot denounce all because of radicals that are on a mission of hate and destruction…be far more wary of our own children that are being desensitized by today’s digital world.

  • Lawson

    WOW! How do you explain to someone who’s been waiting YEARS in a refugee camp that WE have to slow down? Look at the news carefully – the people behind San Bernadino and Paris were born and raised in their new country (U.S. and Belgium). These were second generation sons and daughters radicalized as young adults. They are no different than the young adults you consider Canadian living right next door.
    I was at the Dec. 1 meeting and agree with most of this article. Burlington residents were there to show their support and love (and gratitude that we live in such a great country). Those who spoke of coming to Canada (either as immigrants or refugees) spoke passionately about how wonderful it is that they are here and that every one of them has contributed to Canada. That’s the message we need to hear. That’s what everyone at the meeting wanted to share. The mood at the meeting was – we can’t get the refugees here fast enough.

  • Yvonne

    We need to slow down and reconsider our role in all of this . It is one thing to offer monetary help etc but to have 12 people living in your basement that won’t leave is another . In light of recent events in California we need to properly screen people , and properly insure that accommodations offered are up to City code and meet all regulations regarding Zoning etc . Also we need to insure our school systems can handle influx of students ,do they have the resources and staff in place . What about health care ? i can’t find a doctor in the immediate area ,how will they?
    Lets not jump on the bandwagon to fast just because a politician says it;s the Canadian thing to do