A former Minister of Immigration and Secretary of State of Canada, Gerry Weiner has been the Director of Investor Relations for Pace Law Firm for the past ten years. He was recently asked to give a speech on the 30th anniversary of the arrival of Tamil refugees off the coast of Canada. Here are some of his remarks.
I first dreamed of being a Member of Parliament when I was 10 years old. Posters went up announcing an election in the Montreal riding in which I lived. I dropped into a campaign office, asked what I might be able to do to help, and met a wonderful gentleman named David Lewis. I caught the bug and was later elected to 5 governments in an almost twenty year political career.
How did the son and grandson of watchmakers get elected to one of the highest offices in the land? Well, if you dream it, it can happen.
Canada is a land that can make dreams come true. But we should not forget that this was once the land of “None Is Too Many.” A land that turned boats around when people were seeking a safe haven from persecution. Speaking frankly, this was a land that treated me with disdain as a youngster. I faced prejudice. I was a double minority among a majority who were not always welcoming. This, and a deep understanding of the history of my people, turned me into a vigorous defender of a minority people’s rights no matter what their political or religious affiliation.
Tamil Refugees Arrive In Canada
In 1986, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney asked me to become Immigration Minister. Shortly afterwards, I was sitting at my kitchen table in Dollard-des-Ormeaux with my wife when the phone rang. It was the PM. He said that boats with many refugees aboard had been sighted off the coast of Newfoundland. He asked, “Gerry, what do we do?” I said, “Prime Minister, people that arrive on our shores in boats must never be turned away.”
Ten minutes later, the PM was in front of the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive. He announced that all of the people aboard the boats would be brought ashore and that I as Immigration Minister would look after the details of welcoming them.
It turned out that there were 155 Tamil refugees aboard the lifeboats. They had made the two week journey on a cargo ship from Europe with just the clothes they were wearing. Then the ship had dropped them into two lifeboats off the coast of Newfoundland and left them to their fate. Fortunately, fishermen spotted the lifeboats and radioed the coast guard.
Shortly after the refugees landed in Newfoundland, I granted them Minister’s Permits so they could rebuild their lives safely – and permanently – in Canada.
I am deeply honoured to have been asked to join members of the Canadian Tamil community in celebration of the 30th anniversary of their arrival. I appreciate your recognition of the small role that I played.
Canada has been strengthened and enriched by the diversity of its people. We believe in building harmony without homogeneity. The Canadian model is succeeding where others are failing. We are a haven of tolerance and opportunity.
Canada is a country of some 36 million people, in all shapes, sizes and colours. We have two official languages and a multitude of cultures, from those of our aboriginal peoples to those of new citizens. We encourage our communities to preserve their heritage, their culture, their religion, and their traditions, and in fact insist that they share their rich heritage with all other Canadians in building a truly diverse society. This is our true advantage, a country rich in natural and human resources.
Canada Is A Land Of Opportunity
Let me take a moment to compliment our new government and Immigration Minister John MacCallum for maintaining and strengthening our immigration program. The Canadian passport just might be the most precious document in the world. I spend much of my time explaining to people the benefits of acquiring residency in Canada, and highlighting the opportunities that Canada offers both in lifestyle and business. This is a country that has been built by refugees and immigrants and I am glad to see that the current government continues to exemplify this belief.
May I again express my personal thanks to the organizers and all the participants of this wonderful visit, for including me, for allowing me to share in the joy of the celebration, and for giving me an opportunity to reflect on a very important chapter of my life. The Pace Immigration team and I continue to work with people from all over the world and we look forward to continuing to develop these relationships.
My phone has always been listed in the phone book, and I am active on social media. If there is anything you need, drop me an email or make a call. All the best to you and your families and thanks for making Canada what it is today.