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Let's stop the posturing about prospective refugees

Ravi Sri, who has Tamil family members on the MV Sun Sea, at the Centre for War Victims and Human Rights in Scarborough on August 18, 2010.

Jennifer Roberts For The Globe and Mail/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

When a boatload of uninvited newcomers hits Canadian shores, the first casualties are often perspective, common sense and compassion. Hard-line posturing rules the roost.

So it is with last week's arrival of nearly 500 prospective Tamil refugees on an impossibly tiny freighter that set sail far away and long ago from Thailand.

"Send them back," rail the hotline shows. "We don't want them," echo public opinion polls. Not to be outdone, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews seemed to corral every microphone in sight to trumpet the need to crack down on terrorists and people smugglers. As if anyone opposed that.

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Forgotten amid the hue and cry is why these boat people are here. They are not the wave of 600 economic migrants from Fujian province in China who landed on the West Coast in 1999. After more than a year in custody, almost all were sent back to China, their bogus refugee claims rejected.

The recent Tamil arrivals, on the other hand, have a plausible claim to refugee status. A terrible civil war ravaged their region of Sri Lanka for years, much of it the fault of the terrorist Tamil Tigers, and Tamil survivors have not been treated kindly by the vengeful victors.

Yes, 492 Tamils are a lot of people to arrive all at once. But they are a drop in the bucket compared with the total of 13,551 refugee claims made by Sri Lankans during the past nine years. The overall acceptance rate is 80 per cent. For the first six months of 2010, the rate is 85 per cent.

By all means, prosecute anyone found to be taking advantage of these people's misery by charging huge amounts of money for their escape. And if any are found to be members of the notorious Tamil Tigers, send them back for due process in Sri Lanka.

But otherwise, let's all chill out, allow each refugee claim to be assessed on its merit, and spare a bit of compassion for those so much less fortunate than ourselves.


A warm welcome to the ranks of journalism for NDP MLA Norm Macdonald, representing the majestic riding of Columbia River-Revelstoke.

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During the summer down time, Mr. Macdonald appears to have taken up the knights of the keyboard trade for the local Golden Star.

In a bylined story last month ("By Norm Macdonald - Golden Star"), the freshly minted scribe opted to write about a subject dear to his heart. Himself.

"After a year in the position, Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald has been re-elected Opposition Caucus Chair," Mr. Macdonald informed readers of the Star.

He went on to quote the happy chair. "I have enjoyed the challenge of the last year and I am pleased to be re-elected by my peers," Mr. Macdonald told Mr. Macdonald, the reporter.

Finally, displaying a firm grasp of classic, pyramid news writing, Stormin' Norman ended his story with some incidental information that could be cut for space reasons.

"Macdonald is also the Opposition Critic for Forests and Range", Mr. Macdonald wrote.

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Welcome to the craft, Norm.


I don't love the fact that wildfires are sweeping across the Cariboo-Chilcotin, but I do love all those romantic place names that keep popping up in regional press releases. ("Press release me, let me go," as the late, great, country crooner Jim Reeves liked to sing.)

So hats off to the beleaguered folks of Pelican Lake, Bull Canyon, Nimpo, Sunday Man's Meadow, Bishop Bluffs, Beef Trail Creek, Lava Canyon and my personal favourite, from last year's fire, Scum Lake.

The colourfully named locations remind me of one of the many whimsical stunts by much-loved CBC announcer Allan McFee, who passed on in 2000. For months, Mr. McFee would insert into the northern Ontario weather report a fictitious body of water called Dribble Lake.

Eventually, even CBC management noticed, and Mr. McFee had to restrict his irreverence to chortling "Tee hee hee. Silly old CBC" under the Asian street noises used for the opening of a radio serial called Terry and the Pirates.

One time, the background voices failed to materialize. All listeners heard was Mr. McFee.

Luckily, he avoided being sent for penance to the CBC repeater station in Dribble Lake.


Farewell, then, government faxes. Friday is the last day that some worn-out bureaucrat will have to load up the provincial government's creaking basement fax machine to inform crack reporters of the latest news from Pravda via an old-fashioned piece of paper. It's now all e-mail, all the time. Can the demise of the typewriter be far behind?

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