Will we support our guardian angels?

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Will we support our guardian angels?
"What seems most unfair is that normal regulations are being imposed on people who have helped Canada during very abnormal circumstances." Photo: Tommy Larey/Shutterstuck

It’s not often that I base my monthly column on an article appearing exclusively in the secular press, but here is a recent opinion: piece that is both intriguing and timely, “How should we thank our guardian angels? Certainly not with deportation.”

André Picard is recognized for professional and insightful views that appear frequently in the Globe and Mail. The column from which I now quote speaks directly to the justice-seeking, sensitive conscience of many of us and relates, I believe, to what it means to be Canadian.

The “guardian angels” are thousands of personal support workers (PSWs)—orderlies, cooks, and janitors—who have worked for months in Quebec’s beleaguered and often overwhelmed long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost all are women, including a disproportionately large number from Quebec’s Haitian community. Despite doing essential work that no one else wanted and literally putting their lives on the line for little compensation, they are now facing deportation.

Some who advocate for the human rights of these workers have been pressing to “regularize” the immigration status of these asylum seekers, transferring them to the category of necessary workers.

Picard elaborates: “The pandemic has shown the human face and the real sacrifices of essential workers.” It is estimated that, in the last few years, 37,000 people made an “irregular” border crossing into Canada and requested asylum in this country. We must remember that most of these individuals have been working while waiting for their cases to be processed. Many have been engaged as PSWs in long-term care for two or three years, invisible until the pandemic hit.

Quebec’s officials have resisted helping them revise their status to become immigrants who would normally follow due process for residence in Canada.

Those supporting the asylum seekers say they are not “illegals” and that what these approximately 2,000 people need now is special dispensation, because they worked in health care facilities during most extreme times.

What seems most unfair is that normal regulations are being imposed on people who have helped Canada during very abnormal circumstances.

These women were accepted when it came to working for a miserable salary but who might be excluded with but a thank you.

Picard concludes: “A proper thank you must begin with granting permanent residency. Then full-time jobs, as well as speeding up family reunifications. It’s the least we can do for these guardian angels for services rendered selflessly.”

We celebrate a long history of welcoming new Canadians who arrived under extreme circumstances and who didn’t always get here following due process. One unexpected result was that many—out of gratitude—ended up contributing greatly to our nation. This, I submit, was true for some of our very own ancestors, yours and mine.

It is easy for us to criticize other countries and their lack of compassion for newcomers. But if we want to maintain a reputation that has sought, with some glaring exceptions, to live up to a higher standard, here is a current situation that needs our serious attention, wherever we live in this country.

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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