About 10 years ago, a South African couple dropped into my office to thank me for helping them with their applications for permanent residence. They had just landed in Canada a few days earlier.
As soon as I asked them how they were doing in their new country I cringed as I anticipated how they might answer given that they were used to a very a warm climate and had arrived here in the dead of winter.
They had been nervous about their planned migration, but after having taken a ride on a Toronto streetcar they were convinced that they had made the right choice.
Apparently, the streetcar stopped at a busy downtown intersection. It was icy and cold and an old lady stood at the curb needing help to cross a lane of traffic to reach the streetcar. Mindful of the traffic behind him, the streetcar driver nonetheless got out of his seat, went to the curb, helped her onto his vehicle, helped her to her seat, and helped her collect her fare before returning to his seat and driving off.
During those few minutes, not one passenger complained and not one driver honked. It wasn’t so much the efforts of the driver that impressed them. It was how routine it appeared to everyone around them.
From that moment, they knew that they would be OK in their new home. It was our collective civility and kindness that reassured them.
This story came to mind as I read the emails of the people who responded to last week’s column. While a few shared very positive experiences entering Canada or the United States since 9/11, many complained of uncivil behaviour on the part of border guards on both sides of the fence.
As we solemnly mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, we must remember that this horrific attack was not an attack on architecture. Instead, it was an attack on those symbols of prosperity which flow from the core values which we share with our American friends.
Some things can never be the same after 9/11. We accept that.
However, when our way of life is under attack the last thing we should do is to give up that very way of life.
While we reflect on the victims of the World Trade Centre, and the men and women who lost their lives trying to save them, we must honour them all by treating foreigners and each other with civility and kindness.
These are amongst the values which have brought Americans and Canadians alike the very successes and freedoms that we are guarding.
Without them we are diminished. That, we should not accept.
Guidy Mamann is the senior lawyer at Mamann & Associates and is certified by the Law Society as an immigration specialist. Reach him at 416-862-0000. Direct confidential questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.