Mary Jo Leddy

Mary Jo Leddy

November 14, 2011

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. – Catholic teachers can help create a more just Canadian society by welcoming refugees, says social justice activist Mary Jo Leddy.

"(Teachers) have a noble and ethical task," Leddy, the founder of Toronto's Romero House, said Oct. 28. Romero House houses and assists refugees in Canada.

"You are educating kids about what they believe, what their lives are for."

Leddy gave the keynote address at the annual When Faith Meets Pedagogy conference, which drew teachers from across Ontario and which was organized by the Catholic Curriculum Corporation.

Canada is "not just" and "not welcoming" to refugees because of the federal government's anti-human smuggling Bill C-4, she said.

Under the proposed bill, immigration officers would have the power to arrest and detain any foreign national or permanent resident on suspicion of criminal activity.

The bill, which the federal government says targets human smugglers, is criticized by groups like the Canadian Council for Refugees and No One Is Illegal.

Opponents of the bill say it criminalizes refugees who are fleeing violence and death threats while not directly targeting smuggling.

Leddy told of visiting the detention centre where Tamil asylum seekers on board two ships from Sri Lanka were detained in British Columbia. The federal government had initial concerns about whether the asylum seekers were linked to the Tamil Tigers, an organization on Canada's list of terrorist groups.


But Leddy said she met with some refugees, including women who were survivors of rape and a man who said his life was in danger in Sri Lanka.

"Is it a crime to want to live?" the man asked.

"I said, 'No, it is not a crime to want to live,'" she recalled.

"In times of social fragility, we have excluded. This is what we do when we are afraid," Leddy said. "I believe in Canada today there is a deep-seated fear that we have lost control of our borders."

Canadians need to see refugees beyond labels or categories. Welcoming means not only giving food or clothing, but also to "welcome the fundamental human being of the other person," Leddy said.

"We do not need to be good and caring people in order to welcome others to the table. It is in welcoming others that we become caring, good, just, become who we really are and find our true identity."