A second group of Syrian refugees arrived in Toronto on late Thursday night. They were sponsored by Canada’s Armenian community. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at the airport greeting everyone. It was extremely touching. All very given their Social Insurance Number card as well as their Health Insurance Card.
When we arrived in Toronto as immigrants, nobody gave us SIN and Health Insurance cards. We had to go through the entire (convoluted and painful, especially for an immigrant) process of getting them on our own. And that was a very good, helpful thing.
People who want to live in Canada need to know how to engage with the country’s complex bureaucratic system. This is not a fun process but the experience of standing in five different lines that will finally take you to the Health Insurance card is important on both a symbolic and a practical level and helps you feel like all other Canadians.
There are rites of passage for every immigrant where they integrate themselves into the new society in a way that absolutely does have to be somewhat uncomfortable. Finding a place of your own, figuring out what a “security deposit” is, getting registered with the electrical company and the phone company – I still get a headache when I remember how I navigated this process (and twice within just 3 months, too) as a newcomer to Canada. (I also had to get the blasted SIN and HIC twice because my first ones were stolen in the first year of immigration.)
But these were all invaluable experiences. I’m not resentful about them but grateful. Canadians treated me, right from the start, as one of their own and not as a rare zoo animal or a circus freak who has to be coddled for exactly as long as s/he can provide touching photo ops and then cast aside for the benefit of a fresher one-day wonder.
I just hope that these things were more thought out and immigrants were not subdivided into the categories of “those we want to integrate” and “those we don’t want to integrate” from the start.