The tragic shooting down of flight PS752 that killed all 176 passengers and crew on board has gripped our nation. For me, it dredged up memories of another crash nearly 35 years ago. As someone who is connected by birth to India, by marriage to Iran and by citizenship to Canada, my three worlds collided in a tragic way.
I have devoured the wall-to-wall coverage on our news networks and in the print media. I have heard from family and friends seeking answers and comfort. I have watched our political leaders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton and Mayor John Tory of Toronto give voice to our collective grief. We have all shed a tear for the lives that appear to have been senselessly lost.
I am heartened to see how our nation has come together. How we have grieved and mourned collectively. It shows that Canada has changed and matured. That the values that we place on people and their backgrounds have changed. That we are now much more comfortable being and claiming our nation as a nation of immigrants. That a hyphenated Canadian is not a lesser Canadian.
This was not always the case. As a Canadian of Indian descent, I felt first-hand the response from Canada after the Air Indian bombing in 1985 that killed all 329 people on board, including 280 Canadian citizens. This continues to be the largest mass killing in Canadian history.
The response, then and over the years, has been muted. The tragedy was treated as foreign. Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney offered condolences to the Indian government but not to the Canadian victims and their families.
There have been investigations, and the cause and the perpetrators of the bombing have been sought. But at the time, the country did not pull together as we are witnessing now, even though this was an act perpetrated against Canadians, conceived and executed by Canadians and on Canadian soil. It wasn’t until a public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in 2010, that the families and the victims received the acknowledgment that they deserved.
This lack of acknowledgement exacerbated the families’ grief as they never felt they were treated like other Canadians. Their race made them less important and secondary Canadians.
Despite this recent tragedy, I’m pleased that Canada has made this significant shift in our collective response. We have accepted the new reality of Canada. We have recognized that we are a nation of immigrants, of people with backgrounds from all over the world. We need to celebrate that diversity and mourn when there is a significant loss. We have finally come of age.
Senator Ratna Omidvar represents Ontario in the Senate.