OTTAWA — The deadly weekend massacre in Quebec City illustrates how Canada is in danger of being "smothered" by the "ugliness" south of the border, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson told a citizenship ceremony Tuesday.
Clarkson, who arrived in Canada with her family in 1942 when she was barely three years old, spoke about the mosque shooting rampage as she helped welcome 37 people from 17 different countries to the Canadian family.
She recalled how former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once remarked that living next to the United States was "like sleeping with an elephant."
But the shadow of that pachydermal neighbour looms even larger now, she said, thanks largely to the Internet.
"We have been hearing the rhetoric of such horror, ignorance and hatred that we are in danger of being smothered," Clarkson told the gathering at Rideau Hall.
"With the lack of frontiers to social media, to television, we are bombarded with it."
And even though Canada has its own beliefs, goals and history, its people cannot help but be impacted by the messages they're hearing, she said.
"We are not immune to seeing the ugliness and to hearing the appalling messages."
Tuesday's was the first such ceremony since the attack Sunday in Quebec, in which six men praying in a mosque were shot and killed, and at least a dozen others were hurt.
The attack left many, including newly minted Canadian Zahira Guldarahan, shocked and bewildered.
"They were praying," said Guldarahan, a practising Muslim originally from Dubai who kept asking herself why such a thing would happen in Canada.
The mosque attack also reminded Clarkson of Canada's checkered past when it comes to welcoming would-be immigrants, or dealing with its aboriginal population.
She recalled how over 900 Jews aboard an ocean liner called the St. Louis, looking for sanctuary from Nazi Germany, were turned away to almost certain death on the eve of the Second World War and when Japanese Canadians — born in Canada — had their rights and many of their belongings taken away from them as they were placed in internment camps.
Clarkson also noted that Canada has yet to deal with the results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which laid out a roadmap for coming to terms with how past governments treated the country's indigenous peoples.
But the mantle is now turned over to the Canadians of today — particularly the newest ones — to stand up against prejudice and short-sightedness, said Clarkson.
"The health of our society means that we have to continue to do so," Clarkson said as she welcomed Canada's newest citizens.
"Now that you are Canadians, we all belong together. We are one family."
Dennis Lundstrom, who immigrated to Canada from Sweden, took the message to heart, vowing Tuesday to become more active in his community.
"Looking at the rhetoric . . . especially Donald Trump's Twitter feed, this is not correct behaviour from a president or a head of state," he said.
"We're all in it together and we have to speak out against these things."
— Follow @tpedwell on Twitter
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press
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