Dashed Dreams

Toronto Life - - Editor’s Letter -

Like ev­ery­body else in this coun­try, I have been ut­terly swept up in the emo­tional spec­ta­cle of Syr­ian refugees land­ing at Pear­son air­port. There’s such drama in ev­ery pho­to­graph, ev­ery video clip. One can only imag­ine how re­lieved they must feel to be free from war and the mis­ery of a crowded refugee camp. It’s a heart­en­ing thing to be­hold. Over sev­eral gen­er­a­tions, Cana­di­ans have built a safe, pros­per­ous coun­try, and we’re big-hearted enough to share it with peo­ple who need it most.

Of course, the Syr­ian new­com­ers will face many ob­sta­cles be­fore they’re able to take full ad­van­tage of ev­ery­thing Canada of­fers. Many don’t speak English, and it will be a chal­lenge for them to find work and af­ford­able hous­ing. Some will ar­rive trau­ma­tized by the jour­ney that brought them here in the first place.

This coun­try has an im­pres­sive track record of help­ing im­mi­grants in­te­grate into Cana­dian life. But we’re slip­ping. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent rank­ing by a Brus­sels-based think tank, Canada has dropped from third place to sixth among 38 de­vel­oped coun­tries in pro­vid­ing new­com­ers ac­cess to equal rights, sup­port and op­por­tu­nity. The fu­ture suc­cess of our refugee ef­fort de­pends on wide­spread in­clu­sion and tol­er­ance, on wel­com­ing new im­mi­grants and en­sur­ing that they can es­tab­lish strong eco­nomic and emo­tional foot­ing.

This month’s cover story is, among other things, a cau­tion­ary tale about po­ten­tial reper­cus­sions when ad­e­quate sup­ports aren’t in place. The story’s roots go back to 1993, when Danilo Ce­lestino left the Philip­pines to es­tab­lish a bet­ter life for his fam­ily in Toronto. He came on his own at first, got a job as a fork­lift op­er­a­tor, and spent eight years sav­ing enough money to send for his wife, Elma, and their two kids—Danika and Danilo Jr. When they ar­rived, Elma got a job as a restau­rant host­ess. The chil­dren as­sim­i­lated fast, as kids of­ten do, and the fam­ily moved from a small apart­ment to a house in North York.

At some point dur­ing high school at Downsview Sec­ondary, Danilo Jr. started deal­ing drugs. On a spring day in 2006,

when he was 17, he went into the bath­room of a Coffee Time at Wil­son and Keele to sell some weed to an 18-year-old named Se­gun Akin­sanya. Akin­sanya was also an im­mi­grant—his par­ents had moved to Canada from Nige­ria when he was two. The teenagers got into an ar­gu­ment that heated up quickly; Ce­lestino pulled a knife on Akin­sanya and slashed the back of his head. Akin­sanya fought back and, in the en­su­ing scuf­fle, got hold of the knife and stabbed Ce­lestino in the chest, killing him.

Two sets of im­mi­grant dreams were dashed that af­ter­noon. Akin­sanya ul­ti­mately pleaded guilty to man­slaugh­ter and got five years in prison. He’s out now, try­ing to fig­ure out how to live with the knowl­edge that he took a young man’s life.

In his mem­oir in this is­sue (“A His­tory of Vi­o­lence,” page 32), Akin­sanya tells the story of how he ended up run­ning with street gangs. He de­scribes the ac­ci­den­tal death of his mother when he was seven and how his father trav­elled of­ten for work, leav­ing him and his three sis­ters on their own. He was a new­comer to Toronto, with­out much sup­port at home, feel­ing alien­ated from his peers. Gangs promised a sense of be­long­ing when the rest of Toronto seemed to shut him out. His story is a rare, un­cen­sored ac­count of gang life in Toronto. It’s also about what can hap­pen to a young man when he doesn’t feel at home.

—Sarah Ful­ford Email: editor@toron­to­life.com

Twit­ter: @sarah_ ful­ford

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