In the immigrant news outlet New Canadian Media, AIMS President Marco Navarro-Génie discusses the Maritime habit of referring to outsiders as people who “come from away.” He relays his own story of immigration to Canada as a refugee, and argues that the country and the region are welcoming places indeed. Read this piece on the New Canadian Media website.
When prominent Nova Scotia MP and President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison recently spoke about banning the expression “come from away” (CFA, in short) from the vocabulary of Atlantic Canadians, he drew attention to our hospitality toward immigrants.
His discussion also led me to reflect on my own origin as a newcomer to Canada, and more recently, as a new arrival in Atlantic Canada.
The precise meaning of “come from away” remains unclear to me.
It seems to refer to people who come from elsewhere, but the degree of distance varies. In some cases, to qualify as a CFA, one can be from the next county, or the next Maritime province, or the next province outside the region, or from a faraway land.
The expression has never exclusively been used to apply to immigrants from other countries.
Nova Scotians, for instance, apply the term to other Nova Scotians, as well. While in all instances it refers to someone seen as an outsider, it is not always used in pejorative ways. In some cases, it is purely descriptive, as a synonym for a stranger. Sometimes, it is used in humorous ways.
None of this should be a surprise: words have various and varying meanings. In the exact same sentence, an expression can mean more than one thing depending on who utters it, who hears it, and the tone and intention with which it is said. For that reason alone, the idea of banning a phrase from usage seems curious to me, but I am sure the minister only meant to use “ban” in a figurative sense.
As for the negative uses and connotations of the expression, the minister is correct in pointing out that attitudes need changing. In my observation and personal experience, they are changing.
When my sisters and I requested asylum in Canada in 1979, I was assigned to the École Polyvalente in St.-Henri, a neighbourhood of Montreal then well-known for its poverty and high unemployment. There, I first encountered hostility toward “les maudits immigrants,” those damned immigrants. In the minds of many of the local children in the school, immigrants represented a threat to their cultural identity and to their parents’ jobs.
Their identities seemed threatened by the presence of the many foreign languages they could not understand. Even the teachers seemed resentful at St.-Henri. At our school, they looked the other way when many of the refugee or immigrant children were pushed, shoved, threatened, and on one occasion, attacked — not with a hockey stick, but with a most un-Canadian instrument — a baseball bat.
Immigrants to Atlantic Canada and their children are not at the receiving end of physical violence. But, the extent to which immigrants may be made to feel like outsiders if someone refers to them as CFAs, it is not in the more affluent spaces such office towers and banks, stores, and shopping malls.