Andrew Mitrovica’s open letter to Malala Yousafzai pleads with her to tell Stephen Harper to open Canada’s borders to Gazan children
Dear Malala Yousafzai,
Congratulations on becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — a distinction richly deserved, a testament to your courage and indefatigable spirit.
The House of Commons has voted to make you an honorary citizen.You’re only the sixth person — and the youngest — to receive this honour, putting you in an exclusive club alongside people like Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Welcome. You are an extraordinary young woman of singular grace, humility and determination. You took a cowardly act of violence and built it into a campaign to ensure that every child can learn and live in peace and good health. You turned hate into hope. We need more of that.
After you were shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while walking home from school two years ago, your prognosis was grim. That you’re alive and in good health today is due in no small part to the top-flight medical and rehabilitative care you received from nurses and doctors working in hospitals outside your native Pakistan. You were lucky.
The children of Gaza aren’t so lucky. Many of them were grievously injured during the recent ground war between Israel and Hamas. The Gazan hospitals that should be caring for them were badly damaged during the fighting, and are short of everything — medicine and supplies, electricity, beds.
Many Canadians want to help. Some of them have put together a plan, called @heal100kids, to arrange for Gazan children to travel to Canada to receive the kind of medical and rehabilitative treatment they simply can’t get at home.
The plan’s architect is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian-Canadian who — like you — has devoted his life to fighting hate with hope. Like too many people from his unhappy homeland, he’s lost children: Three of his young daughters were killed instantly when an Israeli tank shell struck his home in Gaza in a previous pointless war.
Dr. Abuelaish has convinced doctors, nurses, hospitals, unions and governments across Canada to volunteer their time and services to help 100 Gazan children receive much-needed plastic, reconstructive, orthopedic and neurological surgery.
Everything is in place to make this happen. It would be happening now, were it not for one man: our prime minister, Stephen Harper.
It’s true. The man who told the world Canada would be granting you honorary citizenship has humiliated this country by refusing to give injured children the visas they require to obtain the treatment they badly need.
Mr. Harper claims these injured kids would prefer to remain in Gaza because it’s too dangerous to travel. Not true. Dr. Abuelaish and other physicians have carefully examined the children and have found them to be in stable condition and fit to travel. They want to come to Canada to get better. Then, they want to return to Gaza — just as you hope to return to Pakistan one day.
Countries such as Germany, Turkey and Venezuela have opened their homes, hearts and hospitals to scores of injured Gazan children — just as Britain opened its heart and hospitals to you.
Had you been attacked in Gaza, Malala, Mr. Harper would have told you to stay put rather than risk going overseas for the kind of medical treatment that ultimately saved your life. He would have told you and your family: ‘No, you can’t come to Canada. Stay where you are and wait for help, if it ever comes.’
That’s the position Mr. Harper has taken, and it’s a shameful one. You cannot let it stand. Mr. Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird still refuse to meet with Dr. Abuelaish to discuss @heal100kids, despite repeated requests.
But they can’t dodge you.
You’re probably going to meet the prime minister, face to face. Implore him to drop the hollow excuses, to open his heart and eyes and — belatedly — to do the right thing. You’ve shown the world that you’re capable of speaking truth to power. Last October, you met with President Obama in the Oval Office and told the most powerful man on earth that drone attacks were killing innocents and driving terrorism in your homeland. And that was before you got the Nobel.
You’ll have a chance to use the prestige and influence of the most significant humanitarian award on the planet to shame the leader of a G-7 nation into doing the right thing — the least thing — for the most helpless victims of a brutal war.
You understand — far better than most — that trying to save the life of one child is infinitely more important and gratifying that any award. And that there is no excuse for not trying.
Andrew Mitrovica is a writer and journalism instructor. For much of his career, Andrew was an investigative reporter for a variety of news organizations and publications including the CBC’s fifth estate, CTV’s W5, CTV National News — where he was the network’s chief investigative producer — the Walrus magazine and the Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the newspaper’s investigative unit. During the course of his 23-year career, Andrew has won numerous national and international awards for his investigative work.
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