Can Canada duplicate its boat people rescue with Syrian refugees?

The summer of ’79 was just starting. The Pope was Polish, Sony had introduced the first Walkman and Gloria Gaynor was tearing up the disco scene with “I Will Survive.”

Howard Adelman, a York University philosophy professor, was ending weeks of isolation at his cottage on an island in Georgian Bay, where he had been working on a book about German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

He had also just written an article on research into the reception German Jewish refugees received in Canada, the United States and Britain in the late 1930s.

Returning to Toronto for a weekend, Adelman began wading through six weeks of newspapers and was stunned to see the Vietnamese “boat people” crisis had exploded across the news during his absence.

Countries neighbouring Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were swamped as tens of thousands of refugees fled the chaos of Communism.

“One couldn’t help wanting to do something and say, ‘Never again!’ ” Adelman recalls.

True to his background as a 1960s activist and co-founder of Rochdale College, Toronto’s controversial experiment in alternative education, he called a meeting, inviting a local Catholic priest, two rabbis, an alderman and ministers from the Anglican and United Churches to his house to discuss the crisis.