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Toronto filmmaker documents refugee reactions to Canadian Air Show

With thousands of Syrians and other refugees now calling Toronto home, the air show has come under fire.

The Breitling Jet Team performs during day one of the Canadian International Air Show in Marilyn Bell Park. The annual event has been criticized for being traumatic to many of the refugees now living in Toronto.

Torstar News Service file

The Breitling Jet Team performs during day one of the Canadian International Air Show in Marilyn Bell Park. The annual event has been criticized for being traumatic to many of the refugees now living in Toronto.

When loud airplanes took to the downtown skies over the weekend, Maya Bastian took to the Parkdale streets, armed with her camera.

The local filmmaker was on a mission to document real-time reactions from people observing the annual Canadian Air Show, which has recently drawn criticism for being traumatic to new immigrants.

The subjects of her film are former Tamil refugees who experienced aerial bombings in Sri Lanka before coming to Canada. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress, Bastian said, and the air show can be triggering.

“I think we take our safety here for granted. Imagine what that entertainment show does to people who were hiding in trenches every day,” she said.

With thousands of Syrians and other refugees now calling Toronto home, the air show has come under fire for showing off military aircraft in a way that can be traumatic for those who have lived in war zones.

Some have even called for the event to be cancelled; an online petition asking Mayor John Tory to stop the airshow had nearly 1,000 signatures Monday.

While she doesn’t necessarily support calls for the show to be scrapped, Bastian hopes her film will spark a dialogue about the topic. Moving the show outside the city, where fans could travel to watch it, would be a better choice, she said.

“We need to take immigrants and refugees into account,” she said, noting some people have suggested for newcomers to move out of town during the show to avoid trauma, a fact she found appalling.

“Refugees don’t have that luxury of moving around,” said Bastian. “They’re the fabric of our communities and we need to recognize that. I don’t think we’re doing that enough.”

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