Refugees – Getting It Right

The first major issue facing the Trudeau government has been their promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year. I have heard from many people in the riding and nationally on this issue, so it deserves the consideration of my latest column.  Ironically, it also led me to praise the government’s change to their plans as one of my first public acts as Opposition Public Safety Critic.

The Syrian refugee program is a critical issue for Canada for two reasons. The first is security.  We must ensure that anyone coming to Canada as a Permanent Resident through our refugee program does not have a criminal or violent background and does not bring links or sympathies for terrorist groups.  We cannot risk the security of our country by waiving or compromising screening of potential refugees from a region in chaos.  The second critical issue is the success of the refugees themselves.  We want these families to thrive in Canada and participate fully in their new country.  Rushing plans to resettle tens of thousands of people presents the risk of setting these people up for failure and would be horribly unfair to people looking for a new life for their family.

The promise to bring 25,000 Government Sponsored refugees to Canada by the end of the year was a poorly thought out promise made by Prime Minister Trudeau in the middle of an election. The fact that the new government realized this and decided to abandon their promise led me to praise their decision. Such praise is unusual from a brand new Opposition critic, but getting this resettlement right for the two reasons I discussed above is more important than politics.

The change was discussed in detail in a CBC Radio interview the day after their announcement. My short interview starts at the conclusion of the longer one with the Minister:

The Syrian Civil War has been ongoing for over four years and into this chaos descended the terrorist force ISIS in areas of Syria and Iraq. The result has been the displacement of approximately 4 million people and many of these people would be genuine refugees.  Canada has been playing a major role in this crisis from the start.  We have provided aid to the bordering states taking in the displaced and successfully resettled over 23,000 refugees from the region in the last five years.  This experience led our government to approach security and resettlement of refugees generously, but also prudently.

I spoke about the Syrian crisis and refugees back in 2013 during my first Emergency Debate as an MP. Elizabeth May asked a question about this specific issue (at 12 minute mark):

Last week the government changed their position and will not fulfill their promise until the end of 2016.  More details will be forthcoming on security screening, but they made the right move of doing all screening overseas.  By February, they will have brought 25,000 refugees to Canada, but this number includes private sponsorships and many of these privately sponsored refugees were actually selected and screened by the previous government.  The government-sponsored pledge will take much longer to complete, properly working closely with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  Ironically, the new timeline is very similar to the Conservative pledge during the election albeit with larger numbers.  The reality of governing is beginning to descend on the new government and for the sake of security and success of the refugees I am glad they were willing to step back and get this right.


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