Image: Flickr/DFATD | MAECD

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Nelilfu Demir’s photograph of the body of three year old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach has taken its place among other iconic photographs that, in the words of Ryerson prof Paul Roth, have the power to concentrate the mind.

Canadians are concentrating their minds on one question: is Harper’s government doing enough for Syrian refugees?

We’re half way through the federal election campaign. This is not the question Harper wants us to focus on, so it’s not surprising that two days after Alan Kurdi was buried I received a robo-call poll on the Syrian refugee crisis.

The questions were illuminating.

Q: Who is responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis? ISIS? The Syrian government? Someone else?

A: The Syrian government.

Harper would like us to believe that ISIS is the cause of the refugee crisis because this supports his “warrior nation” strategy. But this ignores advice from experts like Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institute who says Syria has been in a state of civil war for four years and far more Syrians have been killed by the Bashal al-Assad government than by ISIS. Wiping out ISIS will not stop the civil war.

Q: Was the Canadian government’s response to the crisis good or bad?

A: Appallingly bad.

In 2012 a year after the civil war started, Jason Kenney changed the refugee rules to make it harder for refugees to resettle under a G5 privately sponsored application. Case in point: little Alan Kurdi’s uncle’s application was rejected because he didn’t have a refugee certificate and couldn’t get one.

In 2013 Harper committed to accepting 11,300 Syrians by 2017 (in the campaign he upped that number by another 10,000). So far Canada has resettled only 2,374 refugees and will fall far short of the original target let alone the higher campaign-promise target.

Kenney boasted that the rule change would reduce G5 applications by 70 per cent. Harper knows Canada won’t reach its refugee resettlement targets but he’s telling Canadians that the government is doing a good job on the refugee file. This is deceitful.

Q: How should the government address the crisis? Fight ISIS? Provide humanitarian aid? Resettle refugees?

A: Fighting ISIS isn’t the answer and even if it were why are these solutions mutually exclusive?

Q: How many refugees should Canada accept? 10,000, 20,000, 30,000?

A:  This question is meaningless because it lacks context.

Canada accepted 37,000 Hungarian refuges in 1956 when our population was 16 million. We accepted 60,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975 when our population was 23 million. Today our population is 35.7 million. The “right” number of refugees to accept is closer to 100,000.

Q: Is Europe doing its “fair share”? Is Canada doing its “fair share”?

A: Europe, yes, Canada, no.

Chris Alexander, the whiz kid who replaced Jason Kenney as Immigration Minister, says: “Canada has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world. In fact, Canada resettles more than one in ten refugees world-wide.”

To say Alexander’s comment is disingenuous would be charitable.

We’re discussing Canada’s record with respect to refugees, not immigration. Canada accepts over 250,000 immigrants a year. Including immigration statistics with refugee statistics skews Canada’s per capita number making it look far better than it is.

A review of the list of the top 15 refugee receiving countries shows that Canada ranks 15th, well behind Germany, the U.S., and many European countries, including Hungary.

Furthermore, the one in 10 resettlement number is meaningless without considering a country’s GDP. It is easier for a large rich country to accept refugees than a small poorer country, but Turkey, Italy and Serbia do it anyway.

Q.  Which federal party leaders would handle this crisis best?

A:  Certainly not Mr Harper.

Not only is Harper satisfied with his government’s feeble response to this crisis, he’s using this as an opportunity for fear mongering. He says, “We do not want to pick up entire communities, hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and move them out of the region where they have lived for as long as history has been written.”

No one is asking Canada to “pick up entire communities” and resettle “millions of people.” This is a red herring argument — not befitting a national leader.

Q: Did the government act appropriately with the family?

A: What?

If this question refers to the government’s rejection of Alan Kurdi’s uncle’s application because of the new G5 sponsorship rules created by Jason Kenny, the answer is no.

If it refers to Harper’s comment that the photo of Alan Kurdi’s body lying on the beach was heart wrenching and he thought of his own son, I don’t know what to say.

Political leadership

One can’t help but wonder.

Were Canadians a better people back in the 1950s when they accepted 37,000 Hungarians and the 1970s when they accepted 60,000 Asians and in the 1990s when they accepted 40,000 Bosnians and Kosovars?

Or is it simply that they had better leaders who had the courage and the compassion to do the right thing?


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Image: Flickr/DFATD | MAECD