Letter to the Editor – Syrian Refugees

November 12, 2015

Dear Editor,

During an election campaign, it is quite easy for candidates and leaders to get caught up in the ‘buzz’ of the election and make promises that are politically motivated but are not practically responsible from an operational standpoint. This is exactly what the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have done in regards to Canada’s involvement in aiding Syrian refugees.

The Honourable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship has announced that the Liberal Party remains committed to their lofty campaign commitment of relocating 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. During the announcement the Minister stated that the government will be taking a “whatever works” stance on the issue to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada in roughly 7 weeks. Since the government made this announcement a number of experts have claimed that this goal is impossible and if the government decides to proceed on a rushed basis this plan could jeopardize the responsible intake of refugees.

This is entirely a politically motivated policy based on an irresponsible campaign announcement. I am disappointed that the government is cobbling together a rushed plan to relocate refugees without sitting down and coming up with a deadline based on policy, not a policy based on a deadline.

On average, Canada takes in about 7,500 refugees each year. That’s roughly 144 every week. What the Liberal government is proposing would result in approximately 3,570 refugees entering Canada per week for the next seven weeks. This target is causing concern from the Canadian Council for Refugees who states that the capacity of non-governmental organizations to aid refugees once they enter Canada will be “strained to breaking”.

To house refugees the government is proposing to use military air bases to shelter families for the winter months. Retired brigadier-general Gaston Cloutier, who managed the 1999 emergency operation that brought 5,000 Kosovar refugees, stated that every single air base in Canada would have to be involved to house this great number of refugees.

Furthermore, while the government is in favour of using military personnel, equipment, and bases to bring refugees to Canada, they refuse to allow the military to combat the on-the-ground cause of why many Syrians have been forced to become refugees in the first place. I would remind the government that ISIS is the force that is driving many Syrians to seek refuge in other countries. Syrians are being forced out of their homes by the atrocious acts of ISIS. Canadian CF-18 fighter jets have been actively involved in the U.S.-led bombing mission against ISIS with the goal of significantly degrading and eventually defeating ISIS. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Trudeau does not believe that the work being done by the brave Canadian pilots and personnel on the ground in Syria is important. With the commitment to pull our CF-18s out of the mission, the Prime Minister is signaling that we should keep dealing with the aftermath rather than confronting the problem.

Canada has a generous refugee system that is based on ensuring security for the refugee and the country as well as ensuring long-term solutions for refugees who enter Canada. There is an appropriate screening process and evaluation of the ability of Canada to effectively house refugees who enter Canada. It is not responsible to throw together a refugee intake system simply to meet a politically imposed deadline.

Furthermore, the government has stated that it will restore supplementary health benefits to refugees in Canada – these are benefits such as dental and vision care that Canadians themselves do not receive. In 2012, the Conservative Government scaled back these benefits to ensure that healthcare provided to refugees was in line with what is provided to Canadians. Under this new plan, refugees will be receiving healthcare that is above and beyond what Canadians receive. While all Canadians expect the government do our part to help refugees arrive safely in Canada, they do not expect that these refugees be provided with a better healthcare system than they themselves receive.

I am disappointed that the Prime Minister is giving in to political pressure from his flawed campaign announcement rather than developing a responsible plan based on consultation with the military, non-governmental refugee associations, and the government departments involved. Instead he has opted for a politically-based plan developed by 9 cabinet ministers in a back-room in Ottawa.