No question, Justin Trudeau’s pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by Jan. 1, 2016 will strain our authorities to the limit. And the Paris attacks have raised national anxiety over our security. Neither justifies backing down from our promise to extend a life-saving hand.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has led the charge against accepting refugees, arguing the federal government should suspend the plan because the volume could “undermine the refugee screening process.”
“I understand that the overwhelming majority of refugees are fleeing violence and bloodshed and pose no threat to anyone,” Wall wrote in a letter to Trudeau. “However, if even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating.”
There are as yet unconfirmed reports that one of the young men who attacked Paris got into that country by hiding among the refugees taken into Europe. Even if that did happen, a repeat here seems unlikely. Unlike Canada, Europe is swamped with hundreds of thousands of refugees, overwhelming authorities. While stressed here, Canada is better prepared to handle 25,000.
My red lines in the sand before accepting more refugees by Pat Murphy
While ISIS could try to exploit an accelerated immigration process, intelligence officials say the risk should not be overstated. Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service official Ray Boisvert, for example, has said it is not likely that ISIS will devote a lot of effort to such a tactic (after all, there are easier ways to sneak in). CSIS officers stationed around the world are responsible for much of the vetting process involving refugees and immigrants.
Refugees have three ways to reach Canada. The first, by travelling to Canada, then applying for asylum in the country, was largely shut down by the previous Conservative government. The second is to register with the UN, then be sponsored by the Canadian government, which helps the refugee get settled in the country. The third is through private sponsorship, in which private groups sponsor and act as guarantors for a refugee.
Can such a volume of refugees be vetted in such a short time? Some experts doubt it but one Calgary immigration lawyer has suggested that the vetting process can be completed after the refugees arrive in Canada.
The Syrian refugee situation has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. The UN High Commission for Refugees says there are four million registered Syrian refugees; the actual number is quite likely much higher.
Opponents to the mass refugee rescue want the process to be slowed down to ensure the vetting process is as thorough as possible. Slowing down, however, will have potentially catastrophic consequences for the desperate people who just need to find safe refuge. Are we really so self-absorbed as to consider delay a reasonable course of action?
By slowing the process, we would also be capitulating to ISIS, argues Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state and daughter of a family that fled Czechoslovakia as refugees 67 years ago.
“By making Syrian refugees the enemy, we are playing into their hands,” she argues in a Time magazine commentary this week.
Bringing refugees into a country they know little about will surely come with some bumps. It will also come at a steep financial cost. The Liberals expect to spend $100 million on the rescue in this fiscal year, and $250 million overall.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is a big effort, an inconvenience and a major expense. It is also a meaningful gesture that reasserts our country as one with a conscience.
The human toll of the tragedy in Syria demands action; any country that fails to act is implicit in the deaths that will certainly follow. Over the country’s history, Canada has shown time and again the spine to step forward and do the right thing. Such a moment has come once again.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.