Canada has a wonderful humanitarian tradition, exemplified by our response to the Vietnamese arriving by sea in the 1970's. Canada took in tens of thousands and, since the MS St. Louis Canada was unstintingly generous towards refugees. There's been significant changes to Canada's "welcome mat" since this government has taken power. Particularly for refugees. The passage of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act resulted in a significant drop in refugee referral rates. The numbers of resettled refugees remains more or less constant over the past ten plus years (even though the nature of refugee claims ought to be recurrent, and not constant). There were disincentive regimes, ranging from the tragic (denial of health coverage) to the farcical (putting up billboards in Hungary to dissuage potential refugees from flying to Canada and making a refugee claim):
In conjunction with the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Minister sought to implement other disincentives to individuals coming to Canada and making refugee claims. These disincentives ranged from the farcical (putting up billboards in foreign countries) to the tragic (denying refugee claimants health coverage). The latter best betrays the Harper government worldview. The widespread changes (at present reversed by the Federal Court as infringing basic freedoms) denied healthcare coverage to children, pregnant woman, and cancer patients among others on various specious grounds, including the false assertion that refugee claimants were receiving better healthcare than Canadians. In reality, this was a disincentive strategy, plain and simple, implemented to drive down the numbers of refugee claimants received by this country (the only metric that seems to matter to the Harper government and the one that was touted as the basis to conclude that the refugee reforms were "successful").
The government that actively discouraged refugee claims is, in my opinion, not going to suddenly change course now. Alexander and his predecessor Jason Kenney never refrained from unfortunate language, such as the nonsense term "bogus refugee" (describing individuals prior to any determination on the merits of their claim).
Chris Alexander, Canada's Minister of Citizenship of Immigration has had inexplicable responses to questions regarding our role and responsibilities towards Syrians and others. Most of the time, he repeats talking points ad nauseum. On one occasion he was simply unprepared to answer a simple question as to the numbers of Syrian refugees resettled in Canada and just hung up on the reporter.
His callous response of yesterday on CBC's Power and Politics was similarly head shakingly confusing. A full transcript of the panel discussion can be found here.
Remember, this is after a dead baby (3 year old Alan Kurdi) has washed up on a European shore (but, by way of obiter, the individual and government that denied refugee health care to children inside Canada is likely not going to come to the aid of refugee children outside Canada. Justice McTavish of the Federal Court said, in her judgment, which is being appealed by Alexander that the refugee health cuts "put at risk the very lives of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience ...").
Rosemary Barton asks a question about the government doing more; Alexander (inexplicably) response? That he was more interested in why this was the first Power and Politics Panel "we've ever had on this".
What? What does media coverage have to do with government response (and current refugee policy) to an overwhelming humanitarian crisis?
In any event, it was not true.
Rosemary Barton: "Mr. Alexander, that's completely false".
Alexander makes a slight (but still disingenuous) qualification, that he's never been on a panel show (to which Barton immediately rejoins pointing out that as a Minister he's not allowed to).
Barton: "If you want to avoid the question, let's just be clear that's what's happening".
Shouldn't Alexander's response to that legitimate question be the following?
- These are the specific ways Canada is responding to this crisis
- These are the ways that we'd like to work with/contribute to our allies and multinational organizations to help these innocent men, women and children afflicted by violence and war
or - I'm interested in any ideas, and am happy to sit down with Mr. McCallum and Mr. Dewar to discuss any solutions they might have
Alexander has now suspended his campaign after the revelation that Alan's aunt (a Canadian) had sought his assistance for Alan's family's predicament. He put out a statement indicating that as a Minister he couldn't personally intervene. He couldn't be more wrong. Minister's intervene personally all the time on such matters. The Temporary Resident Permit that could have brought anyone to Canada used to be called the Minister's Permit (another fact he should have known).
He returned for a briefing on the European "migrant" crisis. He may do well to start with Doug Saunders' piece for the Globe which discusses migrant myth and reality. There is no doubt that he's been "flat-footed" on this crisis and has sadly displayed hyperpartisanship as well as a "tin ear", as noted by Ibbitson and Clark in their article for the Globe.
Again, by way of obiter, it's important never to ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence, but one is left to wonder at what curious combination that is evident here.
This issue is actually bigger than Alexander's obfuscation, obduration and prevarication. Private refugee sponsorship is broken, and takes years to bring those sponsored to Canada. Turkey is not cooperating particularly with Kurds that are displaced and awaiting resettlement. This is why this family chose to risk the high seas and go to Greece instead of await resettlement from Turkey.
That's what Alexander needed to know, but he didn't. He didn't because he was unprepared and thought he could deflect, bob and weave instead of giving a thoughtful answer about the inadequacies of the system. Hopefully, he will take his responsibility a little more seriously after this tragedy.