Following the viral spread of images depicting the bodies of drowned Syrians on a Turkish beach–including a three-year-old boy named Alan Kurdi–the Canadian left has sprung to attention to decry what they describe as the Conservative government’s inaction towards assisting migrants and war refugees.
The image of the boy’s body has provided political fodder for those who wish to frame Canada’s Conservative government as unsympathetic and unresponsive to the plight of refugees the world over.
Socialist opposition leader Thomas Mulcair said, “We’ve got to start doing our fair share.” He called for Canada to send more money to “agencies offering humanitarian assistance” and “to bring as many people as possible” to Canada via private sponsorship. Mulcair consistently invoked the United Nations–something he has a record of doing with respect to foreign policy–calling on Harper to indulge the UN’s requests. When asked by a journalist if his proposal to immediately import ten thousand Syrians was realistic, Mulcair again deferred to the UN, adding, “It’s unbearable that we’re doing nothing.”
Not to be outdone, the left-wing leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, demanded that Canada accept 25,000 refugees from Syria immediately. He also described the Conservatives’ commitment to assist Syrian and other refugees as “meagre.” In response to a question about the crisis in Syria, he said, “We as a country have failed to be the country we like to pretend that we are.” Trudeau then demanded an apology from Harper and the Conservatives over not doing enough to assist Syrian refugees. He also claimed that the Kurdi family had applied for asylum in Canada and had been denied, which the Canadian government has denied. The boy’s aunt, who lives in Vancouver, stated that she had not yet submitted applications on behalf of her relatives for asylum in Canada.
The left-wing Maclean’s, one of Canada’s most widely circulated news magazines, called for Canada “to take in 20 times more refugees.” Canada’s state broadcaster, the CBC, is also hyping up the criticism. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most widely read nationally oriented paper, chastised the conservatives for not meeting “modest” refugee goals. The Ottawa Citizen described Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration as a “monster.” Global News conflated immigrants with refugees to misrepresent Harper’s statements, then seemingly implied that Canada should be the world’s leader in per capita importation of refugees without any justification. Further, Canada is compared to states neighboring the conflict regions in terms of its numbers of accepted refugees, as if geography is irrelevant when comparing the flow of migrants.
Between 2006–the year Stephen Harper became prime minister–and 2014, Canada has taken in 227,927 refugees, or about 25,000 refugees per year. That is roughly the same number of refugees per year as in the previous decade. A total of 2,294,572 immigrants became permanent Canadian residents between 2006 and 2014 (the last year of available data). These are the years of Harper’s tenure as PM. During the same length of time prior to 2006, under liberal governments, the number was 2,006,734. Canada has seen a nearly 15% increase in its total number of newly landed immigrants under Harper’s nine-year prime ministership when compared to the prior nine years. These numbers include refugees.
What is absent from the Canadian chattering classes is any discussion of alternative measures to resettle refugees/migrants in countries other than Canada. Also neglected is any discussion of the impact on Canada should their ostensibly compassionate proposals be implemented. These arguments do not appear to take into consideration the national security implications of importing persons from the Middle East or North Africa without screening them for past ties to militant groups. Nor have those arguing for more immigration from the region to Canada asked questions regarding the facilitating of immigration of Muslim/Arab refugees to countries nearer to them geographically and culturally/socially.
According to Amnesty International, the Persian Gulf states Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Russia, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have also offered zero resettlement. Readers will be hard-pressed to find examples of left-wing politicians or their media allies calling on Harper and the Conservatives to mobilize pressure on these states to be more open to refugees.