For a former diplomat, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander shows a remarkable lack of finesse in defending his government’s record on the Syrian refugee issue.
From the suspension of his campaign to deal with the fallout of photos of a Syrian boy found dead off the coast of Turkey to his abrasive demeanour on CBC’s Power and Politics last week, Alexander’s performance has been shameful.
First, dealing with Syrian refugees should have been a key priority for him all along given that the crisis isn’t new. It shouldn’t have taken a disturbing photo on a beach for him to decide the issue was now such a priority that he had to stop his campaign.
Second, he repeatedly refers to the fact that Canada has taken in 20,000 refugees from Iraq in recent years. That’s great, but the biggest crisis right now is the one in Syria as evidenced by events in Europe.
Alexander repeatedly politicizes the issue by emphasizing the need to deal with what’s happening in Syria itself — namely, the jihadist threat — while failing to mention that a major part of the problem has been the brutal reign of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It’s very convenient, of course, for Alexander to talk only about the Islamic State in light of Canada’s military mission.
Alexander then went on to blame the media for not covering the crisis sufficiently. It’s probably a valid point, but surely the issue here is the government’s response to it, something media outlets have had significant difficulty in getting concrete answers on over the past couple of years, in particular when it came to the government’s earlier promise to accept 1,300 refugees from Syria.
The issue arises as certain countries in Europe are accepting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees while Canada has been slow in meeting the very modest targets it has set. Some critics have blamed bureaucratic delays in dealing with private sponsorship applications while others have emphasized the need to accept more government-sponsored refugees in order to speed up the process. While the situation in Europe is no doubt very different from Canada’s, what’s clear is that the Syrian crisis has become so bad that this country needs to step up its response. It would also be nice to see the minister in charge address the issue substantively rather than engaging in grandstanding as he did last week.