Friday, September 4, 2015

Election 2015: A Wake Up Call

The topic of Syrian refugees has been at the forefront of the election after a Syrian boy whose family was trying to get to Canada drowned tragically trying to make the passage into Europe from Turkey. The images are shocking. A man lost his family, and has now become the centre of a political firestorm. Has Canada been doing enough to help Syrian refugees? Has Canada's role as a humanitarian nation changed? Many people will be asking these questions, especially when the response from the immigration minister has been so weak. The truth is that the Canadian government has taken Canada's immigration policy in a direction away from an emphasis on family reunification and refugee support to temporary workers and economic migrants. The Harper government has failed to support refugees, and they should be held accountable for that.

The shift away from compassion and toward business interests as paramount in our immigration policy has unfortunately left many behind. Also, the societal attitude toward refugees has become very negative. Far too many Canadians seem to think that refugees were not really in trouble in their home countries but just want to get free healthcare and go on welfare. And this attitude has been condoned and even shared by the government, and in particular the immigration minister Chris Alexander. He is the minister who presided over the gutting of healthcare for refugees, and who scolded the Ontario government for trying to make up the shortfall. He said "Simply arriving on our shores and claiming hardships isn't good enough. This isn't a self-selection bonanza, or a social program buffet."  Trudeau was right in saying that you can't manufacture compassion in an election campaign.

The fact is that this government does not care about helping refugees, and anything they say at this point is window dressing. They see refugees as freeloaders and potential terrorists plain and simple. They in fact have not promised to do anything differently in reaction to this tragedy than what they are doing right now, which means that in all likelihood very few refugees from Syria will make it to Canada before the end of the year.

Canada did not hesitate to join in bombing Libya, which along with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have turned out to be among the most disastrous foreign policy decisions in modern history. What came with those decisions is a whole lot of displaced people and a huge vacuum to be filled in Iraq which although under a despotic dictator, was stable, and providing a wedge between the Sunni and Shiite power bases. It was in this gap that ISIS came into being. We took part in most of these missions. We cannot now turn our backs on the victims.

We need to look beyond xenophobia and racism, and it starts at the top, because when a country's government is welcoming and encouraging of accepting refugees and other migrants, they create the atmosphere necessary for integration.  We need to accept the new reality of the world, where we can no longer just accept that the walls put up to keep the poor and displaced from the Western world are acceptable anymore. These are people who deserve the right of free movement as any Westerner has. They have a right to raise their families in a peaceful country. We have an obligation to take them.

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