As social media has exploded with opinion on the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, it seems there is little middle ground when it comes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s original plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by Jan. 1.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley expects 2,500-3,000 of those fleeing the war-torn region to settle in the province, predominately in Edmonton and Calgary, with others filtering into Red Deer and nearby Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
A recent poll released last week shows more than half of Canadians (54 per cent) either moderately or strongly oppose Trudeau’s plan. Meanwhile, 42 per cent moderately or strongly support the plan, according to an Angus Reid Institute poll conducted three days after terrorist attacks killed 129 people in Paris. Over half of those who oppose the plan cite the tight six-week timeline as a threat to national security as it would not allow proper security checks and the Times certainly shares that same concern. But that does not mean you throw the baby out with the bath water, you simply say to Trudeau this baby needs to take longer in its bath. It apparently is something Trudeau listened to, as it was announced on Tuesday afternoon he was going to extend that deadline for over half the refugees to the end of February.
Normally, government-sponsored refugees go through three levels of intense screening for criminality, war crimes and medical needs and it looks like single males will be screened out according to latest reports. UNHCR officials conduct detailed interviews and identity checks in the country of first asylum. The UNHCR then triages the refugees, and selects a very small number (about 1 per cent) who would make good candidates for resettlement by countries such as Canada. Women with children, unaccompanied minors, the elderly, sick and vulnerable are given priority. Young, single men who may have been combatants, or cannot account for missing identity documents, do not make the cut, said Peter Showler, the former head of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. Finally, Canadian visa officers based in the Middle East interview the refugees again to ensure their stories have no discrepancies. Their names are run through various databases, including the CBSA, CSIS and RCMP. Given all these levels of scrutiny normally, having an accelerated timeline as Trudeau has does beg the legitimate concern that this process will not be followed properly.
But that concern also takes the leap of faith that accepting Syrian refugees is the easiest way for ISIS to spread its terrorism.
Given Toronto Pearson International Airport is Canada’s busiest airport and in 2014, 38.6 million passengers passed through it, are we led to believe these security checks to be more stringent than the ones vetting Syrian refugees?
But logic is often the first victim of random acts of terrorism when fear takes hold.
Make no doubt about it, when the terrorism act is religiously motivated, the body count rises compared to other acts of terrorism. But those acts are few and far between in North America. According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and National Security, 33 Americans have died as a result of terrorism launched by the United States’ Muslim neighbours. During that same period, 180,000 Americans have been murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism up to May 2013.
From May 2012 to May 2013, mass shootings have killed 66 Americans, twice as many fatalities in one year as Muslim-American terrorism had in 11 years since 9/11. The START Global Terrorism Database from 1970 through 2012 included 104,000 terrorist incidents.
Based on the review of the approximately 2,400 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil contained within the START database, it was determined that approximately 60 were carried out by Muslims. In other words, approximately 2.5 per cent of all terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1970 and 2012 were carried out by Muslims.
This paranoia has bred the irony of senator after senator in the United States pledging to block refugees from entering a country that is celebrating Thanksgiving today, a holiday celebrating receiving aid and assistance as refugees/migrants. Something to be wary of north of that border as well? Of course, but not at the stake of all logic in other concerns to personal safety.
Some opposing the idea of allowing the Syrian refugees into our country say we should be helping our own people instead. Canada has its share of poverty, hunger, homelessness and despair. And what about our Veterans? At this time last year it was announced $1.13 billion was returned to the national treasury which was unspent by Veteran Affairs since 2006. This is during a time when the Afghan war was in full effect and numbers show from the Defence Department more Canadian soldiers have died of suicide than died in combat in Afghanistan, showing the glaring gaps of mental health help for our veterans.
There are legitimate concerns among Canadians in letting in refugees from Syria be it proper protocols being followed, or the beginning $100 million dollar price tag that is expected to balloon to $678 million over six years that is being attached to the push that could be used elsewhere. If this money is available for the refugees, why wasn’t it available for our Veterans and homeless?
But, whether we agree or disagree with Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision and the timelines surrounding it, the fact is 25,000 refugees from Syria will be arriving in Canada in four weeks and we need, as a nation, to figure out the best and easiest way to accept them into our communities and try to put our fears aside.