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Dr. Catherine Chatterley


November 19, 2015

Reprinted from The Huffington Post

By Dr. Catherine Chatterley
November 18, 2015

Unfortunately, there is a stubborn quality to the Prime Minister's current commitment to meet his election promise of admitting 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by Christmas.

Canadians are committed to providing charitable relief and accepting immigrants and refugees from war-torn areas of the planet, regardless of their ethnicity or religious background. Visit any major city in Canada to see the obvious truth of this fact. 

This, however, really isn't the issue at the moment.


Our current dilemma is the result of a coalescence of a number of important factors: 

1. The so-called "migrant crisis" that is out of control in Europe, and is threatening to destroy the open-borders policy of the EU (Schengen Plan) and potentially stimulate a serious right-wing backlash across Europe; 

2. The recent attacks in Paris and ongoing threats against civilians in European cities, Washington, DC, and Moscow; 

3. The promise made by ISIS that they are sending their fighters to infiltrate Western nations by hiding them amongst refugees from the Middle East and North Africa; and,

4. The very real threat posed by hundreds of young people (over a thousand in France) who are citizens of Western nations and have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, who then return to the West to commit attacks against their neighbors.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, there are 60 million refugees in the world today, higher than at any time since World War II. Given this catastrophic figure, it seems strange for us to be focused only on Syrians. 

There is an easy solution to this current impasse between the facts on the ground today and an election promise made months ago. Set a reasonable timeline and follow the responsible policies of the American government, which takes18-24 months to evaluate the eligibility of all refugees who are vetted by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security. 

"Fingerprints are taken, biographical information is collected. They are then each individually interviewed by U.S. officials trained to verify that they're bona fide refugees. Refugees from Syria are then subject to additional screening that looks at where they came from and what caused them to flee their home, stories that are checked out. All of this occurs before a refugee is allowed to set foot in the country." (NPR)

Like other Canadians, I would ask the government to consider giving priority to orphans, especially girls and young women, who are the most vulnerable to sexual assault and exploitation in refugee camps. 

Canada could make a significant contribution to rescuing and rehabilitating the victims of ISIS's evil rape culture of sexual slavery. My guess is that Canadians would immediately support even more than 25,000 of these refugees. Religious and women's organizations might also step up to the plate.

No one should underestimate the cost of accepting refugees, and immigrants, into Canada. For years, the federal and provincial governments have to provide housing, welfare, healthcare, English or French lessons, assistance with education and employment, and for those traumatized by their experiences, counseling services. 

Canadians finance all of this and therefore we should have a say in the policies of our government. Most Canadians do not even know how many people come to Canada every year, where they are coming from, and how they are evaluated. Who sets our budgets and priorities in this area and who makes these decisions? It may actually be time for a referendum on refugee and immigration policy that would allow Canadians to decide as a nation how we want to evolve as a country and help the world.

At the moment, there is growing frustration with Mr. Trudeau's muted reaction to the attacks in Paris and his stubborn reluctance, at least publicly, to re-consider his six-week timeline. Many of us hope the new government will adapt its election promise to accommodate our current complex reality and create a policy that all Canadians can support. 

The Liberals have a big opportunity to unite Canadians in this humanitarian effort, and they will win support and recognition for a humanitarian policy that is rational and responsible, rather than emotional and political.


Dr. Catherine Chatterley teaches history at the University of Manitoba and is the Founding Director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA). 


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