A Poll Assesses Harper’s Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Nelilfu Demir’s photograph of the body of three year old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach has taken its place among other iconic photographs that, in the words of Ryerson prof Paul Roth, have the power to concentrate the mind.

Canadians are concentrating their minds on one question: is Harper’s government doing enough for Syrian refugees?

We’re half way through the federal election campaign. This is not the question Harper wants us to focus on, so it’s not surprising that two days after Alan Kurdi was buried I received a robo-call poll on the Syrian refugee crisis.

The questions were illuminating.

Q: Who is responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis? ISIS? The Syrian government? Someone else?

A: The Syrian government.

Harper would like us to believe that ISIS is the cause of the refugee crisis because this supports his “warrior nation” strategy. But this ignores advice from experts like Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institute who says Syria has been in a state of civil war for four years and far more Syrians have been killed by the Bashal al-Assad government than by ISIS. Wiping out ISIS will not stop the civil war.

Q: Was the Canadian government’s response to the crisis good or bad?

A: Appallingly bad.

In 2012 a year after the civil war started, Jason Kenney changed the refugee rules to make it harder for refugees to resettle under a G5 privately sponsored application. Case in point: little Alan Kurdi’s uncle’s application was rejected because he didn’t have a refugee certificate and couldn’t get one.

In 2013 Harper committed to accepting 11,300 Syrians by 2017 (in the campaign he upped that number by another 10,000). So far Canada has resettled only 2,374 refugees and will fall far short of the original target let alone the higher campaign-promise target.

Kenney boasted that the rule change would reduce G5 applications by 70%. Harper knows Canada won’t reach its refugee resettlement targets but he’s telling Canadians that the government is doing a good job on the refugee file. This is deceitful.

Q: How should the government address the crisis? Fight ISIS? Provide humanitarian aid? Resettle refugees?

A: Fighting ISIS isn’t the answer and even if it were why are these solutions mutually exclusive?

Q: How many refugees should Canada accept? 10,000, 20,000, 30,000?

A:  This question is meaningless because it lacks context.

Canada accepted 37,000 Hungarian refuges in 1956 when our population was 16 million. We accepted 60,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975 when our population was 23 million. Today our population is 35.7 million. The “right” number of refugees to accept is closer to 100,000.

Q: Is Europe doing its “fair share”? Is Canada doing its “fair share”.

A: Europe, yes, Canada, no.

Chris Alexander, the whiz kid who replaced Jason Kenney as Immigration Minister, says: “Canada has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world. In fact, Canada resettles more than one in ten refugees world-wide.”

To say Alexander’s comment is disingenuous would be charitable.

We’re discussing Canada’s record with respect to refugees, not immigration. Canada accepts over 250,000 immigrants a year. Including immigration statistics with refugee statistics skews Canada’s per capita number making it look far better than it is.

A review of the list of the top 15 refugee receiving countries shows that Canada ranks 15th, well behind Germany, the US, and many European countries, including Hungary.

Furthermore, the one in 10 resettlement number is meaningless without considering a country’s GDP. It is easier for a large rich country to accept refugees than a small poorer country, but Turkey, Italy and Serbia do it anyway.

Q.  Which federal party leaders would handle this crisis best?

A:  Certainly not Mr Harper.

Not only is Harper satisfied with his government’s feeble response to this crisis, he’s using this as an opportunity for fear mongering. He says, “We do not want to pick up entire communities, hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and move them out of the region where they have lived for as long as history has been written.”

No one is asking Canada to “pick up entire communities” and resettle “millions of people.” This is a red herring argument—not befitting a national leader.

Q: Did the government act appropriately with the family?

A: What?

If this question refers to the government’s rejection of Alan Kurdi’s uncle’s application because of the new G5 sponsorship rules created by Jason Kenny, the answer is no.

If it refers to Harper’s comment that the photo of Alan Kurdi’s body lying on the beach was heart wrenching and he thought of his own son, I don’t know what to say.

Political leadership

One can’t help but wonder.

Were Canadians a better people back in the 1950s when they accepted 37,000 Hungarians and the 1970s when they accepted 60,000 Asians and in the 1990s when they accepted 40,000 Bosnians and Kosovars?

Or is it simply that they had better leaders who had the courage and the compassion to do the right thing?

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22 Responses to A Poll Assesses Harper’s Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

  1. Rose MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    The thought that a 3 year old boy had to die when there was a family ready to take him in is unbelievable. I will never understand how paper work is more important that a little boy’s life and there is nothing any member of government can say that will answer that questions. Shame on us.

    • Alan Kurdi’s aunt lives in Coquitlam, BC. She wanted to sponsor both her brothers and could only afford to sponsor one at a time so she sponsored her older brother and his family and was going to sponsor her other brother (Alan Kurdi’s dad) next. None of this worked out. The older brother’s application was rejected due to Jason Kenney’s new rules and the younger brother’s family (Alan, his 5 year old brother and their mother) all drowned. Meanwhile Immigration Minister Chris Alexander continues to defend Canada’s position. He says they will do more but refuses to explain what (more lip service) and Harper says Mulcair and Trudeau’s suggestion that they all meet to discuss a solution is “partisan”. This is baloney. Harper just doesn’t want to look like he’s bending to the suggestions of the NDP and Liberal leaders. If Canadians re-elect Harper after this we should all hang our heads in shame.

  2. Pingback: Harper Watch Special: CANADA’S SHAME – HARPER’S NON-RESPONSE TO THE REFUGEE CRISIS | Harper Watch

  3. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    Thank you so much for putting the facts before us.
    We can now assess the performance of the federal government clearly and it ain’t pretty.

    It is hard to understand why we are not taking in more refugees but are fully capable of taking in temporary foreign workers.

    I feel that the response of the federal government to the modern day exodus of ordinary citizens from war torn nations is difficult to understand.
    Why is it we can’t take more refugees if Europe is taking so many? Is it because accepting refugees isn’t the Tory way? Is accepting refugees a sort of additional tax on ordinary citizens? Is accepting people who haven’t passed the requirements for citizenship sort of like giving away the privilege of citizenship to the undeserving? Why can’t we let more refugees in?

    In addition, how can we become cold and callous so that we can say to ourselves–it’s us or them?
    How can we turn away from the appalling situation of these people who are without a destination and without any sort of help?
    Have we learned nothing from history?
    Or is history simply the repeated triumph of the powerful over the powerless endlessly?

    I feel that the federal Tories have lost their way in this issue as they have in many other issues.
    They don’t seem to understand how ordinary citizens feel about the plight of other people in such situations.
    In a way this issue highlights the lack of insight of the federal Tories with reference to voter feelings.
    I feel that government –at all levels—is no longer there for citizens. I feel that only citizens are there for citizens.
    Certainly the nations of the world turned it’s back on the refugees until this latest catastrophe for one family woke up the citizens who then activated governments everywhere.

    Will we forget about this horror in a day or two?
    I hope not.
    It’s time to put the word compassion back into the lexicon of ordinary Canadians.

    You have told us that we are 15th on the list of nations accepting refugees:

    A review of the list of the top 15 refugee receiving countries shows that Canada ranks 15th, well behind Germany, the US, and many European countries, including Hungary.

    Canada sure isn’t Canada under the federal Tories.
    I believe the people of Canada haven’t changed in terms of knowing what the right thing to do is. But I believe the political parties have changed and our leaders in government are nowhere to be found.

    • Julie, I think in Harper’s fearful mind he’s decided that national security trumps humanity. He seems to be following in the footsteps of the US as opposed to Germany, Australia or the UK (all of which are admitting many more refugees and relaxing their admission requirements). The US’s record is worse than ours. It’s admitted only 1,500 Syrian refugees and plans to take 300 more. It says it can’t move quickly because the refugees must be “thoroughly vetted” to ensure they’re not terrorists. The process take 18-24 months. This would fit Harper’s thinking. He made the refugee admission process tougher and now it can take up to 2.5 years. Ironically the day this hit the fan, Jason Kenney was set to make an announcement about toughening up our immigration laws–pretty soon there won’t be room in Canada for outsiders unless they come bearing pots of money.

    • Din Gaughan says:

      As the overemotional reaction to the photo has subsided and more is learned about the behaviour and attitude of the Syrian migrants and the potential consequences and costs of bringing them.in en masse ,reality and softer reflection is taking its place.The last morre recent Ipsos poll now show PM Harper as having the most measured reasonable thoughtful response to the Syrian crisis….and the majority support his wiser response to the issue. ….and how we need this type of thoughtful leader in our times…as opposed to the NDP and Liberal leaders and followers who have tried to cynically use this tragedy to get more votes and smear their opponent with it…like the article above.

  4. djangoboy says:

    Re “Harper’s comment that the photo of Alan Kurdi’s body lying on the beach was heart wrenching and he thought of his own son,” he then turned right around and used this as an excuse to continue his bombing campaign. Disgraceful.

    • Djangoboy. “Disgraceful” about sums it up. Today’s Globe ran a story on the Turkish policeman who found the drowned child. Mr Ciplak was unaware of the photographer on the scene. He said he prayed that Alan Kurdi was somehow still alive and was heartbroken when he realized he wasn’t. With respect to the photo he said, “The image marks a bleeding wound. My sorrow would ease if this spark could grow to a greater fire which could [extinguish] this fire.” The photo has certainly sparked outrage on the part of Canadians who are sick of Harper’s excuses and inaction.

  5. Pingback: Harper Watch Special: CANADA’S SHAME – HARPER’S NON-RESPONSE TO THE REFUGEE CRISIS | Ecocide Alert

  6. Pingback: As We Create War, We Create Refugees | Excited Delirium

  7. Ken From says:

    So terribly sad! The events of the past week have shone a light on the shameful and mean spirited attitudes and practices of a conservative core whom we’ve allowed to make choices for all of us. We’ve been told Chris Alexander is a pretty good guy but he’s allowed himself to be the puppet and spokesperson for a bigoted band of leaders. Whether under Hitler or Harper, each person, including Alexander is responsible for their choices and actions. The invasion of Iraq based on propaganda and lies, and supported by Harper, has taken us down this road. While Saddam Hussein was no saint, the United Nations inspectors and sanctions had contained him. One misadventure after another from bombing Libya to bombing ISIS only makes matters worse. We should not allow Harper to get away with the lie that fighting ISIS helps to solve any problem – but only makes this worse for everyone. With a slight paraphrase, the old proverb says, “There’s nothing quite so bad that Harper can’t make it worse.

    • Ken, I agree with your comment. Tuesday’s Herald reported the results of the Mainstreet poll: 48% wanted Canada to accept at least 30,0000, 13% said between 20,000 and 30,000 and 11% said between 10,000 to 20,000 (note: 21,300 is Harper’s latest target), 13% said fewer than 10,000, and 15% didn’t know. So bottom line 61% of Canadians want Harper to do more, and 24% want him to stay the course or do less. Harper is staying the course; which brings us right back to your opening sentence “the events of the past week have shone a light on the shameful and mean spirited attitudes and practices of a conservative core whom we’ve allowed to make choices for all of us.” On Oct 19, the hijacking of Canada’s compassion by the 24% will end.

  8. jvandervlugt says:

    Unreal! Instead of organizing these stupid robo-call polls to find out how Canadians feel about their lame Prime Minister, they should be doing something to help these refugees! I mentioned it on Facebook my parents left Hungary after WW II and this country, Canada, let them in. If that hadn’t happened who knows if I would be around. I am ashamed of our government. How can Harper look himself in the mirror and be a representative of what was once our pride, being a peacekeeping and caring country. I can’t wait for this election so I can vote him out.

    • Joanna, Harper’s pig-headedness on this issue is astounding. Perhaps he believes that he alone understands the “threat”to national security that would result from inadvertently allowing a so-called terrorist to slip into Canada. But then you have to wonder why his former military advisers aren’t backing him. Retired General Rick Hillier says Canada should accept 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year. Hillier was Canada’s defence chief during our involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Hillier is backed by his former adviser, Colonel George Petrolekas, who says this boils down to a logistics exercise–“we’ve done this before, and it’s not rocket science.” Indeed it’s not, it’s politics and dogma from a prime minister who thinks he’s smarter than all of his advisers and the Canadian people.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    One just has to listen to the interview of Chris Alexander with the CBC Rosemary Barton to realize who this man is. Pathetic and he is not the only one. The interesting fact about all of this and, to me not surprising, is that this is one of the most religious governments of the last few decades. So much for their Christianity. Absolutely amazing. We cannot even bring 5000 right away to help alleviate the human wave in Europe. We do not have the space or the money I guess. We only have money to bomb ISIS. We do not even have the money to help our veterans to heal their minds once they return from those horrible areas. The money only exists for war.
    Alan Kurdi is just one of the thousands if not millions that has to pay the price for the lack of leadership, courage and responsibility of politicians around the world. Alan is by accident the one known but unfortunately the current suffering of children everywhere is mind boggling. Most of it because someone is making money under the table.
    I do not reply to those surveys anymore. They are built to allow the interested party to manipulate public opinion.

    • Carlos, I watched the Barton/Alexander interview online. What struck me was how slippery Alexander was with the facts. He kept touting Canada’s outstanding performance by trotting out various statistics. The Herald reprinted a National Post article on Wednesday which pointed out that according to the UNHCR Canada does take a relatively high number of “resettled” refugees (12,173 in 2013) but why you look at the total number of refugees the UNHCR says Canada ranks 41st in terms of per capita refugees (Alexander said Canada’s performance on a per capita basis was among the best if not best), far behind Turkey and Jordan. When you factor in GDP and geographic size Canada ranks 55th and 93rd respectively. Hardly among the very best, is it.
      PS I continue to reply to these surveys hoping to send a message that not all Canadians are OK with Harper’s actions, but I know what you mean about many of them being used to manipulate public opinion.

    • Hi Carlos, it is an amazing assertion to suggest that this is “the most religious government in decades”; Harper’s government is no more “christian” than Chretien’s was “catholic.” As far as I can see, personal faith (if I may be so crude, “real faith”) plays no part of this government – otherwise we’d see hospitality in action. This is the problem with political interference and partisanship that stains everything. r.

  10. ronmac says:

    Missing in this analysis is the fact the US has been trying to remove Assad in Syria for the past five years and have been supporting what it terms “moderate” jihadists including the al Qaeda franchise in Syria. In 2011 there was a plan backed by Russia and China to hold elections in Syria. The plan was rejected by the US who wanted Assad gone, replaced by somebody of their own choosing. The last thing the US wanted is an election where the Syrian people could determine their own future.

    The Saudis and the gov’t of Qatar are supporting ISIS. Turns out they are also providing funding for the Brookings Institute as well. There was a controversy about this last year, a US public policy think tank getting funding from foreign governments.

    • Ronmac, this morning’s Globe and Mail ran an article on point. Wokhtar Lamani, a former senior UN official said it’s essential that the civil war come to an end, but notes things are at an impasse because of a lack of agreement on a transitional plan. Iran and Russia want Assad to play a role in transition while the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey insist he must leave. Apparently some nations (Spain, Austria, and Britain) are softening on this point. In any event Lamani says “the world must act quickly” or we’ll be waking up to a genocide.

      Your comment about foreign governments trying to influence “think tanks” by providing funding is supported by this New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/us/politics/foreign-powers-buy-influence-at-think-tanks.html?_r=0 Where do we go to get the facts? The media leans left and right, think tanks are up for grabs, academics are afraid to speak out for fear they’ll lose their jobs, and politicians tell us only what they think we need to know…

      • ronmac says:

        The media is up for grabs too. There has been an anti-Assad campaign in the media the past few largely funded by Saudi Arabia. In May 2012 major media outlets in the west were running front page stories of an alleged massacre in the town of Houla by Assad forces. Pictures of dead children were splashed all over the front pages. But then somebody pointed out these pictures were actually taken in Iraq a few years earlier and it all began to unravel from there.


    • GoinFawr says:

      Indeed, to paint a brutally repressive, imperialistic self-perpetuating autocracy like Saudi Arabia as ‘the good guys’ requires mental gymnastics beyond the abilities of anyone with a conscience; and yet somehow they remain Canada’s ‘ally’.

      “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” meme only goes so far; when my enemy’s enemy is behaving as badly or worse than our common enemy it’s time to reassess the friendship, because “with friends like these…”

  11. Your article and response further confirms my repulsion for partisan politics. Harper is exposed and “out maneuvered”; but this “I’ll see your 10,000 refugees and raise you 20,000” also expose the sickness that is political manipulation. Pretty easy for politicians to show off how generous they will be – and not give an answer to address the cause of the refugee crisis in the first place. The good news is that Canadians appear to find ourselves looking in the geo-political mirror and considering if this is what we want to look like. The image of Alyan Kurdi washed up on the Turkish shore is numbing, but the clip of the journalist tripping the father & son is sickening. I try to speak to that in: https://moreenigma.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/human-spillage-and-hospitality/

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