National Column: Refugee backlash will strengthen

Because this is Canada, the backlash begins in the most polite of fashions.

But make no mistake, a backlash against Justin Trudeau’s plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to this country is taking root and seems certain to build.

Although the Liberal pledge should be applauded, the new government has helped fuel this backlash by its stubborn determination to meet an arbitrary deadline forged in the hothouse of election campaign politics.

By holding to the Jan. 1 deadline, Trudeau has allowed opponents a foot in the door and they are using the question of timing to try to stop or minimize the initiative.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall politely calls the federal plan “noble” and he is correct when he says the Liberal initiative need not be “date-driven.” But he is wrong when he says it need not be “numbers-driven.”

“I am asking you to suspend your current plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year and to re-evaluate this goal and the processes in place to achieve it,” he says in a letter to Trudeau.

Suspension is not slowing down. In later interviews, Wall said the 25,000 number can be called “aspirational.” In other words, Wall is trying to turn back to the Stephen Harper refugee policy that was repudiated by voters in the October election.

Wall clearly knows that the refugee tsunamis landing in Europe are doing so in a chaotic, dangerous fashion that could not screen out every dangerous migrant. But Canada is accepting Syrian refugees from those in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Most have been there for years. They have been deemed refugees and pre-screened by the United Nations. They will be screened again by Canada. There will be an emphasis on children, women and the most vulnerable.

Security was paramount before the Paris attacks. It is still paramount.

Wall has allies. Quebec City Mayor RÈgis Labeaume apparently favours a refugee smorgasbord. He will be accepting only orphans and families with two children. The Parti QuÈbÈcois forced an emergency debate on the matter at the National Assembly and this will be on the agenda when premiers meet here next Monday.

Wall, always on a list of potential Conservative leaders, also disagrees with Trudeau’s decision to pull back our CF-18s in the fight against Islamic State and is expected to be an outlier on climate change, but if political ambitions seeped into his refugee position, he’s a piker compared to the xenophobia cheerleaders on the right south of the border.

In the U.S., 30 Republican governors have now vowed they would bar Syrian refugees from their states.

Labeaume will at least accept orphans. Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and Republican presidential hopeful, told a radio interviewer he wouldn’t even accept a 5-year-old Syrian orphan.

Another Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. Ted Cruz, has said only Christian refugees should be allowed in the U.S. and he is drafting legislation to bar Syrian Muslims. There is no risk of Christians committing terrorism, Cruz says.

Donald Trump has an idea. He would buy a big swatch of land in Syria, build a safe zone for refugees, keep them out of the U.S. and they would never have to learn English or get cold in Minnesota. House Speaker Paul Ryan called for the Syrian refugee program in the U.S. to be scrapped.

The real fear is that some American-style Republican thinking leaks over the northern border that the GOP is convinced is so porous.

Under the guise of protecting citizens in the U.S. and here, politicians are doing exactly what ISIS wants – rejecting Muslims the terrorist organization wants to keep in the Middle East, not abroad.

ISIS messages regularly warn refugees that they will never feel one with the infidels and they will suffer and be rejected, finding hope and happiness only as part of the caliphate.

These politicians play to the us-versus-them mentality ISIS seeks to foster and only fuel resentment among those seeking to flee the terror in their backyard.

Every refugee wave headed for Canada has been met with resistance and racism, subtle or overt. Our checkered history includes the 1914 rejection of the Komagata Maru in Vancouver, and a boatload of Jewish refugees on the east coast in 1939, as well as the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians. The tide of fear and intolerance has not always been pushed back.

The Liberals need to push back the tide this time. Speeding their way through this process won’t allay any fears.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1.

Copyright 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services

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