Thursday, November 5, 2015

Press Release CISSA-ACSEI - Immigrant and refugee serving agencies across Canada are ramping up contingency plans

November 5, 2015

Immigrant and refugee serving agencies across Canada are ramping up contingency plans to respond to the largest refugee resettlement relocation movement in thirty five years.

VANCOUVER, BC - "As we welcome the appointment of Honourable John McCallum as Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, preparations have begun in refugee reception centres across Canada in response to the Government of Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement plan. We are now on stand-by putting in place significantly enhanced reception services to welcome an expedited increase of Syrian refugees – the full range of settlement supports services and expertise as we have undertaken in previous large refugee resettlement relocation movements," says Chris Friesen, Chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance- Alliance canadienne du secteur de l’√©tablissement des immigrants (CISSA-ACSEI).

While awaiting the timeframe and clarity on the multi-pronged approach necessary to undertake this bold refugee resettlement humanitarian goal CISSA-ACSEI member agencies are actively involved in various refugee readiness related activities across the country including such things as

- working with city staff in some parts of the country to explore the activation of emergency reception and housing procedures;

- putting in place regional refugee readiness planning sessions to develop coordinated response systems with key actors including school superintendents, health authorities, city governments, housing authorities;

- arranging an in-person meeting in Toronto Nov 28-29 with representatives of refugee reception centres and sponsorship agreement holders across Canada to assess current capacity in key areas -- long term housing needs, language class and daycare wait-lists, communication mechanisms, etc;

- issuing public calls for action and help with longer term housing needs, volunteers and free limited services from dentists, registered clinical counsellors, private sponsorship, etc;

- putting in place on going public education events on refugees and their settlement process to garnish ways that the public can be actively involved;

- setting up communication structures eg. telephone help lines, designated websites and systems that will ensure enhanced local and regional coordination on the ground as well as across Canada; and,

- beginning recruitment for a variety of additional staffing resources.

We fully understand and appreciate that Canadians want us, as a country, to do more to help respond to this growing refugee crisis through immediate resettlement. CISSA-ACSEI and its member agencies stand by to fully support and share our expertise and insights to assist Minister McCallum and his cabinet colleagues who will be critically important in addressing this possibly unprecedented mass refugee relocation movement in Canadian history. We welcome the opportunity to support future Syrian government assisted refugees. We have no doubt that with their determination, skills and resilience that Syrian refugees who for no fault of their own have had to flee their homes and will like other refugees before them contribute immensely to their new country. We, working with the Canadian public, will ensure that these refugee newcomers will have the best possible start in this country.

For further information:
Contact: Chris Friesen, Chair, CISSA-ACSEI
Phone: 778 995 3009


The Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance- Alliance canadienne du secteur de l’√©tablissement des immigrants (CISSA-ACSEI) is a pan-Canadian Association formed to represent the immigrant settlement sector in Canada and to bring the sector’s expertise to bear on public policies and programs for enhancing the settlement and integration of immigrants and refugees.


 The current government assisted refugee annual target was set by the former government at between 5,800 and 6,500 individuals. Canada is currently on track to resettle over 6,900 government assisted refugees in 2015 prior to PM designate Justin Trudeau 25,000 Syrian refugee response;

 There are thirty six (36) refugee reception centres across Canada that provide the initial transitional housing and first language resettlement services to all government assisted refugees.

 Unlike European and Middle East states and putting aside the sheer number of refugees in the region, Canada has well developed infrastructure, programs and systems to enhance the settlement and integration of refugees;

 Our member agencies have expertise and experience in providing reception and settlement services on military bases including during Operation Parasol in 1999;

 Although the refugee resettlement target was much lower, the last time Canada responded with a large refugee relocation movement within a short time period -90 days - was in the fall of 1972 when this country responded to the Asian-Ismaili refugee crisis in Uganda; and

 In 2014 refugees accounted for 9% of overall immigration to Canada in comparison to 1980 when refugees accounted for 28% of all immigration.

Caroline Dailly | Manager - Resettlement Assistance Program
530 Drake Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 2H3
T: 604-684-7498 Ext. 1611 | F: 604-684-5683 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trump and the spectacle of reality TV

Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 4, 2015

Donald Trump’s political campaign represents the logical evolution of the media age and entertainment serving as a spectacle where the line between the real and imaginary is completely blared. The age of reality TV and non-stop entertainment have become the dominant avenue for people to receive and share information about a wide range of issues including the choice of a political candidate. Trump embodies reality TV, is himself a brand and in essence an entertainment commodity running for the highest political office in the United States. For sure Trump is not the first to fuse entertainment and politics and the debate on this issue has been around for almost a century.

In his groundbreaking book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman maintained, “[It] is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. […] The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” In this sense, Trump’s candidacy is a type of entertainment.

Neil Postman further argued that the vision of the future is not an Orwellian one whereby a totalitarian government suppresses and controls the people, rather a world closer to What Aldous Huxley described in his novel Brave New World, whereby people “are controlled by inflicting pleasure.” Postman correctly observed that “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” 

More than any other “political” figure in the modern age, Trump represents the arrival of Huxley’s Brave New World as campaign sound bites are intended to reinforce a constant barrage of entertainments, and “a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act.” Those surprised to see Trump leading in the polls are missing the key factor, the candidate himself is an embodiment of reality TV serving to propel his campaign among an audience conditioned to seek a celebrity to mediate a fictitious shared meaning and public discourse as an extended commercial. “If politics is like show business, then” for Trump “the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are,” and package the candidate image not the content into a message. 

Trump understands the spectacle of reality TV and navigates the campaign to fit the contours of an audience that is already been deprived of “autonomy, maturity and history.” The audience gawking at Trump is a byproduct of an information age where the ability to think for oneself was undone by the repetitive exposure to TV trivia and entertainment. Reality is entertainment and entertainment is how reality is experienced. Trump is an entertainment product defining and shaping reality of an audience that is serving as a voting public in a democratic stage play called America.

Poor candidates sharing the stage with Trump and the “news” people who are fact-checking Trump on the many statements and utterances coming from him for they don’t understand the entertainment epistemic operating within candidate’s camp. Trump creates the reality in the same way a TV show constructs a make-believe rain forest in the studio that captures the audience’s attention. Candidate Trump, which gets reinforced by basic repetition in the same way a TV commercial touting an unhealthy product through association with a celebrity, constructs political ignorance as knowledge for his gawking audience. 

Marshall McLuhan maintained, “the medium is the message” while Postman modified the concept into “the medium is the metaphor.” Thus, Trump is America’s metaphor whereby non-stop reality TV entertainment is substituted for what is real, and meaningful. “Making America Strong Again” is a sound bite intended to stop the thinking process and direct the audience to focus on Trump, the reality TV product that has been imbued with the unshakable celebrity success image. If Trump, the TV commodity, is successful then it must translate into a vote for Trump, the political product.

Today’s reality TV and entertainment has become more pernicious and is intruding on every aspect of our life through computers, smart phones, iPads and even behind the wheel in cars. The political, religious, social, cultural and knowledge itself is truncated to fit into the medium and becomes the end in itself. Trump’s candidacy might not end-up being successful but the extended impact of the product will be around for a long time. “Television” (I would add the Internet), according Postman “is our culture's principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore -- and this is the critical point -- how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged.” Trump is staging the political as a reality show and in doing so the screen and the production become undifferentiated entertainment and the metaphor for all public discourses. Trump stages the political as a show and the staged show becomes the way the political world is understood: a non-stop staged spectacle. 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

TWO PART ARTICLE: Read Elizabeth May’s to-do list for the incoming government on fixing what Stephen Harper broke.

Fixing what Harper broke: A to-do list for the incoming government



| OCTOBER 29, 2015

We need a stock-taking. A "to-do" list. Some of what the Harper administration broke will be easy to fix; much will be very hard indeed.

What we must do is insist the damage be reversed. There is an equally long list of steps to take moving forward -- but we need to repair immense damage to nearly every aspect of federal law and policy.

Here's a start:

1) Fixing security law:
Repeal Bill C-51. As a compromise, the Liberals could amend part 2 (No Fly lists) while repealing Parts 1 (info sharing), 3 (terrorism in general propaganda), 4 (the most dangerous, unleashing CSIS as covert disruptors) and 5 (allowing evidence obtained by torture).
Repeal C-44 -- allowing CSIS agents to operate over-seas.
Repeal C-38 -- with a section eliminating the Inspector General for CSIS.
Repeal C-3 (2007 legislation that introduced unconstitutional security certificates).
Instead -- build security law drawn from advice from the Arar and Air India Commissions of Inquiry.

2) Rebuilding our criminal law system:
Reinstate the Law Reform Commission and Court Challenges programme.
Repeal C-10 and other mandatory minimum provisions.
Repeal C-2 (Insite).
Repeal C-14 (NCR).
Repeal C-25 (Truth in Sentencing Act).
Repeal C-309 (Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act).

3) Reverse trend to slippery citizenship:
Return Canada's embassies to aggressively act for Canadians abroad in trouble -- including on death row.
Repeal C-24 (only one citizenship exists -- unless obtained by fraud, citizenship is citizenship).
Repeal FATCA (found in omnibus C-31).
Restore citizenship for Lost Canadians.

4) Immigration and refugee law:
Repeal the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from Fall 2011 that puts refugees arriving by boat in jail for a year (C-31).
Return to principles of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act -- create a predictable path to citizenship.
Prioritize family reunification.
Create a sponsor-friendly refugee support process. Restore health, housing, language and other supports to refugee claimants.
Appoint board members to Immigration appeal board to deal with backlog.

5) Restore evidence-based decision making:
Restore Long Form Census. Rehire Munir Sheik as Chief Statistician of Canada and give him the Order of Canada.
Repeal C-38 sections that wrecked environmental assessment (EA). Eliminate any EA role for energy regulatory agencies (NEB, offshore petroleum boards, CNSC, etc) and return EA to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Repeal C-38 destruction of CEAA, and further amend the Act to remove the conflict of interest found in the pre-2011 CEAA. A good model can be found in the Liberal 1993 Red Book (never implemented).
Repeal C-38 elimination of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy.
Re-hire scientists.
Restore funding to the Canadian Climate Forum (formerly the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences).
Restore funding to Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL).
Restore the Marine Mammals Contaminants Programme.
Restore testing of smokestacks for air quality.
Restore ozone layer testing.
Restore freshwater science. Resume funding and DFO work in Experimental Lakes Area.
Restore research funding and monitoring for ecological integrity to Parks Canada.

6) Repair environmental laws and policy:
Repeal C-38:

I. Damage to Fisheries Act (restore habitat protection, reverse administrative changes in interpretation of "deleterious to fish" as meaning acute toxicity at LD50, as well as removing the equivalency provisions for provincial down-loading);
II. Section that amended NEB also damaged Species at Risk Act, Navigable Waters Protection At, Fisheries Act exempting these acts -- as not applying along route of a pipeline;
III. As above in decision-making section, restore CEAA as sole agency to oversee environmental reviews.
Repeal C-45:
I. Restore Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), and repeal the 2009 omnibus bill that re-defined "navigable waters" to a matter of ministerial discretion. Return NWPA to its pre-2006 condition. Navigable waters are any and all waters that can be navigated.
Restore funding to Canadian Environmental Network.

7) Climate action:
Ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Work with other Kyoto parties and support the information sections and the mechanisms, especially the Clean Development Mechanism. No new targets need be established within the KP as our new targets will evolve in the new comprehensive COP21 agreement.
Restore ecoENERGY Retrofit -- Homes program.
Consider the other actions in place in 2006 that the Harper administration cancelled.

8) Repair Official Development Assistance:
Restore funding to MATCH, KAIROS, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, etc.
Consider re-establishing CIDA as its own agency, but at a minimum reverse funding cuts and restore goal of poverty alleviation.

9) Service Canada:
In what was described as an effort to save money, the Harper administration created a new department to house administrative, IT and finance roles. Call for a full audit by the Auditor General and determine if Service Canada has in fact resulted in savings, or, if, as many suspect, it has been a boondoggle. Consider restoring functionality in the public service.

10) Reverse monumental mistakes:
Cancel any federal funding to Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism and cancel plans for its current location. Allow it to proceed in another location with a more modest and reasonable design as a private charitable project.
Restore land from Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the park, reversing private give-away to private sector interests. Allow the so-called Mother Canada statue to be built on an appropriate site in industrial Cape Breton.

11) Repair national parks:
Cancel any and all plans to further privatize within national parks.
Amend the Sable Island National Parks Act to remove the role of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board as a regulator within the park. Ban seismic testing, drilling and any industrial activity in the park.
Amend the Rouge Valley National Parks Act to restore ecological integrity.
Re-affirm the guiding principle of the National Parks Act to protect ecological integrity.

12) Repair legislative damage to First Nations rights and title:
Amend the NWT devolution act to restore the water boards and other agencies created by treaty.
Repeal C-27 (First Nations Financial Transparency Act) and S-2 (Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act).
Restore funding and re-open the National Aboriginal Health Organization and the First Nations Statistical Institute.

13) Women's rights:
Restore purpose of Status of Women Canada to include achieving equality for women.
Restore funding to Canadian Association of Women and the Law, National Action Committee, etc.
Institute an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
Implement pay equity for women in federal civil service.
Repeal manipulative laws that contort women's rights creating increased risks to women:

I. S-7 (Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act)
II. C-36 (Sex trade worker law)

14) Restore funding to CBC-Radio Canada:
Cancel sale of assets

15) Reverse cessation of home delivery by Canada Post

16) Re-engage with international sustainable development:
Restore funding to CIDA.
Halt sales of diplomatic residences.
Ratify the Convention to Combat Desertification (from which we withdrew under the Harper Conservatives).

17) Investor State agreements that cannot be undone:
Canada-China Investment Treaty was signed and ratified without any hearings in Parliament, without a ratification vote in the House or Senate.
The earliest Canada can be out from under this treaty is 2045. To protect Canadian interests and sovereignty, we need a law requiring immediate public disclosure of any and all complaints by the People’s Republic of China against Canadian legislation, regulation or policy changes, pending or concluded, at all levels of government. This notification includes any diplomatic pressure from the PRC in the six month window for conflict resolution prior to the lodging of an actual arbitration claim. Canada must be prepared to pay damages to the People’s Republic of China if our environment, labour or safety laws require it. The Canada-China Investment Treaty is the worst of the changes wrought in the Harper era. It could operate to stop the needed repairs. All we can do now is ask to re-negotiate while ensuring our domestic legislation guarantees transparency.

Read Part Two

Fixing what Harper broke, part two: The toxic culture in our House of Commons must end



| NOVEMBER 2, 2015

The first "to-do" list focussed on changes to policy and legislation brought in under the Harper administration. But the damage was not confined to omnibus laws and brutal ideologically motivated cuts. More subtle damage was done to the principles that underpin Westminster parliamentary democracy. Our system of government has limitations on abuse of power, but they are not codified.

Unlike the United States, with its Constitution riddled with checks and balances against those who would misuse their power, our system of government has largely depended on self-restraint of those in power. Previous prime ministers had not prorogued parliament to avoid a confidence vote they knew they would lose because it was simply not done.

For example, Prime Minister Paul Martin knew the NDP, Conservatives and Bloc planned to bring down his government on November 28, 2005. He never would have imagined going to the Governor General to shut down Parliament. It was not illegal; it was unthinkable. Into this very vulnerable system, the rule of Stephen Harper has been typified by unprecedented abuse of power. As the Rt. Hon Joe Clark said in January 2015 in a speech in Sidney B.C., "Stephen Harper is violating Magna Carta."

Under Stephen Harper, debate was shut down one hundred times in the 42nd Parliament -- breaking all historical records by nearly 100 per cent. Under Stephen Harper, we have had two quite illegitimate prorogations, unprecedented not only in Canada but in the entire Commonwealth. We have had the prime minister and his government found guilty of contempt -- again unprecedented.

The PMO has extended its reach to demand evidence be prepared by civil servants to buttress government policy. This abuse of the federal civil service is also unprecedented. I know of justice department lawyers that have been asked for their legal opinion with the added instruction "and this is what we want you to say."

Parliamentary committees have been controlled by PMO with every vote on every amendment a whipped vote. That is how a bill like C-38, the omnibus budget bill of spring 2012, could move from First Reading to Royal Assent -- all 440 pages of it, changing or repealing 70 different laws -- without a single alteration. Witnesses before committee have been subjected to personal inquisitions if their testimony did not align with Conservative dogma. Again -- unprecedented.

The result is that we now need to take steps to ensure such abuses of power never happen again.

There is a good list of suggested fixes in the Liberal platform (more detail than anything on their platform on climate change, for comparison).

The scale of the damage done must be understood by Canadians. Should we hold a hearing into abuse of power over the last 10 years? Demand that the investigation into robo-calls and voter fraud be re-opened? Insist that we have an inquiry into the security failures in protecting the House while the prime minister bolstered his personal security, but not that of the House of Commons?

We need to scale back the budget of the Prime Minister's Office. Greens suggest cutting it in half, but that's only a good start. The dividing line between PMO and Privy Council Office (PCO) needs to be repaired. Civil servants must never again be told to fabricate or hide evidence. Scientists must not be muzzled. The position of Science Advisor to the Prime Minister must be restored.

The role of members of Cabinet as Ministers of the Crown must be honoured. Ministers are not sock-puppets, the chief public relations spokespersons for policies about which they know only what they are told by PMO. Ministers should actually know what is going on in their departments. There should be actual Cabinet meetings where ministers put forward their departmental plans and requests. Central control by PMO must be slashed.

Here's more of the to-do list:
Prorogations must now require a vote in the House constituting more than a majority vote. It must be based on a formula to ensure the majority party is not running roughshod over smaller parties to avoid accountability.
Omnibus bills must be curtailed and only allowed when the subject matter of the bill meets one central purpose. We must never again allow unrelated pieces of legislation to be bundled together to avoid adequate study or review.
Parliamentary Committees must be free of whipped votes. The parliamentary secretaries should not sit on committees. Committee chairs should be elected by committee members. Witnesses should be given adequate time to testify. The Conservative practice of throwing four or five unrelated witnesses on the same panel, given an insultingly brief time to speak, to be abused by government MPs must stop. Forcing unrealistic and abbreviated time for hearings must stop.
We need to revise the Elections Act. We need to create rules for leaders’ debates and have them under Elections Canada supervision. We need to undo the damage to Elections Act since 2006. C-23 was the second major change. We need to enhance the investigative powers of Elections Canada into election fraud.
The House proceedings should return to the standing rules. The use of separate motions in every committee to deprive MPs in smaller parties of the right to present amendments at Report Stage must end.
Heckling in the House should be controlled by the next Speaker. It is a deliberate technique to discourage public interest in parliamentary affairs.
We must restore transparency. Access to Information laws need to be overhauled (see Democracy Watch recommendations).
Documents required by MPs must not be hidden. Fundamental principles of the Supremacy of Parliament must be restored.
Budgetary information must be available to Parliament prior to budget votes. "Deemed" review of billions of dollars in supplementary estimates must end. The PBO must be strengthened and the Parliamentary Budget Officer be made an Officer of Parliament.
Whipped votes on other than confidence motions must end. We need to restore the link between members and their constituencies.
We must legislate to control abuse of power. The above is a first cut and inadequate. Ideally, a parliamentary committee will be mandated to review the abuses of the last ten years and recommend a full suite of measures to ensure it never happens again.

Post script:

The first to-do list should have mentioned the cuts to Veterans Affairs and the changes in the treatment of our veterans. Those must be reversed. The first list also omitted the end of the Canada Wheat Board. I don't know how we can repair that damage since the Conservatives sold the Wheat Board assets to a Saudi Arabian company. But if farmers can see a way to restore the Wheat Board, it should be considered.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Baby Killer? Conservative Syrian refugee policy

Yesterday, I discussed Chris Alexander’s after-the-election defence of Bill C-24 and, in particular, the issue of two classes of citizenship. Today I want to concentrate on his defence of his role as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in the Harper government in the formation of its Syrian refugee policy. In the seven minute and forty second interview, most of the time he discussed refugee policy rather than the citizenship issue.  Let me offer his interview in as verbatim form as I could manage, and then follow up with my commentary after parsing what he said. 

1. According to Chris Alexander, “We started bringing Syrian refugees to Canada on a large scale in January, but nobody covered it at the time. Somehow it became divisive that we hadn’t brought them all by the middle of the election campaign.” 
2. “This conflict in Syria has been going on for four years and I will say in front of any camera to any journalist that this is the worst conflict of recent times, much worse in terms of loss of life than both Iraq wars, all three Iraq wars if you count the current one, much worse than Afghanistan during our time there in terms of loss of life, and the media coverage, the public attention to it, has been lacking since 2011.” 
3. “These are the biggest terrorist organizations in the world. Yes, the international response has been weak because there is no appetite for it after two wars in Iraq and a long campaign in Afghanistan, but we need to pay attention.” 
4. “And when these refugees and migrants showed up in Europe in massive numbers, it wasn’t a surprise to me. We have been tracking this, we have been trying to respond, we have been trying to encourage other countries to respond in an organized way resettling larger numbers of refugees to save lives and to ensure that people didn’t have to cross the Mediterranean and lose their lives at great risk.” 
5. But none of that generated any profile. Instead I still get people coming up to me  saying you hung up on Carol Off. That’s the story that people insist on telling, that we are cold-hearted Conservatives, that we have never done the right thing.” 
6. “And its wrong. And you’ve got to look at the facts. You’ve got to look at who showed leadership.” 
7. “There are still more Syrian refugees in this country than Barak Obama has brought to the United States. Has anyone covered that fact?” 
8. “It’s a question of communication and responding to accusations, absolutely…Certain messages weren’t delivered and certain accusations were allowed to stand.” 
9. “We’re still the party that sees reality as it is, doesn’t want to go on some hippy-trippy jaunt down memory lane and put marihuana in the windows of every store. We’re trying to deal with the real issues that Canadians are facing..” 
10. “I’ve heard the Liberal leader say that we should not use the word “terrorism” on several occasions. They are just misunderstood people.” 
11. “And it pains me as a person who spent six years on behalf of Canada and the United Nations in Afghanistan and who worked two years as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to try to get a better response to Syrian refugees to bring 23,000 Iraqi refugees to Canada. I have never seen one article written about that in this country.” 
12. “Cost, safety, operational standards for which Canada is renowned are all issues. We have the best record in the world for refugee resettlement because we do it well, we meet certain standards. We check out who people are. We make sure that human smugglers aren’t involved. We make sure identity theft isn’t involved. We make sure people are whom they say they are. We make sure that criminals don’t benefit from Canada’s generous refugee policies and when you start moving large numbers of people in short periods of time, all of that can be compromised. So I would urge the government to do more on Syria but do it carefully and insure that Canada’s best traditions and high standards are respected.” 
1. a) Did the Conservatives start bringing Syrian refugees to Canada on a large scale in January? 

b) Did they receive no coverage of their activities on behalf of Syrian refugees? 

c) Did the issue only become divisive during the election campaign? 

d) And was that because the Conservatives had not brought all the refugees to Canada by the middle of the election campaign? 

In 2013, Canada pledged to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees over the next twelve months. It took the government 20 months, virtually to the end of 2014. The government promised to bring in only 200 government-sponsored refugees and 1,100 sponsored privately by groups or individuals. However, given the deficiency of visa officers in the field and processing officers in Winnipeg, private sponsorships were taking 12 or more months. In the first eight months of 2013, only 9 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada. Under pressure from the NDP immigration critic, Alexander kept obfuscating on the number of arrivals, and his inadequate replies received wide coverage. 
By mid-2015, Alexander could only confirm that there were 1,297 Syrian refugees physically present in Canada as of July 2 even though 1,012 Syrian refugees made inland claims and were not resettled but arrived here and claimed asylum. Though the pledge to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years was signalled in January 2015, only in the beginning of July of 2015 did Canada announce that it was preparing to substantially increase the number of Syrian refugees this country will accept. The Conservatives planned to bring 10,000 more Syrian refugees over three years, or 3,300 per year. Most of those were expected to be privately sponsored. “To meet those kinds of targets,” Mr. Alexander said, “Ottawa is looking to a broader range of Canadians to step up and privately sponsor asylum seekers.” That announcement was widely covered in the media, but it was an announcement about an announcement, for the formal announcement was not expected to come until late summer or the fall. 

The initiative was said to be on a par with “one of our large, national efforts in response to a serious crisis on par with our response to the Vietnamese boat people [60,000 over 18 months when the number of refugees was less than half those from Syria], Idi Amin in Uganda in 1972 [7,000 of the accounted for approximately 43,000 Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin] and the 1956 crackdown in Hungary [37,000 of 200,000 refugees over only six months].” How 3,300 per year of 4 million refugees could be said to be on a par with the numbers Canada took in these other movements is beyond comprehension. 

The issue did become a big one until the picture of the little three-year-old’s body on the beach appeared in all the media around the world at the end of the first week in October, but no one, absolutely no one, criticized the Conservatives for not having brought all the refugees to Canada by the middle of the election campaign. The Conservatives were criticized for the stinginess of their Syrian refugee policy. 

2. Chris Alexander did say a number of times that the Syrian conflict was the worst in the last few decades. But to say that the media did not cover the conflict is absolute nonsense. Amelia Smith in her study, “Mapping Syria through media coverage of the conflict,” indicated a number of problems covering the story. Though in 2011, western media dedicated “a healthy amount of coverage” to Syria’s conflict, and though the new media were used extensively, in the last two years, there has been extensive coverage, contrary to Alexander’s assertion. However, there has been a distinct tendency to reduce the conflict to a battle between ISIS and the Assad regime.  Further, there has been too little coverage of the international humanitarian work and of the tremendous refugee burden that Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have born. But all have been covered. However, the most serious problem is the high risk to journalists. Syria has been designated as the most dangerous country for journalists in 2012, 2013, and 2014, somewhat limiting the amount of coverage. 

3. Alexander claimed that al-Qaeda and ISIS are the biggest terrorist organizations in the world. There are well over 100 terrorist organizations. Hezbollah and Hamas are each larger than ISIS or al-Qaeda. The Taliban may be larger. ISIS may, however, be the most notorious. In any case, the Assad regime has killed many more Syrian civilians than even ISIS. 

4. To say Canada has been a leader in encouraging Syrian refugee resettlement is laughable if it were not so tragic. In terms of witnessing, Canada has settled at most 13,000 refugees worldwide each year over the last three years. Excepting years when we resettled disproportionately high numbers of refugees, Canada generally took 10% of the refugees scheduled by UNHCR for resettlement. The United States takes by far the most.  Of the 21,154 Syrian refugees put forward by UNHCR for resettlement in 2014, Canada took barely 1,000 or less than 5%, an appalling figure in comparison to our past historical record. The UNHCR urged countries to resettle only 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. Canada’s response – not 10,000 per year as would be expected from past practice, but 10,000 over three years. There is no evidence that Canada provided any leadership in advocating higher refugee numbers; practice indicates quite the reverse. 

5. No one said that the Conservatives were cold hearted or never did the right thing. The Conservatives were accused of a woefully inadequate response to refugee resettlement though a reasonably humanitarian response to donations overseas re Syrian refugees. Further, late in the game, the Conservatives were commended for finally waving the requirement of UNHCR approval for refugees scheduled for resettlement, of waving the requirement that all forms by private sponsors had to be precisely accurate before they could be considered, for finally greatly increasing the number of visa officers in Lebanon and increasing the processing officers in Winnipeg. But it was all very tardy and seemed to be only a response to enormous pressure. 

6. “You’ve got to look at the facts. You’ve got to look at who showed leadership.” If you do, you would have to conclude that it was definitely not the Conservatives. 

7. Alexander asserted that Canada took in far more Syrian refugees than Obama ever did. While I think the Obama record on Syrian refugees has been appalling, and by September 2015, the U.S. had only resettled about 1,500 Syrian refugees in total, fewer than Canada, in December 2014, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard, announced that the United States would resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2015. As of 7 October 2015, 19,646 Syrian refugee names had been submitted to the U.S. for resettlement. So although the United States had been very tardy, and though its current response has been very inadequate, it is just not true that Canada took many more Syrian refugees than the U.S. We took more, but not even considerably more let alone many more. 

8. Alexander insisted that the problem was inadequate communication on the part of the Conservatives. The problem was inadequate and very tardy response by the Conservatives. 

9. “We’re still the party that sees reality as it is, doesn’t want to go on some hippy-trippy jaunt down memory lane and put marihuana in the windows of every store.” In every store window!!! Come on! If Alexander is representative, he not only indicates that the Conservatives do not see reality as it is, but cannot distinguish fact from fiction. 
10. Alexander insisted that Justin Trudeau would not use the term “terrorism but insisted that were just misunderstood people. Perhaps Alexander was not in the House of Commons on 19 February 2015 when Trudeau began his speech as follows: 

“Mr. Speaker, I do not have to tell anyone in the House today about the threat of terrorism and the fear it can instil within those who have witnessed it. We all remember clearly the feelings we had in October as we heard and learned that an armed man had entered Centre Block with the intent to kill. We are still thankful for the heroism shown by our security services that day in keeping us safe during a difficult and confusing time. Coming as it did only days after another, shameful, attack on members of our military, it was a horrible reminder of the murder in cold blood that some people are capable of committing. No matter the motives, terrorism is designed to make us freeze in fear. It is designed to make us constantly question not only our own safety, but also the democratic institutions we have established to keep us safe. It is designed to make us question what is familiar and to suspect what would normally be insignificant. Terrorism is designed to take us so far that we question everything we have built and everything that is good in our fair, just, and open society. That is the point of terrorism, and it is when we willingly walk over that edge of our own accord that terrorism is ultimately successful.” 
Hardly an avoidance of the word “terrorism”. 

11. Alexander claimed to never have read one article about the 23,000 Iraqi refugees Canada resettled. Perhaps that is because 23,000 were not resettled. 23,000 was the target by the end of 2015.  I guess he had not read on 7 January 2015,  the news service reports that sympathetically indicated how the Syrian war hampered Iraqi refugee resettlement, etc. Either Alexander does not look for the reading material, does not read it when he finds it, or cannot read. 

12. “Cost, safety, operational standards.” Finally some honesty! These were Alexander’s and the Conservative’s repeated reasons for the tardy and inadequate intake of Syrian refugees. The Conservatives would bring them in, as long as the budget was not burdened.  Further, the department of Immigration’s ability to interview, process and resettle those refugee, and well as the settlement agencies and Agreement Holder’s ability to perform had been severely compromised in the effort to balance the budget while lowering taxes. 

The next shibboleth was the security issue. But as virtually any scholar knows who has studied the issue, coming to Canada as a refugee is the worst route for a terrorist to seek entry into a country. A refugee is too well documented. Enter as a tourist, as an investor, as a student. The terrorist threat is a red herring when it comes to the admission of refugees. In any case, all the political parties buy into the need for security clearances. 
The third factor is the elaborate bureaucratic procedures that now cloud and delay sponsorship under the guise of “operational standards”. 

The bottom line: Chris Alexander is a serial exaggerator, a serial distortionist and contortionist, systematically engaging in hyperbole totally unsupported by facts. Canada has not been a “model of humanitarian action.” Far from it. It has been a model of a miserly approach to the Syrian refugee issue.

Carty House in Ottawa-- can anyone help?

Yesterday I spoke with Jackie, a representative of Carty House. As I explained in a previous posting, Carty House is a communal residence in Ottawa that provides transitional housing for female refugee claimants and convention refugees. Carty House does not get funds from the government and operates based on donations from the general public. 

For more details see:

I asked Jackie what their most immediate needs are right now and here is the list she gave me:

* Space heater

* Coffee table

* Pantry shelving unit

* Small TV

* Area Rug

* Small desk

* Double sized bed

* Dining table

*Winter jackets

* Winter boots

I will add that Carty House also accepts food and personal hygiene items,and of course money donations.

If you are in a position to help with this, please let me know!

Shawn Smith