by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign says she did not know Ron Banjaree, an anti-Muslim advocate, or the organization Rise Canada would be at the event she attended Monday evening in Brampton.
“Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended,” Leitch’s campaign spokesman Michael Diamond told iPolitics in an email.
Diamond said Leitch attended a meeting organized by an organization called “Keep Religion Out of Public Schools” in support of secular and pluralistic public schools.
“Kellie does not believe that this long standing Canadian practice should be changed to accommodate one group. Other individuals and groups attended this meeting, there was no guest list sent to Kellie prior to the event. This meeting was about the place of religion in public schools,” wrote Diamond.
Leitch did address the anti-Muslim group, though, and the money raised at the event was to go toward fighting the construction of a mosque in Brampton.
Banjaree, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and an advisor to Rise Canada, spoke to the audience awaiting Leitch’s arrival on Monday. In a video of his address posted to YouTube — posted below — Banjaree says Rise Canada is connected to different groups, including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the United Christian Federation and other groups he describes as “fighting the Sharia creep.”
He tells the audience that, five years ago, the group didn’t exist, but with the help of mostly Christian groups it was able to do a series of “large scale demonstrations regarding prayers, Islamic prayers, in Toronto District School Board public schools, specifically it was Valley Park School.”
“At the time they had taken over the cafeteria for school prayers. They’re still doing it, by the way,” he tells the group. He goes on to claim that those organizing the prayers have made female students sit behind the boys and in some cases have excluded them from prayers altogether.
A Caucasian man in the audience pipes up at this point: “Sometimes they do panty checks. It’s disgusting.”
Diamond wrote that the meeting was attended by “a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada. That is clear.
“It is also clear that Kellie was not at the event while a representative from Rise Canada was speaking.”
Banjaree recently attended a Toronto school board meeting on religious accommodation where someone ripped up a copy of the Qur’an. At that board meeting, someone else was distributing flyers from Rise Canada which called for the elimination all policies of ‘religious accommodation’ in schools.
On the recording, Banjaree welcomes Leitch as she slowly makes her way to the podium, stopping along the way to shake hands with Banjaree’s supporters.
Leitch takes questions from the audience, but it appears only one — from Banjaree — was captured on video.
Banjaree claims that India has the best human rights record in the world and should be considered a “safe country” for migration, like Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe. He says that there have been problems with people from India claiming refugee status in Canada and people involved in the 1985 Air India bombing were able to claim refugee status in Canada.
Banjaree asks Leitch to look into why India is not considered a “safe country”; she says she will.
Diamond said that while Leitch responded a question from the floor, “she did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended.
“She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views.”
Diamond said Leitch is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools. She is committed to building a country that promotes the shared values of hard work, generosity, freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity and equality of individuals. “That includes the freedom to practice your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people’s religion.”
A blog called Anti-Racist Canada posted an exhaustive list of links to reports of controversial activity by Banjaree, including the video from the event Leitch attended with him on Monday.
At the end of the video, an attendee says that former Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston collected $244 from supporters at the event that will go toward fighting the construction of a mosque that was recently approved by Mississauga City Council.
In early March, city council gave the Meadowvale Islamic Centre Inc. and the City of Mississauga a green light to move forward with the development of the mosque.
Johnston reportedly expressed his concerns about the mosque on his website, “Stop the Mosque”. According to Mississauga.com, Johnston wrote on his website that the mosque would drive up crime and vandalism, set back women’s rights and affect housing prices.
Some Tory leadership contenders came under fire for giving interviews to Johnston on his YouTube channel, FreedomReport.ca.
In one of his video rants, he warns Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, author of motion 103 condemning Islamophobia, that he’ll be there “with a big, fat smile” to film the moment when she’s shot by a “gun nut.”
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg
The Islamic Social Services Association recently organized a conference on the theme of “At the Heart of Human Rights is Human Dignity” in Winnipeg.
It was attended by about 180 people, including many important speakers, but there was no local media coverage in the mainstream.
Andrew J. McLean, medical director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Chair of the Psychiatry Department at the N. Dakota School of Medicine, spoke on “Community Resilience and the Concept of the ‘Other.’”
He pointed out some unhealthy aspects of “otherization”: they are of less value; they are different from “me” and “us;” their differences are to be belittled; they are seen as “abject.”
“To work with another, you have to be able to admire something about them, even if you don’t like them,” said McLean.
The Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, a United Church Minister, spoke on “Beyond Our Comfort Zone: the LGBTQ Community, Hopes, Challenges, Collaborations and the Right to Dignity,” pointing out that hate groups lump “undesirables” together: “A part of the brain lights up when we see another, but not if we ‘otherize’ them.”
Everyone has prejudices
“We all have xenophobia to some degree,” said Shepherd. “But we must learn to be in solidarity with one another. Openness and courage are necessary to build relations and trust across communities that usually distrust one another.”
The event featured several “Conversation Cafes". One pointed out that prejudice may be positive or negative. Love is a positive prejudice which blinds us to the beloved’s negative qualities. Hate is the opposite.
The world is too complex for individuals to analyze each individual or phenomenon individually, and we don’t usually have the time. Consequently we fall back on our past experiences to make quick decisions.
For example, one may glance at the colour of the sky before leaving home and decide to carry one’s umbrella because that sort of sky often signals rain in our experience. One may then carry an umbrella all day, yet it may not rain; but if we ignore our past experiences, we deprive them of meaning.
We may have had negative (or positive) experiences justifying our pre-judgements, but should not fail to revise them when confronted with evidence to the contrary, concluded the participant.
Indifference and Silence are Threats
The Emcee, retired CBC Radio Host Terry MacLeod, welcomed Danny Smyth, Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, and Scott Kolody, RCMP Assistant Commissioner, on the second day. In his address, Smyth said, “Women in our community will be a big part of the solutions.”
MacLeod called Shahina Siddiqui, Executive Director of the Islamic Social Services Association, “the godmother of everything that happened here,” and Kolody called her a leader.
Their greetings were followed by a heartfelt video message from Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Indifference and silence are threats,” she said.
A participant asked MacLeod why there were so few media people of colour in the mainstream. He replied that rectifying it was now a major project at CBC.
Another asked the lawmen what was being done about the over 100 extremist groups like “Soldiers of Odin” in Canada. The “Soldiers” even have a Facebook page. The policemen replied that they were networking and exchanging information.
Haroon Siddiqui, an Editor Emeritus of the Toronto Star, then spoke on Islamophobia.
“(U.S. President Donald) Trump is doing what he said he’d do,” said Siddiqui: “And the Trump phenomenon has already happened here. Dozens of mosques have been vandalized, and Muslims assaulted. The alleged killer in Quebec was a Trump fan. We need to stand in solidarity with one another. Muslims can’t be maligned any more than they already have been. The ‘alt-right’ is code for white supremacists; indifference and inaction imply complicity with the victimisers.”
"Though Muslims aren't interned, they feel a psychological internment."
“The only crime of Canadians refused entry to the U.S. was that they weren’t white,” continued Siddiqui.
"Trump is similar to (former Canadian prime minister) Stephen Harper. Both elicited white support from their electoral bases. Once it was rumoured that Jews were taking over the world; now it’s Muslims. People talk of women’s status in Islam, but Muslim women are being spat on and shoved by North Americans.
"Have those who say the Koran says to kill infidels ever read the Old Testament? Wars call for propaganda, but one can’t separate Muslims there from Muslims here. When we demonize one, we demonize the other.”
Shahina Siddiqui thanked the funders at the end: Canadian Heritage, Sargent Blue Jeans, and The Winnipeg Foundation.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a Winnipeg-based journalist who has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Daniel Morton in Vancouver
One year after Canada first resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canadian communities — a number that has since grown to 40,000 — the refugee program has left Canadians divided as to its merit and efficacy. A recent poll by Angus Reid showed that 6 in 10 Canadians approve of the way the government has handled the influx, but a deeper dive into the polling reveal almost one in four Canadians support a Trump style ban on Muslims. Despite its welcoming reputation, Canada has already seen an alarming rise in Islamophobic incidents. At this point, failing to help newcomers settle runs the risk of a more intolerant future in Canada.
In Metro Vancouver, a region that has seen a 20 fold increase in immigration since 2001, newcomers often have trouble navigating the services they need. In 2016, seven Metro Vancouver municipal districts identified access to information and services for newcomers as a top priority to strengthen resettlement efforts. As an example, Metro Vancouver immigrants struggle with backlogs for government funded English lessons while failing to make use of the network of free lessons — many offers are not getting to the people who need them.
At a time when social media discourse about immigrants grows more toxic everyday, Vancouver’s vibrant non-profit community is stepping up with a positive response. Currently a top 10 finalist of the Google.org Impact Challenge, Vancouver-based NGO PeaceGeeks has partnered with the immigrant settlement community to explore how to better connect immigrants to local services such as health, language programs and housing options to ease their transition. PeaceGeeks is one of several Canadian non-profits vying for $750,000 from Google through a public vote to make their project a reality.
The idea for this application builds on another PeaceGeeks project called Services Advisor, a smartphone app that connects refugees to essential humanitarian services like food and medicine across Jordan—a country that has housed almost 656,000 Syrian refugees according to Amnesty International. The Services Advisor prototype was successfully deployed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan and will soon be deployed in Turkey and Somalia to support another 3 million displaced people.
Now, PeaceGeeks is exploring how tools like Services Advisor can help to significantly improve the experience of newcomers arriving in Metro Vancouver and beyond, through generating personalized roadmaps for newcomers to navigate what is often a dizzying array of settlement and community services.
PeaceGeeks intends to build this app so that it can eventually be used across Canada.
“We want to create better visibility and access to existing services and providers while reducing what can be an overwhelming experience for immigrants as they navigate the steps to becoming active and vibrant citizens in their new communities,” says Renee Black, the Executive Director of PeaceGeeks. “Services Advisor Pathways (the Vancouver version) aims to connect them to the most relevant and timely services to help with their particular circumstances at any given stage of their immigration journey.”
The project is being developed in partnership and consultation with cities, local newcomers, immigrant service providers such as MOSAIC, Immigrant Services Society of Canada (ISSofBC) and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., as well as Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) across the Metro Vancouver region. LIPs are federally funded, cross-sectoral partnerships that aim to improve integration of newcomers into the fabric of local communities and create more inclusive workplaces.
“By building on their global experience using technology to support refugees combined with innovative approaches that will be developed locally, PeaceGeeks is poised to make a pioneering contribution to the way that immigrants and refugees access information about services in Metro Vancouver,” says Nadia Carvalho, Coordinator of Vancouver’s LIP.
The project has received over thirty endorsements since the beginning of March from key individuals and organizations across settlement, tech and humanitarian spaces, including the B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services.
“By facilitating the integration of newcomers into British Columbia, this new technology will return benefit the whole Province,” says Minister Amrik Virk.
PeaceGeeks anticipates that Services Advisor Pathways can help reduce the stress on government services, by connecting immigrants to the pathways for success before and upon arrival, straight from their smartphones.
At such a critical time for Canada to stand apart from the closing borders of other nations, PeaceGeeks is hoping that Services Advisor will show that Canada’s strength continues to come from its diversity and inclusion.
For more information about PeaceGeeks’ project, visit votepeacegeeks.org.
The Google.org Impact Challenge supports Canadian nonprofit innovators who are using technology to tackle the world's biggest social challenges. Google.org will award $5 million across 10 organizations to help bring their ideas to life.
Between March 6 and March 28, Canadians are invited to visit g.co/canadachallenge to learn more about the finalists, and to vote for the projects they care about most. One winner will be chosen based on this public vote to receive a $750,000 grant from Google.org. The remaining winners will be selected by a jury during a live pitching session on March 30 in Toronto.
Daniel Morton is a volunteer for the organization.
By Jeremy J. Nuttall for TheTyee.ca
Residents of a small town in southern Quebec gathered Sunday to try and make sense of their hot spot status in Donald Trump’s new world order.
Hemmingford, Quebec is one of the few places in Canada on the front lines of an influx of refugees coming from the United States.
Representatives for police, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a group that helps refugees in nearby Montreal sat in front of a packed rec centre gym at an event organized by a local United church.
The town is near an increasingly popular place for refugee-status seekers to enter Canada without using a designated crossing. Doing so is illegal under the Customs Act. But if they were to cross into Canada at a legal crossing, they would be sent back under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugees to seek status in their first safe country of entry.
Some who arrive at Hemmingford are reported to have wanted to live in the U.S. but were denied status there. Others intended to end up in Canada, but entered the U.S. first because there they could obtain a visa more easily.
In Hemmingford last month, a photo was taken of a Mountie smiling as he held up a young child making her way into Canada with her family. Around the same time, other photos showed handcuffed refugees detained by Canadian police. Some are calling Hemmingford, population 808, a terminus in a new underground railroad.
As their home becomes known as a back door into Canada, Hemmingford residents Sunday displayed a relaxed attitude toward the situation, and many were at the meeting hoping to find out how they can help.
Happy to have them
Hélène Gravel lives at the end of one of the first driveways refugees pass after they cross the rusty gate and ditch near a white marker signifying the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.
The crossing sits at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, about 10 kilometres from Hemmingford, where Roxham Road crosses into the U.S. near Champlain, N.Y.
There’s no Statue of Liberty here, not even a plaque, just trees and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sitting in their vehicles waiting to arrest those crossing for breaching the Customs Act.
Gravel said it’s nothing new to see people crossing — she’s watched it happen for 20 years — but never like this.
“There were only a few people every year, but now it’s a lot every day,” she said.
Recently the Canadian government told journalists about 2,500 people crossed into Canada via Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. illegally in 2016, and since the beginning of this year alone there have been about 430 in those regions combined.
Almost 300 of those were in Quebec. Quebec borders have seen a 230 per cent increase in “irregular” border crossings over last January.
It used to be mostly young, single men who would cross, Gravel said. If they happened to see her they would ask if they had arrived in Canada. Now, she said, it’s families she sees being picked up by police and driven past her property.
She reckons many of them are leaving the United States fearing the Donald Trump administration as the president targets immigrants and refugees as a place to lay the blame for the nation’s woes.
Last Tuesday, during a speech to congress, Trump invited relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as guests of the address and launched a website listing “victims of immigrant crime,” despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.
On Monday, Trump announced tweaks to his travel ban after it was rejected by a judge last month.
But despite such moves by Trump and his loyalists, Gravel isn’t afraid of living metres from where these refugees come into the country. She’s actually tired of journalists knocking on her door asking her if she’s scared of them.
It is a bit too busy now though, Gravel said, stressing she’s happy to have the refugees come to Canada. She’s already lost one neighbour who no longer comes to his vacation property because the idling police vehicles and crossing refugees have become too much of an intrusion.
“It’s just a quiet place, we are not used to so many people,” she said, explaining she hopes Canada doesn’t establish any permanent processing centre at the crossing. “I live there because it’s quiet.”
Outpost for world’s troubles
It is indeed quiet.
Driving into Hemmingford is like entering a village arranged by a devoted collector of Lilliput Lane housing figurines.
Tall — but not too tall — hardwood trees hug the gutters of the road, giving way to gently sloped grass fields and carefully manicured properties.
A public outdoor skating rink slowly succumbs to the unseasonably warm March temperatures on the cusp of town. Residents stop reluctantly at the town’s lone blinking stoplight at its busiest intersection.
This is rural Quebec; a place for cows, apple cider and comfortable fall fashions. It’s not supposed to be a place where frightened refugees trudge their children across snow in biting cold fleeing a country threatening to send them back to places filled with violence and poverty.
Now Hemmingford has become connected to the world’s troubles as millions of people from places like Somalia and Syria roam outside their countries looking for help.
At Sunday’s rec centre meeting, experts explained why people are coming to Canada, more specifically, why they are coming to this tiny nook of the world.
It’s a matter of geography, RCMP Const. Marcel Pelletier told the crowd at the Hemmingford rec centre. Pelletier said it’s an easy place to cross, but most people using it are bound for places like Toronto, which is obstructed by the Great Lakes.
So, refugees make their way to Roxham Road instead, he said.
There is concern more people could make the trip as the weather warms and how Canada would handle a major influx, and what it would do with the people arrested after crossing.
Canada does hold some refugees, even refugee children, in detention centres, a practice Amnesty International has asked Ottawa to end.
Back at the rec centre, about 150 people who live along the road and in the area were more concerned about helping the refugees than keeping them out of the country or locking them up.
One asks Pelletier if it’s legal for her to feed or shelter people who have crossed illegally. He replies that he’d rather she call the police first.
Others are there to help in a joint letter writing exercise to Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, asking him to rescind the U.S.’s designation as a safe third country.
That would mean refugees wouldn’t have to cross a ditch and rusty gate to enter Canada. They could ask for protection at a legal border crossing and not risk braving the elements to cross in places like Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
Among the audience on Sunday, knitting a scarf in the third row as she listens, is Jeanine Floyd, who immigrated to Canada herself from the United Kingdom years ago.
She remembers when crossing into the U.S. at the end of Roxham was child’s play for local kids.
“They would go down to the end of the road on their bicycles and they would dare each other to cross,” Floyd said. “This was the most exciting thing that would happen on Roxham, actually crossing the border to America.”
Now the border marker represents something other than fun and games as residents in the area worry about the suffering of those making the journey to the Canadian border.
They want to offer more than meaningless gestures to these people, Floyd says, suggesting that’s why people came together in Hemmingford Sunday.
“I think it’s just that pressure of wanting to fix it,” she says. Her tone goes dour. “We can’t fix it.”
by A Special Correspondent in Montreal
A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities.
“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.
1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?
We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.
2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?
For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.
In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.
3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?
This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.
What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.
4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?
The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.
5. What policy implications do these findings have?
In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.
For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.
6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?
This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!
More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant
by Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
The Trump campaign’s symphony of bigotry has vibrated through the Conservative Party leadership race as two of the candidates choose markedly different paths to victory.
While Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch applauded Trump’s victory and pushes screening new immigrants for “anti-Canadian values,” former immigration minister Chris Alexander is marking his turf as a candidate who would let immigrants in and keep Trump’s style of politics out.
Alexander lost his seat of Ajax-Pickering in last year’s election, but said he remains committed to politics.
Speaking to The Tyee during an hour-long interview in Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport before grabbing a flight to Winnipeg for a campaign stop, Alexander explained not only why Leitch’s plan is flawed, but could ultimately hurt Canada.
“You only get great results from immigration and integration when there is trust,” Alexander said. “We have relatively high levels of trust and that is one of the most precious assets we have.”
Canada is built on a unifying narrative about immigrants’ importance, he said, and the shared reality that it is a nation of people who arrived from other countries — aside from Indigenous peoples.
A divisive campaign framing immigrants as potential threats could damage that trust and the benefits it creates for the economy and society, he said.
Alexander said elements in the Conservative Party embracing Trump-like rhetoric don’t recognize the differing challenges and attitudes in Canadian and American societies.
Leitch is echoing Trump’s approach, Alexander said.
Leitch, a medical doctor and professor, congratulated Trump on his win, calling it an “exciting message” and suggesting Canada needs to oust “elites” from the halls of power. The move sparked rebukes from former students and even her former press secretary.
Leitch has said she doesn’t endorse Trump. But her proposal to screen potential immigrants for “values” and her vitriol against “elites” has resulted in criticism she’s attempting to follow Trump’s path to victory.
Leitch, like Trump, has also lost support from the party establishment. And last week she left a leadership debate at the last minute, saying she needed to deal with “threats” and a possible break-in at her Creemore home.
Alexander said Leitch’s tactic of claiming the immigration system is weak and a threat to Canada is “unfair.”
And her plan, which would include a face-to-face interview for all immigrants, refugees and even visitors, would cost a fortune, he said. Immigrants alone account for up to 300,000 people a year, he said, and having enough staff overseas to interview each one would be hugely expensive.
And the money would be wasted, Alexander said, because people who really are a danger to Canadian society are not going to be honest.
He said the current measures — background checks, a review for possible terrorist connections and merit-based admission — work well and are admired by much of the world.
“We do that better than we’ve ever done it and you can see the result,” Alexander said. “I don’t think you can point to a lot of high-profile crimes, and certainly not terrorist attacks in Canada, recently that go back to immigrants.”
But last year, in the federal election campaign’s homestretch, Leitch and Alexander stood side by side to announce the Conservatives’ plan for a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline.
The plan to create a tipline for people to call if they suspected neighbours of activities like forced marriage brought accusations of racism and opponents attacked the Conservatives mercilessly on the issue.
Leitch, then minister for the status of women, said she regrets taking part in the announcement.
Alexander said Saturday that he wishes the Conservatives had run a different campaign.
And he said that even though he was immigration minister, he only found out about the hotline plan an hour before he announced it at a press conference.
Alexander still insists the intent of the plan was to deal with acts like forced marriages.
Alexander also acknowledged what he now calls a “meltdown” on a CBC news show when he tried to blame the media for the Harper government’s limp response from the government about the refugee crisis.
The government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis became a major issue in September after photos of the drowned body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach sparked a global outcry for Western nations to accept more refugees.
Alexander said he cared deeply about the plight of refugees and had suggested the Conservatives announce plans to increase the number of refugees admitted to Canada within 48 hours of the Kurdi story breaking. Then Conservative leader Stephen Harper had announced an increase in refugee admissions from 10,000 to 20,000 in August. Alexander says his suggestion of a further increase was not accepted.
Instead, the Conservatives committed to speeding up refugee applications and an increase after the election.
Alexander took most of the flak for the government’s refugee decisions. A year later, up against the public’s memory of the election, he said wants to build his campaign based on the trust he says is so important to Canada’s functioning, not just on immigration but on other policies.
Meanwhile, Leitch told a Toronto radio station last week she isn’t concerned racists may be supporting her campaign.
Leitch said she isn’t a racist and is delighted so many people were supporting her candidacy.
“There have been some people that have obviously become upset because of these ideas I’m putting forward, but I’m going to continue to talk about them,” she told AM 640, saying polls show a majority of Canadians agree with her.
Later in the week Leitch condemned the appearance of anti-Chinese posters in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond as racist and against Canadian values.
Alexander said there is no list of Canadian values to use in screening immigrants. (Though Leitch has assembled her idea of Canadian values on her website.)
Values are individual and the most important one is respect for the law, he said.
Leitch will not likely be persuaded to change her views, Alexander said, dismissing the suggestion she was merely taking her positions to generate media coverage.
“She’s a person of integrity and I don’t think she’s going to come out and say things she doesn’t believe in,” he said, noting he considers Leitch a friend.
But he said Leitch is likely being “brought” to believe they are sound policies by her campaign team. The team is centered around Nick Kouvalis, who ran the campaigns for both Rob Ford and John Tory when they were elected mayor of Toronto.
Leitch is a frontrunner in the crowded leadership race, polling as high as 20 per cent support.
Alexander said the best way to respond to her policies is by not engaging and remaining adamant Canada is “in a different place” — though he worries a weak economy could lead to a populist Trump-style movement.
“Let’s have policies and let’s have debate that actually are inclusive and focus on issues that actually matter,” he said, pointing out Leitch’s views on immigration are opposed by most of the 12 Conservative leadership candidates.
“We’re going in other directions and I think that’s the mainstream conservative and mainstream Canadian approach to immigration.”
Republished with permission from The Tyee
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit