Refugee crisis: Mayors lead where Harper fears to tread in helping war victims

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The public in attendance at the Public Forum wanted Mayor Robertson to provide an even more aggressively worded motion to Vancouver City Council than the one he planned. As one speaker noted, the resolution needed to be “spiced up” — meaning it needed to point fingers at the federal government for not doing more.

Individuals who wish to sponsor refugees are encouraged to do so, but need to know that they are taking on a commitment for financial, social, employment, housing and other types of integration.

Private sponsorship is rewarding but not easy. This is why the government needs to take on the larger burden of settling refugees rather than downloading the burden to private groups.

The Public Forum was only a start. It will be interesting to see if the City of Vancouver itself commits funds and human resources to this issue so that overworked city staff do not have to take on this project off the sides of already full desks.

I suggest that the City of Vancouver appoint a position of “Refugee Coordinator,” possibly as a short-term position, to help co-ordinate this issue between various City departments and the public until a more long-term plan can be formulated.

The mood at the Vancouver Art Gallery rally and the Public Forum hosted by Mayor Robertson make it clear that the plight of refugees is not simply an issue that will disappear from the current federal election. ”Refugee” is becoming the word which is replacing” recession” as this election enters its middle stretch.

In light of this overwhelming public engagement, I am puzzled by the prime minister’s intransigence in not meeting and engaging the public and municipal and provincial leaders on how best to address the needs of these refugees.

Yes, there is an election going on and he has a message to deliver so he can be elected, but the public too has a message to deliver and a true leader should be adaptable to changing world events and priorities. Instead the prime minister is doubling down on not doing any more than he has announced and now plays the “security card” in the same breath in which he talks about the refugees. Refugees are framed as being potential risks to the security of Canada.

Harper appears to be creating a further cleavage between his traditional base of supporters who have a strong fear of refugees (heightened by years of Harper government fear mongering) and the Canadian public. In reality, it is possible to immediately fast track refugee processing AND to screen individuals who may fit a security risk profile. Why is this not being done?

Harper also raises the “flood gates” argument when he notes that we cannot take millions of refugees into Canada. In other words, Canada cannot take every one who needs help. In some ways this just reminds me of an old rhetorical trick where your opponent provides a solution much larger than the one you sought, simply to discredit your original argument. Well, Canadians are not asking to take all the refugees of the world. The current highest numbers being floated about are in the range of 25,000 to 50,000 refugees, not millions.

A leader, who does not lead, can soon find himself out of work. The public has a timely opportunity to make itself heard in this election and choose a leader who best represents them on the issue of refugees.

Zool Suleman, is a Vancouver Immigration and Refugee Lawyer. He has been the Chair (appointed by Mayor Larry Campbell), Co-Chair (appointed by Mayor Sam Sullivan), and Member (appointed by Mayor Gregor Robertson) of the Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration, for the City of Vancouver.

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