Volume 12 Week 5

Monday, Nov. 30


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Updated Nov. 19

Updated Oct. 1

Posted Nov. 26

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Orléans Ward
Bob Monette





Setting the record straight

Well that didn't take long. Within minutes of posting my last column calling for prudence in throwing open our doors to 25,000 Syrian refugees, I began receiving e-mails claiming that my suggested approach was heavy-handed and heartless.

In my defence, let me first say that I am not opposed to accepting Syria refugees into our country. Far from it. I believe we have a moral obligation to do so. But our government has the responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens and our communities, as well as doing whatever it can to help the new arrivals to succeed once they get here.

And while those two issues may seem mutually exclusive, they are not for no other reason than hey may both be compromised by the Liberal government's insistence to stick to an arbitrary target.

When I read reports by American officials that it takes 12-24 months to properly vet refugee claimants from wartorn regions, and that because of this, the United States is only accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, it should raise a red flag over the Liberal government's commitment to accept more than twice that number in just six weeks.

From a public security perspective, such a goal, however well-meaning and altruistic, can be compromised by an organization like ISIS if it is determined to plant operatives in coalition member countries like Canada.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not it's possible? The answer is absolutely. The next question that needs to be asked is whether or not it's probable? The answer to that question is highly debatable, but not likely.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us in the position that we should air on the side. Is there is even the slightest hint that a refugee claimant may have ties to ISIS, or is sympathetic to their cause, then they should be denied entry.

The truth is that 99.9 per cent of Syrian refugees who are fleeing their former country are trying to escape the same ISIS terrorists who want to spread jihad to western countries.

Which brings me to the refugees themselves. While the media loves to identify them with the same label, the truth is they are doctors, lawyers, teachers, bureaucrats and former business owners.

Five years ago they were earning a living and raising their families in neighbourhoods that were not that unlike Orléans. And then the civil war began, and in the midst of the civil war ISIS moved to establish a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq and all hell broke lose, turning lives upside down and forcing people who once identified themselves as doctors, lawyers, teachers, bureaucrats and business owners to take on a new identity as refugee.

Most is not all of these people still have hopes, aspirations and dreams to rebuild their shattered lives. We should feel honoured that they would want to do so here in Canada.

But if we accept them, then we must also accept the responsibility to help them in their pursuit beyond merely providing them temporary housing and a list of phone numbers to government and social service agencies.

If they were doctors, surgeons or nurses in their former countries then they should be tested and subsidized in their pursuit of getting licensed to practice medicine in Canada.

If they had other professional certifications in their former countries then we should subsidize them as well.

Setting a goal of 25,000 refugee claimants by the end of he year is counterproductive to the difficult task of effectively absorbing them in their new communities.

This may not be the most politically correct of statements, but there are housing projects in every major city in Canada that have a high percentage of residents who are the victims of past waves of refugee programs and whose children have been marginalized and who now feel disaffected through no fault of their own.

On a positive note we have learned from our past mistakes. The Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade has a Newcomer Settlement Program that will be tested in the weeks ahead. And the province has freed up $8.5 million to promote refugee sponsorship and ensure that immigrant and refugee serving agencies can expand services as needed.

One can only hope that some of that money makes it into the hands of our community resource centres which form the front line in helping new arrivals settle into their adopted communities along with their sponsors, assuming they have a sponsor.

Here in Ottawa, city staff recently tabled a draft budget that contains a 1.5 per cent funding increase for the community resource centres. That's not nearly enough for a group of organizations that have been understaffed and underfunded for years. It's especially not enough in light of the daunting task ahead.

So what I'm trying to say is that the government needs to be less fixated on trying to reach an arbitrary target, and more focused on helping the new arrivals attain the same hopes, dreams and aspirations that we all share while keeping us safe from the scourge they are escaping.

(If you wish to comment on this or any other View Point column please write to Fred Sherwin at fsherwin@magma.ca)

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