by Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute
Outrage continues to mount in the wake of the tragic drowning of a three year-old Syrian toddler, Ayan Kurdi, his 5 year-old brother and their mother, refugees fleeing the war in their country, and in light of the ever increasing evidence that Canada has put almost impenetrable bureaucratic hurdles before those seeking refuge in Canada.
Much of the criticism has been deservedly laid at the door of the inept and grossly insensitive Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, who yesterday put his campaign temporarily on hold and flew to Ottawa. His stated reason was to address the immigration crisis, but it soon became clear that the real reason was to engage in largely futile damage control, in the face of the damning evidence that the Kurdi family had sought help from Canada – his help in fact – and had received none.
What is lacking to date is equal amounts of Canadian public and pundit outrage over Prime Minister Harper’s blatant attempt to change the channel by alleging that the real solution was not better Canadian refugee asylum procedures but increased bombing of Islamic State. Even if the military air strikes against Islamic state were proving effective, which anti-ISIL Coalition spokespersons admit is not the case, it would take a very long time to produce decisive results, thus doing absolutely nothing to help refugees fleeing the war and in desperate need right now and, in the meantime, creating even more refugee flows.
But even if increased military action against Islamic State were to prove effective in the short term, this still would do absolutely nothing to stop the flow of refugees fleeing bombings and other attacks from the other parties to the conflict in Syria, namely the Assad government on the one hand and the array of opposition forces, in addition to Islamic State, fighting against Assad on the other hand. Additionally, since Islamic State is the most capable force fighting against President Assad, one can make a strong argument that their elimination would lead to even more, not less, refugees fleeing Assad government bombings. If Harper is really looking for an end to the war, the answer lies where it always has, in a UN-brokered peace deal with Assad, however unpalatable that might be.
Prime Minister Harper’s assertion that the real solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is greater military action against Islamic State simply does not stand up to scrutiny. It is a diversion, a case of bait and switch, and the sooner he is called to account for it, the better.