POLITICS

Chris Alexander Halts Election Campaign Amid Syria Refugee Crisis

09/03/2015 07:50 EDT | Updated 09/05/2015 05:59 EDT

One high-profile Conservative candidate has "temporarily suspended" his election campaign and will return to Ottawa to focus on ministerial duties amid the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander made the announcement Thursday shortly after cancelling a planned appearance on CTV's Canada AM.

His decision comes after reports that a relative of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian three-year-old found washed up on a Turkish beach and shown in photos that stunned people around the world, had appealed to Alexander for help in bringing the family to Canada.

Alan's mother, Rehan, and five-year-old brother Galib were among at least a dozen migrants, including five children, who drowned Wednesday when two boats carrying them from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos capsized. The father of the children, Abdullah, survived.

In a statement to media, Alexander said the "tragic photo" of Aylan and news of the death of his mother and brother "broke hearts around the world."

"Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS," he said in the statement.

Alexander said he will meet with officials to "ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis."

Incumbent NDP candidate Fin Donnelly told The Ottawa Citizen he hand-delivered the "family's file" to Alexander on behalf of the boys' aunt, Tima Kurdi, who lives in the Vancouver-area.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada says it received no refugee application from the father of two drowned Syrian boys. It did, however, receive an application for Abdullah Kurdi’s brother, Mohammed, but said it was incomplete and did not meet regulatory requirements for proof of refugee status recognition.

Trudeau: 'You don't get to suddenly discover compassion'

When asked about Alexander's decision to halt his campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was blunt.

"You don't get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign," Trudeau said at an event in Brossard, Que. "You either have it or you don't."

As some candidates teared up behind him, Trudeau said Aylan and Galip Kurdi should be preparing for a school year in Vancouver with their cousins right now instead of "reminding us all that Canada, over the past years, has failed to be the country we imagine it to be."

Trudeau criticized Alexander's decision as "disingenuous" and a "convenient" one, considering the public backlash.

He urged the Canadian government to "step up" its response to Syria's refugee crisis, and added that the country must "immediately" open its doors to 25,000 refugees in the coming months.

"What is lacking now is political will," he said.

Too easy to assign blame, Mulcair says

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair became highly emotional Thursday and fought back tears while discussing the crisis, calling it a collective failure by the international community.

"As a dad and a grandfather it's just unbearable that we're doing nothing," he said.

Mulcair said Canada must immediately take in 10,000 refugees, as the United Nations has asked. But he largely held his fire when it came to Alexander, saying only that the minister has some questions to answer.

The NDP leader said that while it is "too easy to assign blame," what is needed now is action.

He said the image of Aylan on that Turkish beach brought back memories of an iconic photo from the Vietnam war of a young girl escaping a napalm attack.

"There are images that define an era," he said.

Alexander shot down for ‘completely false’ statement

During a Wednesday taping of CBC’s Power & Politics, an exchange between host Rosemary Barton and Alexander became heated during a discussion about the Syrian crisis

When asked if Canada plans to increase its involvement in the crisis, Alexander sidestepped the question. He praised the Conservative government for being at the “forefront” of response efforts — despite offering comments suggesting hesitation in stepping up humanitarian efforts.

Alexander was called out by Barton for countering his own point. The Conservative candidate responded by criticizing the CBC’s coverage of the Syrian war.

“I’m actually interested in why this is the first Power & Politics panel we’ve had on this,” he said. Barton knocked down his claim as “completely false.”

“If you want to avoid the question, let’s just be clear that that’s what’s happening,” she said.

Alexander's full statement:

The tragic photo of young Aylan ¬Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world. Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS.

Canada has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world. In fact, Canada resettles more than one in ten refugees world-wide.

Prime Minister Harper has set a target for Canada to accept 23,000 Iraqi refugees and 11,300 Syrians. Of that number Canada has already resettled nearly 22,000 Iraqis and 2,300 Syrians. The Prime Minister also recently announced that a Conservative Government would add an additional 10,000 persecuted ethnic and religious minorities from the region.

I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis.

With files from The Canadian Press

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