MONTREAL — Stephen Harper's response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria has been weak and rules that are in place make it almost impossible to sponsor a refugee, Green party Leader Elizabeth May says.
May said in Montreal on Friday that if people want to know why very few refugees have been accepted, they should have a closer look at the rules in place and "try to imagine how you could sponsor a refugee."
She described it as a bureaucratic bottleneck.
"We need to get back to the kind of country we were where we welcomed people and we didn't allow a humanitarian crisis to be wrapped up in red tape," May said.
She said as an MP, she has dealt with people trying to get out of Syria. She recalled one story she says has haunted her from a family fleeing the war-torn country and getting all the way to the gates of the Canadian embassy in Beirut, only to be turned away by security.
"These are people who are desperate to save their own lives and they are turned away and running out of funds waiting in Beirut," she said. "They end up driving back into Syria."
Harper has defended his policy this week on accepting refugees, adding Canada is prepared to accept more refugees from the Middle East. But he has also said military action is key to helping peoples' lives in the region.
Earlier Friday, May met with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a former Liberal immigration minister, who suggested the political parties put the election on the back burner for a few days to focus on the crisis unfolding overseas.
For his part, Coderre said Montreal is ready to welcome Syrian refugees and he's asking the federal government to put a special program in place to bring them to Canada.
"It's not about what should have been done, it's not about pointing the finger, it's not about getting involved in the election and scoring points," the former MP said.
"It's about a crisis and finding a way to settle it."
On Thursday, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the province has accepted 643 Syrians since the beginning of the year and expects 1,900 by the end of 2015.
Couillard said the province is prepared to do more and ready to host "hundreds or thousands" of new refugees.