"No one is illegal."
"Feel warm with our love."
These were some of the signs seen at a demonstration in downtown Hamilton Saturday, one of the many rallies in dozens of communities across Canada that call for an end to the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe.
From Victoria to Fredericton to Inuvik, local groups have planned marches, protests and candlelight vigils to support the refugees and migrants fleeing war-torn Syria and other conflict-ridden countries.
Under the banner of "Refugees Welcome," many of the rallies are taking place during the Labour Day long weekend, with others scheduled later in September.
"These are collective acts of protest against the atrocities that we are seeing overseas and the lack of care and compassion that Canada, the United States and Europe are showing to the refugees," said Blake McCall, a member of Sanctuary Hamilton, a local migrant advocacy group that organized the Hamilton rally.
Toddler's photo a pivotal point
What galvanized the cross-country mobilization, McCall said, is the powerful photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose tiny, lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach on Wednesday.
The toddler, along with his brother and mother, drowned while trying to flee from the Syrian civil war, after their boat capsized on its way to Greece.
It was learned that Alan's aunt lives in B.C. and has applied to sponsor the family of one of her brothers — Alan's uncle — to come to Canada as refugees, but the application was denied due to incompletion, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has since halted his re-election campaign to return to Ottawa to focus on the crisis.
Despite the family's link to Canada, McCall said, it is difficult to assign blames to a specific person or department. However, it does highlight the government's inaction.
"We can say that the Canadian government is complicit in their role of creating refugees, their role of not supporting refugees, and their lack of ability to bring them here," McCall said.
Hot-button election issue
The same photo that made international headlines has also suddenly shifted the focus of the federal election campaign. The cross-country rally aims to make sure the conversation continues, McCall said.
In a campaign event in Laval on Sunday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau proposed a meeting with all party leaders to discuss the crisis. He also said that Canada should resettle at least 25,000 Syrian refugees, a figure that his party has reiterated in recent months.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, called for the acceptance of 10,000 refugees by the end of 2015, in addition to fast tracking private sponsorships and continued resettlement for the next four years.
The Conservative government announced in January that Canada would resettle 10,000 more Syrian refugees over the next three years in response to United Nation's request to increase admission numbers.
Whatever the number determined by the government, it is still "a drop in the bucket" compared to the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced, McCall said. The government also needs to focus on the root cause of the crisis, he said.
In the wake of the photo, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper also said refugee policy alone is "not a solution," adding that Canada must also contribute military aids to "fight the root cause of the problem and that is the violent campaign being waged against these people by ISIS."
In additions to government actions, residents can also play a role in solving the crisis, McCall said. If and when the refugees arrive, local residents have a responsibility to create a safe and welcoming space for the newcomers.
To find a Refugees Welcome rally near you, take a look at the Facebook event page here.
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