CALGARY — Conservative Jason Kenney insists the federal government will soon release details on how it plans to accelerate the intake of 20,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees but warns there are security matters that take precedence.
The party dispatched Kenney, the defence minister, to respond to a number of issues as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper prepared for Thursday's leaders debate on the economy.
Kenney offered a spirited defence of the government's response to the refugee crisis amid calls that it needs to act faster and accept more people.
He said he has met individuals in refugee camps who told him they have relatives fighting a jihad against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"I do not mean to suggest for a moment that all or most of the people in the camps are connected to terrorist organizations or constitute a security risk but it is plainly evident that some do," Kenney told reporters in Calgary on Wednesday.
"It would be imprudent in the extreme to pretend otherwise, as Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau appear to be doing."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year and another 9,000 annually for the next four years. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has vowed to bring in 25,000 Syrians by the end of the year.
Kenney also rejected suggestions that Canada should consider airlifting people out of refugee camps since many minority groups are often targeted by militants and might choose instead to live in the slums or with extended family members.
He shrugged off advice from Rick Hillier, the former chief of the defence staff, who said Canada needs to do more and should bring in 50,000 refugees by year's end.
"People are picking numbers out of a hat," Kenney said in Calgary.
"At the end of a day, we have to have a manageable number so we can apply the appropriate screening and focus on the most vulnerable."
Kenney's comments come a week after Harper said the government will unveil "in the very near future" its plans to speed up the acceptance of refugees.
In January, the Conservative government announced it would accept 10,000 refugees over three years.
Since last month's election call, Harper has committed to open the country's doors to another 10,000 people over the next four years.
So far, Canada has resettled fewer than 2,500 Syrians.
But Kenney said the public needs to realize that Canada's admission of 23,000 Iraqi refugees over the last few years needs to be factored in to the total numbers as well.
"There's been a tendency not to report on the Iraqi refugees as though it's a separate issue. This is one big Middle Eastern refugee crisis. The two are totally interconnected and the 23,000 Iraqi refugees we settled in Canada almost all came from Syria and the civil war there," Kenney said.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who met with the other federal leaders Wednesday, said it's time for the federal government to get its act together on the issue.
"The federal government really needs to get its act together and we've got to get away from an auction on numbers of refugees and actually figure out what we need to do in order to bring more people here quickly," he said.
"Other countries have figured this out. I look to our federal government to provide leadership on this."
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