POLITICS

Chris Alexander Says He Was Called 'Baby-Killer' Because Of Syrian Refugee Crisis

10/27/2015 03:19 EDT | Updated 10/27/2015 03:59 EDT

The outgoing immigration minister who was involved in some of the most controversial moments of the election campaign says he was called a "baby-killer" because of Canada's response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Chris Alexander, who was handily defeated last week in the Ontario riding of Ajax, got some things off his chest in a scrum with Global News on Tuesday.

Alexander, in Ottawa to close his offices, said many issues related to citizenship, refugees, and immigration were turned to "pretty unpleasant purposes" during the marathon campaign that stretched from summer to fall.

"I mean, I spent two weeks being called a baby-killer by other MPs and people in the media," he said. "That was not pleasant."

Alexander was referring to the controversy over a Canadian connection to the photo of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi's lifeless body on a Turkish beach in September.

NDP incumbent Fin Donnelly pointed the finger at Alexander for failing to take action to bring the boy's family to Canada.

Donnelly said he hand-delivered a letter to Alexander in the House of Commons that made it clear Tima Kurdi, his constituent and Alan's aunt, aimed to sponsor the family, as well as the family of another brother.

Immigration officials later confirmed they received no application for asylum on behalf of Abdullah Kurdi, Alan's father. An application for refugee status on behalf of Mohammed Kurdi, Tima's older brother, was returned after being deemed incomplete.

The revelations sparked emotional backlash against Alexander, particularly online where one national columnist tweeted that she hoped the top Tory cabinet minister would be haunted.

Alexander told Global News the media has not adequately covered the Syrian refugee crisis. That was the same charge he made during an interview with "Power & Politics" host Rosemary Barton that turned testy after he wrongly claimed the show failed to cover the issue in the past.

Alexander told Global News he hasn't seen "one article" about the government's plan to bring in 23,000 Iraqi refugees.

"Instead, I still get people coming up to me and saying: Oh, you hung up on Carol Off," he said, referring to an incident last year in which he abruptly ended an interview with the CBC Radio "As It Happens" host after she asked about government-sponsored refugees.

"That's the story that people insist on telling. That we are cold-hearted Conservatives, that we've never done the right thing," Alexander said.

"And it's wrong."

No room for 'poison like that'

Alexander also addressed the controversy over Bill C-24, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. The controversial law allows the federal government to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason, or espionage. Liberals and New Democrats argued that those provisions create two tiers of Canadian citizens.

The law became a big campaign issue after the government revoked the citizenship of a "Toronto 18" terror plotter just days before the Munk foreign policy leaders' debate. Tories also released an attack ad targeting Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's position on C-24.

Trudeau and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper shared a heated exchange on the issue during the Munk debate.

But Alexander bemoaned to Global News that the campaign ended up talking about "second-class citizens," a concept he says does not exist in Canadian law and was turned into political hay by the Liberals.

"We did not introduce it to the debate. When it was introduced by the party that's now won the elections, we didn't counter it enough," he said.

"But it's painful to see people stoop to those levels and for it to go unanswered by the other political participants and by commentators and media. We don't have room in this country for poison like that."

Outgoing defence minister Jason Kenney also accused Liberals of running a "dishonest fear campaign" on C-24 with campaign literature that told new Canadians the legislation created two classes of citizenship.

But re-elected Alberta Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai told The Calgary Herald last week he always opposed the bill.

"I am one of the very few," Obrhai said.

Obhrai expressed those concerns to Alexander in the House of Commons in May 2014.

Though Obhrai said he agreed that citizenship obtained fraudulently should be revoked, he worried C-24 would treat "one Canadian differently from another Canadian."

He called on Alexander to address those concerns, and reminded the House that "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian."

Those words will remind some of a line Trudeau used repeatedly on the campaign trail, including his victory speech.

Watch Alexander's full interview below:

With previous files

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