We recently saw the first planeload of Syrian refugees disembarking in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in top form for the occasion, welcoming them with an embrace. "You're home," he said. "Welcome home."
It marks a tangible outcome to months of talk and promises that began early in the election campaign. If all goes to plan, the PM will preside over 10,000 entrants before the year's end, and 25,000 by the end of February. Canada is being lauded internationally with very little downside and, I may as well be clear, with very little risk to the country itself.
From a PR perspective, it has been a master-class in how to help in a crisis from far away. Last summer, while almost all western countries -- even Germany, which will end up taking many multiples of Canada's number -- were dithering over how many more refugees they could accept, the Liberals made the solid promise of 25,000 by the end of the year.
It sounded incredibly generous at the time, it sounded impossibly ambitious -- to many people it sounded impetuous and reckless. These initial feelings have carried over as Canada looks set to deliver something that looks a lot like what the Liberals initially held forth during the campaign.
Due to the heated political atmosphere from which the initial promise emerged, with Trudeau's Liberals keen to position themselves in stark contrast to Harper's Conservatives, I feel that the massive attention this has garnered from both sides -- both of acclaim and censure -- has been greatly exaggerated. With all the rhetoric from proponents and opponents, we forget that this is a simple act of charity. This is the level at which we should congratulate ourselves and, crucially, also the level at which this simple gesture should be defended.
First off, I don't think it's as big a deal as many of us are making out. When you consider that there are currently over four million Syrian refugees out there and many millions more in reserve, one can be forgiven for seeing our 25,000 as a drop in the bucket. But it's something, and will certainly mean a lot to those 25,000 people. Canada is no Germany as measured in generosity, nor a Sweden, either; but compared to the U.S. and even the UK, our country is doing more than its share of the lifting.
So, pat yourself on the back if you're Canadian. "You" have agreed to accept a grateful 25,000 people into your midst. In all likelihood you will never meet them or anyone who has met them. Think of it as a donation to charity on your behalf.
"If we can make life better for however many people without breaking a sweat, why wouldn't we?"
Your gesture involves the even increase of the country's population by an increment that its economy routinely takes in its stride. The population grows at roughly 0.1 per cent per quarter in any case, chiefly through immigration, and this is around half of that.
Aside from tempering an unjustified self-importance, this more measured perspective is also useful for defending our charitable gesture in the first place: if we can make life better for however many people without breaking a sweat, why wouldn't we?
Sometimes, I can't tell whether those who say they're afraid that we'll let terrorists in among the refugees are really worried, or using it as an excuse for anti-immigrant sentiment.
Don't get me wrong: terrorism is a real threat to us, to our economy, to our way of life. And vigilance is important, our duty, especially in light of recent attacks in Paris, the downed Russian airliner over Egypt and even the haphazard attacks in Canada in October 2014 that killed two soldiers.
The shooting on Parliament Hill, like the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Ramming Attack, were terrorist acts committed by unhinged Canadians. They made us feel unsafe as we felt that there was nothing we could have done to prevent them. The perpetrator in the ramming attack was even known to our security services, but he had his rights, as we all do, and could not be simply sent away on police suspicions.
More broadly, we cannot possibly subject every Canadian to close scrutiny, to database searches and security interviews; we don't even do this much with our many millions of visitors each year. But we can and are doing this with the Syrian refugees.
25,000 is a large number of people, but we can look at each of them closely. The heads of the RCMP and CSIS have made themselves personally responsible for the security checks that are being conducted on everyone, all under the gaze of continued global media attention. They assure us that we're not randomly opening a gate at Syrian International Airport for Refugees and shipping the first 25,000 who make it through. No, these will be among the 25,000 most heavily scrutinized people in Canada.
Nevertheless, opening our doors to these people will continue to be treated like a huge deal, in particular, I suspect, by critics south of the border. The best answer is the truth: that we could do more and we could do less. Right now, we're doing what we can easily handle.
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