10/08/2015 10:34 EDT

Trudeau: PMO Intervention In Syrian Refugee Processing Not Surprising

It's more evidence of Stephen Harper's lack of transparency, the Liberal leader said.


VAUGHAN, Ont. — Secret interference from the Prime Minister's Office in the processing of Syrian refugee claims is another example of how Stephen Harper's government confuses partisan interests with those of Canada, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Thursday.

"Mr. Harper over the past 10 years has ... conflated the interests of the Conservative Party of Canada with the actions and role of the government of Canada, which is supposed to serve all Canadians," he said in Vaughan, Ont., where he made an announcement on transit funding.

Processing of some refugees was halted for several weeks in June after bureaucrats ordered a security review of Syrian refugee cases this summer. The order came after U.S. intelligence reports suggested refugees could pose a threat to that country.

No concerns were found and the process was restarted. Privately sponsored files were unaffected.

Thousands of Syrians have died trying to escape the fighting.

Trudeau said PMO officials had no business overruling trained immigration workers, interfering in what he called "important processes where lives are at stake."

He called it another example of the prime minister's staff acting behind closed doors to manage controversial files.

"There are very few people left in this country who are surprised when we hear reports of the prime minister and his office meddling in things in a political and a non-transparent way," Trudeau said.

A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told the Globe and Mail that the government was concerned about the integrity of the system and ensuring that security was not compromised.

The Conservatives have promised to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees by next September, as well as another 10,000 from the country, if they're re-elected.

Trudeau drew a parallel between the behind-the-scenes review of the Mike Duffy scandal, in which a senior staffer in the PMO secretly cut a personal cheque to repay the disgraced senator for money he was being forced to refund the public purse.

"One of the things that it underlies for me is that Canadians, regardless of who they vote for, which party they line up with, need to believe the Prime Minister's Office is there to serve them with integrity and with responsibility," Trudeau said.

Open government has been a recurring theme in Trudeau's campaign.

He has called the Conservative government secretive in its approach to the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. He has demanded greater transparency in discussing foreign military missions after a Canadian CF-18 was accused of causing civilian casualties.

He has promised to beef up the offices that oversee Parliament, such as the parliamentary budget office — a promise echoed by New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair.

Trudeau was campaigning north of Toronto in the riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge — won in 2011 by high-profile Conservative Julian Fantino — to outline his party's plans to spend $2 billion to improve GO Transit.

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