CNS photo/S. Sabawoon, EPA

Stick to the plan

  • November 19, 2015

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have sparked inevitable security worries and calls to slow down the plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end. That would be a mistake. The murder of at least 129 innocents in Paris underlines precisely why a massive refugee airlift is commendable and so urgent.

The type of horror inflicted on Paris streets (and a few days earlier on Beirut) is familiar to thousands of Syrian refugee families that have lived it first hand or experienced it through third-party accounts as they fled in fear for their lives. That’s not to diminish the killing and grieving that shook Paris. In the words of Pope Francis, the bloodshed was “an unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person.” But it’s an affront that has been violating innocent Syrian families repeatedly for almost five years.

In the wake of the Paris attacks Justin Trudeau reaffirmed the government’s resolve to resettle 25,000 refugees by Dec. 31. It’s the right call. The challenge now is to stay on schedule while simultaneously addressing an angst about security. Those concerns aren’t new but they were heightened by the discovery that one of the Paris gunmen entered Europe cloaked as a Syrian refugee. If it happened there, it will happen here, goes the argument.

Absolute security is impossible to guarantee, but even if terrorist infiltration has a thread of plausibility that fear shouldn’t stall Canadian rescue plans. That would only embolden the terrorists. Any time fear prevails, they win. It would have been a betrayal of Canadian compassion and values if the Islamic State, regardless of its arsenals, had caused the government to rewrite its timelines.

Even before the Paris massacre, refugees applying to Canada underwent thorough risk assessments, security checks and visa interviews. Those will continue, perhaps bolstered now with added resources and more emphasis on “thorough.” Canada can — and should — reject anyone who raises the slightest suspicion and move on to the next case.

Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where Canada is focusing its refugee efforts, have about 3.5 million displaced Syrians. That’s a huge pool of desperation, not terrorism. Canada is offering safe haven to less than one per cent of those people. Tens of thousands of them are Christians, Kurds and Yazidis, safe bets all. Then there are huge numbers of Muslims who reject radicalization and have been forced to flee. Proper screening will eliminate anyone who remotely fits the profile of a terrorist sympathizer.

This is far different from what Europe faced when hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived en masse by land and sea at its borders. One of them ended up in Paris with a gun and suicide vest. He showed no mercy. Canada is right to show the opposite.

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