Acts of terrorism as brutal as those that recently shook Paris and Beirut spawn fear, chaos and distrust. They are intended to shake our resolve and challenge our values. But they also give us an opportunity to recommit to what we believe in.
This past week has been one of great sadness and loss, but we should not be overwhelmed by tragedy and fear. We should recognize our strength and look for support in the strength and determination of others.
Syrian refugees are not agents of terror, but its victims. Long before bombs and bullets shattered the peace of Paris, Syrian refugees in the millions were forced to flee their homes and their country in the face a brutal and deadly onslaught – in some cases by the same groups claiming responsibility for the attack in Paris.
Canadians by the tens of thousands recognize the plight of the Syrian refugees and are determined to help them. What happened in Paris won\’t change that. We do not have to choose between security and compassion. We can and will have both. It\’s an important part of who we are as Canadians.
In the tumultuous aftermath of the Paris attacks it is worth remembering the following points:
- There is a difference between the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have entered Europe with virtually no screening and the Syrian refugees who will be resettled in Canada. Canada is selecting refugees from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey who have been screened by the UNHCR, Canadian visa officers and the Canadian security establishment.
- Refugees undergo vigorous screening by the UNHCR before being referred to Canadian authorities. Interviews are conducted by Canadian visa officers, biometric screening is done to confirm identities, and international data bases are checked. Canadian security agencies, including the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP, are all involved. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS director Michel Coulombe have both said they are confident all necessary security clearances can be completed by the end of the year.
- In the UNHCR referral process, the most vulnerable refugees — women with children, large families with young children, those with disabilities or medical conditions, the elderly, — are given priority in resettlement.
- Most refugees awaiting resettlement in Canada have been in camps for as long as four years, living in deplorable and often hostile conditions. Resources are scarce; health care is limited; educational facilities for children are virtually non-existent. Any delay works against the security and well-being of these future Canadians, and exacerbates the suffering they have already endured.
- Providing a safe haven for refugees fleeing danger and oppression is a longstanding Canadian tradition. It is one of our core national values. To turn our backs on these vulnerable people, who are themselves the primary victims of the violence, would break with our own principles.
By helping refugees we keep alive the flame of hope. We will give them, and the rest of the world, a reason to believe in the future, by simply helping people make plans for a better life.