by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Canada’s role in the Syrian refugee crisis came to the forefront during the election campaign and has since dominated conversations here and abroad.
The MacDonald-Laurier Institute held a lively debate in Ottawa Monday evening where Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and columnist David Frum considered the motion: Is mass resettlement to Canada the best thing for the country, and the best thing for Syrian refugees?
Former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken moderated the nearly two hour-long debate, which was held at the Canadian War Museum.
May and Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, both expressed concern with the term “mass resettlement.” May, who began with a 20-minute address, said she is “ambivalent about the motion I have to defend because it’s very hard to say mass resettlement is the very best thing for Canadians and for refugees.”
Frum later agreed that “mass” would imply accepting millions of refugees – not thousands.
Despite this agreement, there were fiery exchanges throughout the evening.
Pointing to Canada’s involvement in Libya, May argued that if Canada had an obligation to go into Libya and protect its citizens from Muammar Gaddafi – why not Syrians from Bashar al-Assad?
“We do have an obligation to do something for Syrian refugees and I support our government’s increasing willingness to accept 25,000 refugees initially, and more later,” she said.
May argued that we can’t ask Syria’s neighbours – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt – to take even larger numbers of refugees, because they’re already overflowing. She also made the economic case for accepting refugees, because fertility rates are down, and, historically, refugees don’t have trouble finding employment.
May stressed the moral responsibility of accepting refugees and said Canadians willingness to help has reminded us who we are.
Frum’s arguments against accepting mass amounts of refugees – notably not what Canada has done – invoked both economics and fear.
Because of social media, he said, it’s hard for Canadians to think of Syrian refugees in a detached way. But, Frum argued that because we can establish emotional connections from across the planet, we can’t think of these issues abstractly.
Everything true about Syria was true before that boy washed up on the beach, said Frum, referencing the horrific image of a drowned Alan Kurdi from September 2015 that spurred global outrage about the refugee crisis.
Frum also suggested that Syrians aren’t educated, noting that before the civil war most Syrians only completed six years of education. An audience member identifying himself as a Syrian-Canadian told Frum during a question and answer portion of the debate that this was a misconception. But, Frum insisted, because Syrians are under-educated that makes them hard to employ.
Frum also addressed issues many have with female authority figures.
“If you can’t take orders from a female superior, you’re not going to succeed,” he said, adding that a number of people arriving from North Africa and the Middle East “can’t do that.”
“Canada is an amazing place, but it’s not a magical place,” he said.
Possibly the most polarizing comment from Frum, however, was that it’s not actually the first wave of Syrian refugees Canadians have to worry about – it’s their children.
He talked about how the screening process is ineffective for security reasons, and how even if it wasn’t, there still isn’t a delinquency screen.
Frum suggested that 2015 was a year where anti-Semitic hate crimes reached great new levels in Europe. He suggested attacks against Jewish people and gays and organized sex attacks increased significantly, especially in France.
In her rebuttal, May said she didn’t come across any research that linked Syrian refugees to anti-Semitism, arguing “there’s no real evidence from anything I can find that Syrian refugees are responsible for anti-Semitic acts in France.”
Frum said the anti-Semitic acts in France are not the work of people who are arriving in the present flow of migrants, but rather of the children of people who arrived from Algeria.
May returned to Frum’s concern about the children of immigrants becoming juvenile delinquents in her closing remarks, making a link to the U.S. Presidential campaign.
If that’s the case, she said facetiously, conversations may need to be had with Donald Trump supporters about how to raise their children.
Frum concluded by saying that May likes the number 35,000 Syrian refugees, which is a bit on the high side for him but is by no means a massive resettlement.
In the end, the audience decided that mass resettlement is bad for the country and bad for refugees.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.