The Syrian refugee tragedy becomes a political battleground -

The Syrian refugee tragedy becomes a political battleground

After crisis meetings, Stephen Harper makes the crisis part of his campaign. Paul Wells reports from B.C.


“Obviously today there’s a little bit of different circumstances,” Stephen Harper said.

We suspected as much. The Conservative leader’s planned morning announcement at a sprawling and spice-fragrant Fruiticana warehouse was cancelled. Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister’s spokesman, had spent an hour on the phone while reporters waited for word about what the day would entail. Everyone knew the topic.

“It really is on the big story that I know we’ve all seen,” Harper said when we finally got to the warehouse. “Yesterday Laureen and I saw on the Internet this picture of the young boy, Alan, dead on the beach.” The invited Conservative crowd that had assembled for whatever announcement Harper had originally planned to make looked on sombrely.

Related: His name was Alan Kurdi

“The first thing that crossed our mind was remembering our own son Ben at that age, running around like that.” I thought his voice caught here. “It brings tears to your eye. I think that is the reaction of every parent … It truly is a heartbreaking situation.”

Here, Harper’s remarks took a turn. “What I want to say, though, is this. I don’t need to tell you what we saw yesterday was a tragedy. What I need to tell you is that it is far, far worse than that. Far worse.”

Related: For the record: Stephen Harper on Syrian refugees

Harper said he had been to refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq where “I have seen tens of thousands of people in these desperate circumstances. And there are millions more in exactly the same situation. There are in fact tens of millions of people — not in the refugee camps — but tens of millions of people whose lives have been affected by what is going on in that part of the world in a way that is catastrophic, that has put their very survival on a day-to-day basis in jeopardy.”

The question was what to do. “Our country has the most generous immigration and refugee system in the world. We admit per capita more people than any other.” But “refugee policy alone is not remotely a solution to this problem. It is of a scale far, far beyond that. That’s why we have been one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid.”

But refugee policy and aid weren’t enough either, he said. Here he echoed remarks he has made every time he was asked, including yesterday in North Bay, Ont., before the story of the Kurdi family tragedy broke. “We are also doing what we have to do to try and fight the root cause of this problem. And that is the violent campaign being fought against millions of people by ISIS. That is why we are part of the international military coalition.” Here the invited guests applauded.

Related: Our primer on defence spending, among other major election issues

Harper continued, and here he said things that are difficult to square with the record. “A few days ago I met with the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church. He was visiting us from Damascus, Syria. That is where he actually still lives. And look, what they all tell you is this, friends. They all tell you, ‘We’re honoured, we’re delighted, we’re relieved when we see some of our people coming to this country. And we appreciate the humanitarian aid you deliver to us… But more than anything, we need to be in a situation where people are not attacking and trying to kill us. We do not want to pick up our entire communities, hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and move them out of a region where they have lived for as long as history has been written.’ They do not want that. They want us to help them. That is why we provide refugee placements, friends, that is why we provide humanitarian aid to these millions of people, and that is why we are part of the international military coalition taking on the so-called Islamic State.”

The plain meaning of Harper’s words was that Mor Ignatius Aphrem, the Syrian (or Syriac) Orthodox leader who was in Ontario and Quebec recently, supports armed intervention against ISIS. If so, that would be a recent and startling change in his position. In an interview two months ago, he said, “We are not asking the West for military intervention to defend Christians and all others. We are asking them to stop arming and supporting terrorist groups that are destroying our countries and massacring our people. If they want to help, they should support local governments…”

Two weeks later, he said, “This injustice, which is against the heavenly and human laws, will not compel us to ask for Western protection or help.” And days ago in Markham, the patriarch made similar remarks.

After Harper’s remarks, reporters asked their questions. I asked one. For the most part the answers did not add much to the PM’s remarks, except in the degree of his fervour. “We need to help people who are actually there and can’t get away,” he told the CBC’s James Cudmore. “And part of the way we need to help them is to stop the awful violence that is being directed at them, displacing and killing them.” More applause from the invited crowd.

“And I do not know how, for the life of me, you look at that picture and you say, ‘Yeah, we want to help that family but we want to walk away from the military mission that is trying to prevent ISIS from killing tens of millions of people.’ I don’t know how, for the life of me, you reach that kind of conclusion. We’ve reached the conclusion that we should be doing everything, we are doing everything, and we will do more of everything. That’s our conclusion.”

Several hours later, during a brief stop at a horse farm in Delta, B.C., Harper delivered a version of his standard cheerful and combative campaign stump speech that included a new segment, an abridged version of the remarks I’ve just described. He knows military action must be part of the solution, he said. His opponents have no clue.

I admit I was surprised. The Conservative leader has decided—and it did not take him long at all to reach this conclusion—that his dispute with his opponents over the Syrian refugee crisis can be turned to his political advantage. We won’t have to wait long to see whether that instinct was accurate.


The Syrian refugee tragedy becomes a political battleground

  1. Every bomb that we drop creates more refugees and more terrorists.

    Bombing isn’t the solution – it’s the PROBLEM!

    • Julie,

      You are not too bright. Dropping bombs on the guys who are killing innocent people IS the solution. The problem is, we are not dropping enough of them. I suspect that the EU and other nations will eventually see that the ONLY way to really put a stop to this crisis is to put “boots on the ground” and grind these ISIS barbarians into the dirt….and then piss on the wet spot.

      the Islamic fanatics commiting these acts must be eliminated. Totally. Completely. No Mercy, and no compassion. Kill them all.

      • And every time we drop bombs on them the cell phones come out and film the dead and dying women and children. These images are uploaded and work to bring in the next generation of soldiers ready to join the cause. I can’t help but think that we do exactly what they want us to do and that rutted minds will continue to do so ad infinitum.
        The world has changed James and when you can’t control the media and the message, subsets of unintended consequences flourish everywhere.

        • DAMAN…

          You TRY and drop bombs on the bad guys…..sometimes you take out the innocent; but that has alays been the case. As for the next round of folks picking up guns and joining ISIS………easy fix. We can make bombs faster than they can make Jihadi’s.

          Bombs alone won’t do it……we need ground troops, and a will to crush Jihadi’s without mercy. Just keep the “media” and the lawyers away…….it will go much easier.

  2. So the PM wants us to look at this terrible refugee story and think… we need to vote Stephen Harper because only he will keep up the bombing campaign? Won’t people want something a bit more responsive to the refugee problem? I would have thought a practical person would not presume to know the root causes of the fighting in Syria and Iraq. I thought a practical down to earth sort would stick with things we can do – like at least take a few more refugees?

    • Fred28… are of the same view as Mulcair and Trudeau.

      Mulcair uses dead children to score cheap political points, but then turns around and states he would do EVEN LESS to stop the crisis as he would stop trying to defeat ISIS. He will just take in all of its victims.

      trudeau….his grand plan was to send them coats to keep them warm in their refugee camps. Or at least, that is the plan his handlers told him to spout off about. He wants to take in tens of thousands of refugees as well.

      Harper – wants to stop the reason we have so many people leaving the area.

      which idea makes more sense?

      Frankly, Fred…..if we were to put your views into an anology format, it would look something like this.

      “The plug in my boat has come out, and water is gushing in. Must bail…must bail……must bail….need bigger bucket to bail…need bigger bucket to bail….”

      You miss the easiest solution however. You should have just put the plug back in to stop the water from getting in the boat in the first place.

  3. Some gentle construction, dear scribe. Hard core poli-junkies absorbed the lion’s share of this post live on newsnets. Your value-add is a laser scalpel peeling away rhetorical fat to reveal the strategist’s sinew tugging at voters’ psyches. I know, Paul, you are a deft surgeon. Dig deeper. Put your back into it.

    • Deeper. Did Paul really fall for that fake catch in the throat and actually mentioning the name of his nearly grown up kid.
      A phony moment poorly carried off, then on to bomb, bomb, bomb.
      Mulcair referred to HIS role as father in dignified way, and then looked and acted like a world statesman on the issue, not a crass retail talking point politician like Harper.
      Trudeau’s smart aleck quip about discovering compassion although true didn’t sound very prime ministerial.

      • J.W.

        Anyone who saw that on TV knew it wasn’t fake. Nor was it fake when the PM had a similar emotional display during the apology to first nations folks for the residential schools.

        As for trudeau’s comment……to me it looked like he already had this line ready prior to the camera’s being switched on. I’m sure his handlers told him what to say, but they left it up to the DRAMA TEACHER leader to pause at the appropriate time and in the appropriate tone. Anyone who watched trudeau could tell it was an act, just as they could tell is wasn’t really very good acting. (that’s what happens when the journalists travelling with you love your hair and smile and don’t want to present any questions that may cause you trouble)

        • By your omission I guess you’re acknowledging which guy would appear more statesmanlike and represent Canada in a way that creates pride and it’s not the crocodile tears/segue war mongerer Harper, overseer of our decade of darkness.
          I was surprised at the dignity and perfect pitch on the tragedy we saw from Mulcair.

          • I omitted Mulcair….because he’s very “ommittable”

            I’m still waiting for him to say even ONE THING that is honest and truthful. He just keeps spouting off the same BS every speech. when he comes up with something new, (and factually correct) then I’ll listen.

  4. The patriarch’s message seems to be: we can live with Assad’s repressive but secular government, but any western intervention that strengthens anti-Assad forces increases the likelihood of a fundamentalist government (like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) hostile to Christians and other minorities. In the first link given above, he proposes that Western states “support local governments, which need sufficient armies and forces to maintain security and defend respective populations against attacks.” He’s clearly opposed to Western intervention that benefits anti-Assad, anti-ISIS groups (and perhaps he’s afraid that any Western intervention will lead to that), but he might appreciate anti-ISIS intervention that doesn’t hurt Assad. His comments from the last link suggest the importance he places on stopping the growth of ISIS. Harper’s comments don’t necessarily seem to me to be a misrepresentation of the patriarch’s views.

    • Update: In a Montreal Gazette piece today (, the patriarch said he was “saddened by seeing some politicians using the tragedy, especially the tragedy of this little kid, for their election campaigns, to attack each other.” He also said, in reply to a question about the bombing campaign, “if you want to treat an issue, you have to treat the cause of it, and that means you have to be more serious about going after these terrorist groups.” Both of those points seem like a balanced assessment.

  5. So the guy who mocked Trudeau for committing sociology when he wanted to examine the “root causes” of terrorism after the Boston marathon now wants to deflect our attention away from the humanitarian tragedy of refugees to look, instead, at the “root causes” of the problem, i.e., (in his world view) terrorism.

    And this same guy, who believes in de-regulation in the world of business and banking, is apparently indifferent to the snarl of red tape in which his government enmeshes refugees seeking sanctuary in this country.

    This a word for this kind of “flexibility”: Harpocrisy.

    • NeuroticDog….

      ISIS is not a ROOT CAUSE of the mayhem and murder. IT IS THE CAUSE of the mayhem and murder.

      root cause: – child growing up in poverty, ignorance, and a violent household…because violent himself.

      Not a root Cause: – Thousands of jihadi’s invading the land and chopping the heads off its citizens, burying their kids alive, crushing heads with stone blocks, throwing gays off buildings, blowing heads off with detonation cord. ISIS is not a root cause of this mayhem. It is the symptom. The root cause of this barbarism, is Islam.

      • Ah, no.
        Not only is ISIS not the root cause of the violence in Syria, they’re aren’t the greatest perpetrators of it either.
        The latter honour goes to the Assad regime who are responsible for 6 or 7 times more death in the past year than ISIS. And of course ISIS only came into being after Assad ramped up his murder and mayhem.

        I know you’ve been informed of this previously and anyone who is paying attention know this, so it’s pretty strange to lie about it. Don’t you think the negatives of being another lying Harper supporter outweigh whatever positives you perceive should result from actually fooling anyone?

        • Tresus, you again misinterperet what you are reading.

          I never said ISIS was the root cause of the violence. I was referring to the “root cause” of the Syrians fleeing Syria. I am well aware that Assad is killing more than ISIS, but if you think ISIS wouldn’t kill more if they could, you are wrong. Assad is dropping barrel bombs on schools and hospitals; and now, he has the Russians helping him. Things are about to get even more interesting, and we are soon going to be seeing even more people fleeing.

          As for Syria…hmm…pretty sure it is an Islamic country as well. though, to be fair, it seems to be the non-muslim’s who are singled out for the harshest type of punishment and barbarism.

          Which of course, is why Canada is placing priority on the non-muslim’s fleeing the region. they are at the greatest risk.

          • ” IT IS THE CAUSE of the mayhem and murder. ”

            “I never said ISIS was the root cause of the violence. I was referring to the “root cause” of the Syrians fleeing Syria.”


            And, again, ISIS is not the ‘root cause’ of Syrians fleeing the country. Syrians were not fleeing the country before Assad began barrel bombing and laying siege to Syrian cities. However, they were fleeing the country before ISIS got involved.

  6. Bombing ISIS positions in Iraq is not going to stop a civil war in Syria. Hell, bombing Syria itself won’t stop the civil war. Western “Boots on the ground” might do it for a while, but there is (thank goodness) no appetite for that after Iraq.

    I suppose you could try to find a faction to support, but the only sides left standing in the conflict are the unsavoury Assad regime and a bunch of insane Islamists. The last time Western nations waded into this mess, they funded “moderate” rebels who ended up defecting to the Islamists, only prolonging the conflict.

    When it comes to humanitarian action, letting more Syrians come to Canada is more effective, less destructive, and cheaper than yet another military campaign.

    • Bombing ISIS positions in Syria won’t stop a civil war between Assad and rebel groups, but it might limit the damage to civilians if (as it seems to me is the case) ISIS is more destructive than either Assad or rebels.

  7. Even I am amazed that Harper could show such insensitivity as to move into heightened levels of war mongering rhetoric at this time. A mere moment of reflection then on to agenda of war.

  8. “And I do not know how, for the life of me, you look at that picture and you say, ‘Yeah, we want to help that family but we want to walk away from the military mission that is trying to prevent ISIS from killing tens of millions of people.’ -Harper

    Let’s get one thing straight: Bashar Al-Assad caused the refugee crisis in Syria, by bombing and killing his own people. ISIS has occupied Syria as a result. So why in the hell does Harper keep saying that ISIS is what’s causing people to flee in the first place? Assad has killed 4 times as many innocent people as Isis has (in Syria), to date. If we want this bloody war to end, we have to be willing to stand up and take down Assad. Carpet bombing innocent people is NOT a viable solution, plain and simple.

    • Putin is backing Assad. Are you willing to go to war against Putin? He is building a military base in Syria. Things are complicated….not simple.

  9. Secretly; Joe Oliver has been sent to Turkey to see how best to get a number of thousand Syrian refugees into Canada as we did with the Vietnam refugees 30 years ago.
    As reported, Canada has received well over 120,000 refugees in the last 10 years…second only to the USA.
    Well done.

  10. The nations in the world have failed to solve the problem of ISIS Islamic state aggressively as a result all nations in the west are facing the Muslim INVASION TO THE WEST !! This is strategically planned by ISIS and all Islamic nations so in couple few years all these nations in the west will have some thing called HOME GROWN TERRORISM. US ( boston bombing , 911 etc ) france ( Charlie hebdo etc ) Canada ( train derailment that was caught by Canadian security) UK ( has lots of examples)all are an example. These refugees are like parasites that will suck up all our taxes and bomb OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS in near future, ISIS WILL BE ACTIVE IN OUR NEIGHBOURHOOD COMMUNITY. Canadians need to get out and vote for their own SECURITY first . NDP AND LIBERALS are demolishing Canadian military !!!!!!!!!!! and inviting these Trojan horse ( REFUGEES ) which will invariably put all Canadians at risk of just not their own life but the welfare of WHOLE CANADA at large !!
    For election we Canadians should focus on canadian problems and not make the refugee issue as a sole seat winner for either candidates. These Syrian or ISIS have rapped hundred’s of young girls and daughters ,beheaded numerous innocent lives what about them are we not responsible , are we trying to invite more problem by not screening them , is our security not imp first . who knows ISIS guys are not coming , they sure are .