I decided to post this letter online, in addition to sending it to the addressees and my local MP, for three reasons. First, I had hoped to cc the Conservative Party Campaign, but have discovered that it is difficult to find specific e-mail addresses. Second, arguments that reflect on the refugee crisis and military intervention in Syria are not made as frequently as I would like, often remaining as isolated news items. Third, I think it is important that at times like these it be clear the type of information the government is receiving from everyday citizens. It is much harder to make political fodder out of the words of everyday citizens if they are publicly available.
Dear Prime Minister Harper and Minister Alexander,
I write this letter with deep concern about Canada’s policies related to refugees and military intervention. Over the past week, many Canadians have come to recognize the gravity of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. I have tried to understand your perspective on this issue and appreciate your desire to address the root causes. There are, however, three reasons that I cannot support your policies. It is my hope in writing this letter, that you will have a change of heart, following previous Conservative governments by opening Canada’s doors at this time of great need.
- Military intervention risks compounding the refugee crisis. This week all of our hearts were touched by the image of little Aylan Kurdi lying on that beach in Turkey. I appreciate that you do not think that our policies should be changed in the face of images like this. I want to draw your attention, however, to the fact that Canada’s coalition partners have been actively bombing Kurdi’s home city of Kobani for at least a year. I ask you to imagine your children living in this city when they were young, would these air strikes not also compel you to leave? Playing an active role in this conflict requires that we also deal with the consequences of our actions by opening our doors to those displaced by our own violence.
- Military intervention risks civilian casualties. Though every effort is taken to avoid civilian deaths in these bombing campaigns, images of the destruction alone demonstrate that this cannot always be possible. Indeed, one organization, Airwars, claims that since our bombing campaign began between 536 and 718 civilians have been killed. Just three days ago we learned that as many as 27 Iraqi civilians had been killed by a Canadian airstrike. In addition to the death of these men, women and children, what concerns me about this account is that the Pentagon has called into question our oversight measures. Given that we apparently have a “no-civilian-casualty policy,” you can imagine that both these deaths and our military’s failure to adequately investigate are highly alarming, especially in light of your focus on continued military involvement in this conflict. At the very least our involvement in these incidents, and the role that they may play in encouraging someone to abandon their home, should encourage us to create more generous refugee policies.
- Recent changes to Canada’s refugee policies need to be rescinded. Although I appreciate that you think your refugee related policies are strong and that we need to stay the course, many Canadians have been deeply concerned about this area of public policy for years now. In addition to citizen protests and letters, which are longstanding, last year the Federal Court of Canada ruled that your government’s policy of denying refugees health care amounted to “cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is unclear to me why then Minister Alexander, rather than taking this critique to heart, decided to openly appeal the case. Clearly, given the damning moral implications of this court ruling, a change in policy is necessary.
I trust that when laid out like this, you can see why I have concerns with your government’s leadership on this issue. In the face of this mounting crisis, Mr. Prime Minister, I am asking you to take a leadership role by following your predecessor Prime Minister Joe Clark when he welcomed the Vietnamese boat people. Please open Canada’s door to significantly more refugees at this time of pressing need. Furthermore, in the wake of Minister Alexander’s embarrassing performance on this front, especially in regards to refugee health care and most recently – on Wednesday – in his interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC’s Power and Politics, it is fitting for this minister to step down from his office. I ask that if the minister is unable to arrive at this decision himself, that your office be moved to encourage him in this direction.
Mr. Prime Minister, though we are in the midst of an election, you remain the leader of this country. In that capacity, you still have the power to make an important intervention in this crisis. You have the ability to make sure that the right people are in the right place to make the right decision. In sending this letter, I hope that you will begin to surround yourself with people who can think a little more deeply than the us versus them approach your government has taken on this issue. Though I do not support your emphasis on military intervention, you are right that this situation requires more than just the welcoming to Canada of large numbers of refugees, but additional action need not encumber such a policy. The time of need is now and your action must be urgent and swift.
Sources cited in this letter:
- Attacks on Kobani:
- Civilian casualties:
- Critiques of Canada’s refugee policies
- Minister Alexander’s Incompetence