Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is insisting that while his government’s refugee policy focuses on the most vulnerable religious and ethnic groups, it does not do so at the expense of others.
Speaking at a campaign event in Richmond, B.C., Harper says Canada’s resettlement policy is focused on those minorities from Syria and Iraq that are being targeted by militants in the Middle East.
But he insists it’s not exclusionary, nor biased towards Christians.
He says Muslim minorities are also being targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS.
Earlier today, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau angrily denounced the Prime Minister’s Office for what he characterizes as politically motivated interference in the refugee application and approval process.
Trudeau says the PMO was making sure it could take political advantage of those families that were being accepted, something he calls “disgusting.”
He says a Liberal government would “absolutely not” prioritize religious and ethnic minorities.
“To know that somewhere in the PMO, staffers were poring through their personal files to try and see which families would be suitable for a photo-op for the PM’s re-election campaign, that’s disgusting,” he said.
“That’s not the Canada we want; that’s not the Canada we need to build.”
The Conservative government ordered a review of some cases this summer as a result of intelligence reports that warned of possible security threats.
“We prioritize the most vulnerable people in terms of our refugee acceptance policies,” Harper told a campaign event in Richmond, B.C.
“The minority religious and ethnic groups in the Syria and Iraq area are in fact being targeted by ISIS and its allies for extermination … it’s not exclusionary, but that is obviously why that is an important factor in making our refugee selection decisions.”
Those minorities “are not exclusively Christian by any means,” he added.
A CTV News report, citing unnamed sources, says the Prime Minister’s Office was actively discouraging the Department of Citizenship and Immigration from accepting Sunni or Shia Muslims.
Conservative Candidate and Transport Minister Lisa Raitt also defended the audit, telling CTV the audit was needed in order to stay in line with policy.
“Number one, that you are getting the most vulnerable refugees, the ones that are ethnically and religiously in the minority in that part of the world,” Raitt said. “And second, you have to make sure that officials are applying the filter with respect to security.”
Mulcair later told CTV that Harper should apologize for being “two-faced.”
“(Harper) stood there and emoted about that young boy (Kurdi) that we all felt so bad about,” Mulcair said, “when he knew he was taking steps to stop families exactly like that one from coming to Canada.”
Of the 11,300 Syrian refugees the government has committed to resettling since the start of the Syrian war, the vast majority are being resettled by private groups, mostly churches.
But the audit that was carried out in June focused only on government-assisted refugee cases, including those already in Canada and those still in the queue, forcing a halt to processing those files for several weeks.