Conservatives rule out airlifts of Syrian refugees to Canada

Airlifting Syrian refugees en masse is not one of the measures Stephen Harper's Conservatives are contemplating as they prepare to announce new measures to expedite the process for resettling refugees to Canada, says Jason Kenney in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.

Refugees from ethnic and religious minorities to be given priority

Conservatives rule out airlifts to expedite resettling of Syrian refugees to Canada 2:04

Airlifting Syrian refugees en masse is not one of the measures Stephen Harper's Conservatives are contemplating as they prepare to announce new measures to expedite the process for resettling refugees to Canada, says Defence Minister Jason Kenney.

In an interview that aired Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Kenney ruled out the refugee airlifts proposed by the party's political rivals, saying it would be "imprudent" for Canada to do so.

"​The opposition parties who are talking about airlifting people out of the camps clearly do not understand the nuance of the situation," Kenney told CBC's Chris Hall.

Jason Kenney, who has served as defence minister since February, says that airlifting refugees with minimal screening would be 'terribly imprudent.' (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"The camps do not reflect the diversity and the complexity of the refugee crisis in the Middle East," he said.

"If you airlift people out of the camps, you're not addressing many of the most vulnerable. I'm not saying we won't take people from the camps, but the notion of taking only people from the camps and airlifting people with minimal screening is I think terribly imprudent," Kenney said.

Burning the midnight oil

A source who spoke to CBC News on condition of anonymity said immigration officials have been burning the midnight oil after the Conservatives asked them to come up with a range of options looking at how the government can better respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. 

Asked what Canadians could expect to hear from the Conservatives in the coming days, Kenney said, "Faster processing, an accelerated streamlined system and more support to get more people here quickly."

The government is also considering matching monetary donations earmarked by charitable groups to help with the crisis.

"That's certainly one of the issues that I know, that I suspect is being considered," Kenney said.

Conservatives will continue to prioritize the resettlement of refugees from ethnic and religious minorities, which Kenney said his government has deemed as "the most vulnerable."

"They are not typically in the camps because, by definition, they are minorities and many don't feel safe there," he said.

A re-elected Conservative government would admit 10,000 more Syrian and Iraqi refugees over four years. In January, the government announced it was planning to resettle 10,000 Syrians by 2017, in addition to its previous commitment to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014.

Opposition pushes for more

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who has said that an NDP government would pull out of the U.S.-led war against ISIS, reiterated Friday that an NDP government would sponsor 10,000 refugees by year's end and also appoint a Syrian refugee co-ordinator. 

A Syrian refugee woman holds a baby moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday. A refugee bottleneck on Greece's easternmost islands has eased after recent dangerous overcrowding, rescue agencies said. (Dimitris Michalakis/Reuters)

"We've got to be getting the best possible people on the ground, we've said it for some time now, get the best person in there as a co-ordinator," Mulcair said during a campaign stop in Edmonton.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau repeated during a campaign stop in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday that a Liberal government would continue to work with its allies in the fight against ISIS.

"That means continuing to work with international partners and pushing back against ISIS, that means stepping up our refugee and humanitarian support."

Trudeau has said the Liberals would immediately accept 25,000 Syrian refugees.

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