With a three-month deadline looming, the Liberal government is under mounting pressure to reveal its target and timeline to help Yazidi survivors of ISIS genocide.
Today, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose suggested last month's unanimous vote in Parliament to help women and girls fleeing sexual slavery and torture within 120 days could prove to be a shallow victory.
"Government officials have admitted they are only targeting 50 women and girls to come to Canada for safe asylum," she said during the daily question period. "These women deserve more than a token effort. Their lives are on the line."
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But Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum rejected that figure, insisting his department is working diligently to meet its mandate.
"We will certainly honour our commitment and my department is working very hard to devise a plan to bring in those who have suffered the atrocities of Daesh [also known as ISIS] within the time period prescribed by Parliament," he said.
Number in question
The number 50 that Ambrose cited had been mentioned by a Global Affairs Canada official during a meeting of MPs on the immigration committee Tuesday.
Emmanuelle Lamoureux, director of the Gulf State relations division, was among a lineup of witnesses from National Defence, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency answering questions on the complex security, logistical and legal challenges with the Yazidi operation.
Asked by Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel about whether the government had determined a target, Lamoureux said a figure had been discussed but it was the "prerogative" of immigration officials, who had testified behind closed doors, to disclose it. Upon further questioning, she mentioned the number 50 before she was interrupted by Liberal committee chair Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who reminded her that the immigration officials had testified in camera.
The context of the number 50 is not clear, since Lamoureux was unable to complete her sentence. McCallum's office would not provide any number, noting that operational security is paramount and that the plan will be revealed once it is finalized.
But Rempel jumped on the 50 figure, calling it "ridiculous" considering the government was able to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees in four months. She could not say what number, if any, had been cited earlier during in camera testimony.
"Considering the Germans brought in a thousand [Yazidis], 50 is inexcusable," she told CBC News. "I know there are more than 50 Yazidis who would jump at the chance of coming to Canada through this."
Rempel is dismayed the government has not yet carved out a plan nearly one month after supporting a Conservative motion to act within 120 days.
"It raises questions about how serious they are about actually filling the mandate put in place in the motion, and I think it also raises questions about their ability to implement it," she said.
The security and logistical problems are only part of the challenge; there are legal and diplomatic hurdles as well. CBC News has reported that the Kurdish regional government opposes any Canadian plan that would bring large numbers of Yazidis from northern Iraq.
The office of Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani issued a strongly worded statement to CBC, noting that Yazidis are an indigenous minority and the Kurdish regional government is "against any organized attempt to mass-migrate members of its community."
But Rempel said the political, logistical and security hurdles cannot prevent action to help desperate Yazidi women and girls.
"The reality is there are a lot of people who want to come to Canada," she said. "If they are admitted into Canada they have permanent residency status and they can go back if they choose."
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan accused the government of dragging its feet on a matter that should be of critical urgency. She said it appears that officials are "on standby" awaiting government direction.
"A month has already passed and it appears they haven't come up with a plan or at least a target, especially in northern Iraq," she said. "That is very, very troubling to me."
Because the situation is so volatile, officials need time to figure out how to address security concerns, Kwan said.
"As each day passes without that plan, the challenge of successfully bringing in as many Yazidi victims of genocide to Canada to be resettled becomes more and more difficult."
Unanimous vote on motion
The Opposition motion, tabled by Rempel and unanimously accepted on Oct. 25, called on the House of Commons to:
- Formally recognize that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people.
- Acknowledge that many Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive by ISIS as sex slaves.
- Support the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria report and take immediate action on key recommendations.
- Provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 120 days.