Grand Forks, B.C., mayor apologizes for calling Syrian refugees potential 'terrorists'
Mayor Frank Konrad said Syrian refugees might be 'terrorists and pedophiles'
The mayor of Grand Forks, B.C., is apologizing for calling Syrian refugees potential "pedophiles" and "terrorists," but insists he is "not in any way a racist."
He responded after CBC News was shown a video of a public meeting held two years ago.
Watch the video
The meeting occurred at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, just days after the body of two-year old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach, which quickly became a central issue in a contentious federal election campaign.
The Kurdi family has since settled in B.C., making Canada their home.
The mayor argued against supporting refugees at the time.
"These individuals can come in as assumed refugees, but are, in fact, not. They could be pedophiles, [and] terrorists," said the mayor.
Coun. Colleen Ross, who had brought the motion and argued in favour of it, gave an exasperated "Oh wow," after the remark, but council did not ask the mayor to clarify or withdraw his statement.
Coun. Christine Thompson told the mayor she "appreciated" his comments.
But in the end the mayor got no support.
Konrad was the only councillor to vote against the motion.
The mayor's comments are "discriminatory and disappointing," said Amira Elghawaby, with the National Council of Canadian Muslims who watched the exchange recently.
The mayor, she said, is a "a public official who really should know better, and who should be weighing his words carefully, rather than engaging in fear-mongering and misinformation."
"The idea that there are specific security risks in the case of bringing Syrian refugees into Canada, versus any other population of refugees, is in itself discriminatory," she said.
Elghawaby also criticized council's silence.
"This is an example where even if you're listening to someone making any kind of racist comments, it's critical that people call that out immediately."
'I am not a racist,' mayor says
In an interview with CBC Daybreak South, Konrad apologized for his comments, saying that he was reflecting commonly held beliefs at the time.
"I am not, in any way, a racist," said Konrad.
"The intention [of my remarks] was not to offend anyone."
Konrad said his fears were based on media reports.
"There was a lot of propaganda going on at the time, and I think there was a lot of people misled."
But research in the past two years revealed that such fears were unfounded.
The government of Canada says it has a rigorous screening process for all refugees, Syrians included,
In 2015, Canada Border Services concluded that Syrian refugees posed a relatively low security threat, and 40,081 refugees have been accepted since then, according to the Canadian Immigration Services website.
A University of British Columbia study in 2014 found that immigration reduces the overall crime rate in Canadian communities.
But Konrad said it is important to keep his comments in context.
"Two years ago is a harsh element to be still judging on, because it's done. I've put it behind me, and I'm moving forward."