Syrian refugee backlash 'un-Canadian,' says former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh

B.C. Premier Christy Clark's suggestion that Syrian refugees might receive a "warmer welcome" in smaller communities in Northern B.C., has triggered a backlash online.

Premier's suggestion Syrian refugees move north has triggered an angry backlash online

Syrian refugees waiting to be registered in Serbian town in September 2015, may be some of the more than 2,400 people to start arriving in B.C. in December. (Santi Palacios/AP)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark's suggestion that Syrian refugees might receive a "warmer welcome" in smaller communities in northern B.C., has triggered an angry backlash online.

"This is absolutely un-Canadian for these petitions to emerge," said former B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh to CBC, condemning the online comments and warning those using threats that they may face police.

"If there is a threat to do harm to, I think that is possibly a hate crime," Dosanjh added. "Please don't do this. It's absolute hate, and hate poisons societies."

Dosanjh lauded Clark's suggestion to resettle refugees in smaller northern B.C. towns.

Clark told media on this weekend that she believes refugees will get their best start in places like the Peace region, where she says "they've got almost zero unemployment and the cost of housing is a lot lower."

"Sometimes settling in a smaller community is a much warmer welcome," she said. "So let's … encourage them to go to communities where they will have the best chance of success, the warmest welcome, and the best chance of making sure that they can find work and afford a home."

Not all welcoming

But not everybody was rolling out the welcome mat after hearing Clark's comments.

The MP for Prince George-Peace River says he'd like to see the process slowed down. Bob Zimmer has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Given the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, many constituents have reached out to me to express their concern with bringing such a large number of refugees into the country in such a short amount of time," he wrote.

"We are concerned that with such a tight timeline, proper and thorough security and health checks will not take place. I am also deeply concerned, along with my constituents, about our ability to assist these refugees once they have arrived in Canada."

One online petition calling for a referendum on the issue was launched by Bailie Copeland-Hambrook of Fort St. John, and was quickly filled with comments from people opposed to Clark's plans.

"After the attacks in Paris, obviously you don't know where this stuff is going to happen, you don't know where it's going to come from," Copeland-Hambrook told CBC.

Copeland-Hambrook and others expressed concerns about refugees taking jobs from local people, especially with the current slump in the oil and gas industry.

"It's going to be a fight for work. I don't know if they'd be able to get jobs because we know everybody, that's how you get your jobs up here," she added.

We have to understand, [the Syrian refugees] themselves are victims.- Delta Imam Balal   Khokhar

Some who posted on the petition offered veiled threats of violence, urging refugees to settle elsewhere.

Despite the threats, others applauded the idea, and agreed with the premier's plan.

Elilssa Meiklam says her friends are preparing to welcome refugees in Prince George.

"I had all sorts of people offering clothing, furniture, places to stay. I think it's really encouraging. Prince George is an incredibly welcoming place. Anyone coming here is going to be overwhelmed by the response."

Bracing for backlash

Meanwhile Muslim leaders in B.C. have been bracing for the backlash, that many expected after the Paris attacks.

"We have to be very careful that we ourselves don't become like those extremists and say no we don't want those refugees in this country," said Imam Balal Khokhar of the Baitur Rahman Mosque in Delta.

He condemned the violence in France as anti-Muslim, and urged people to beware of blaming all Syrians for the acts.

"We have to understand, [the Syrian refugees] themselves are victims. Just because of course it is such a horrific thing that has happened in Paris. We can't overreact, and then do away with innocent people and say no we don't want them in our country."

With files from Betsy Trumpener


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.