Immigration Minister Chris Alexander hangs up on As It Happens
Minister says he was rushing to question period at the time
Canada's Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, facing a series of tough questions about how many Syrian refugees have made it into the country, hung up on Carol Off, the host of CBC Radio's As It Happens.
The As It Happens interview with Alexander began with a discussion of immigration reforms contained in Bill C-24, something Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati had criticized on a previous show, before moving on to questions about Syrian refugees.
"What has happened to the 200 government-sponsored refugees from Syria that you've committed to bringing into Canada?" Off asked Alexander, noting it's a question the show has been trying to obtain an answer to for months.
Alexander responded by saying around 1,150 Syrians have received "Canada's protection," before adding that the government expects to surpass its commitment to bring in 200 sponsored refugees.
When asked where the 200 refugees are, however, Alexander did not give a firm answer. Below is a transcript of the exchange between Off and Alexander:
Chris Alexander (CA): "I have to go to question period."
Carol Off (CO): "You must tell me please before you go, how many of the 200 government-sponsored refugees that you've committed to bring to Canada are here in Canada now?"
CA: "We have had referrals for well over that number."
CO: "How many of the 200 sponsored have you brought to Canada?"
CA: "Why is that the only question that interests you?
CO: "Because you won't answer it, that's why it's interesting."
CA: "You want the one question I won't answer because it changes every day."
CO: "Well how many are here? We've been asking this for a year now. We've been asking you and Jason Kenney. How many of them are here?
CA: "And I'm telling you 1,150 refugees have received Canada's protection. Why isn't that an answer?"
CO: "But they're not in Canada. How many of them have come to Canada?"
CA: "The vast majority of them are in Canada. They are asylum seekers. Do you not have the decency and the politeness to admit that when these numbers change every day, I can't give you the precise number as of this day in June 2014. I can tell you we are well beyond the number of applications we expected to receive last year."
CO: "The last time you got a number, how many…"
CA: "I'll phone you back and talk to you more about it, but I find your line of questioning… [phone line appears to go silent].
CO: "Would you just please call us back and tell us how many of these 1,150 refugees are in Canada."
Following the abrupt end to the interview, As It Happens tweeted about the incident.
Alexander sent a tweet of his own, saying it was the first time a journalist had made him late to question period.
Alexander called As It Happens back later in the afternoon, but told Off he could not give her an exact number of how many Syrian refugees had made it to Canada. He said the 1,150 he quoted was "the more important number."
After the interview aired, Alexander said it was "unfair" and "unprofessional" of As It Happens to not mention the call ended because he was heading to question period. As It Happens did, in fact, read Alexander's tweet on air.