Chris Alexander defends Canada's refugee response, blames media for ignoring crisis

Amid what has been called the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, the immigration minister says Canada has taken in "approximately 2,500" Syrian refugees to date.

Immigration minister says media have overlooked crisis

Minister accuses media of ignoring refugee crisis

8 years ago
Duration 1:38
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander fires back when asked about government's commitment to refugees

Amid what has been called the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, the immigration minister says Canada has taken in "approximately 2,500" Syrian refugees to date.

"The numbers grow quickly through private sponsorship and government assistance. We also have brought over 20,000 Iraqi refugees," Chris Alexander said on CBC's Power & Politics Wednesday. 

The plight of Syrian refugees was brought into the spotlight Wednesday after a picture of a drowned child circulated on social media. The boy was found lying face down on a Turkish beach. It is believed he was three years old. Turkish media said his mother and older brother also died trying to reach Europe.

The interview with Alexander took place before it was reported late Wednesday night that the toddler's family had been seeking refugee status in Canada. Alexander was not immediately available early Thursday morning to comment on the revelation. 

More than four million refugees have fled Syria since the crisis began in 2011. There are also more than seven million internally displaced people within Syria. 

Ontario NDP candidate Paul Dewar told Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton that the Conservative government's policies have been a catastrophe.

Migrants from Syria queue for a bus in a village near Presevo, Serbia last week. The issue of what Canada should do to help alleviate the crisis of refugees and other desperate migrants in Europe was raised on the campaign trail in Canada Wednesday. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

"They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to actually admit 1,300 refugees," he said. "They couldn't tell us for a full year … how many refugees had come. At the same time Germany, Sweden, other countries were taking in tens of thousands."

Former Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum called the Conservative response to the Syrian refugee crisis a "total disgrace," and made the comparison with Progressive Conservative leaders Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney who McCallum said were part of a tradition of Canadian generosity to refugees. 

Last month the Conservatives pledged to bring in an additional 10,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq if re-elected.

Syrian refugee advocate Alexandra Kotyk, who launched Lifeline Syria this summer, says Canada isn't doing enough.  

"Canada has before, and can again, do more," she said. Lifeline Syria is a project that aims to bring 1,000 Syrian refugees to the Greater Toronto Area over the next two years.

Minister accuses media of ignoring crisis

Alexander, who has served as immigration minister since July 2013 and is running for re-election in Ontario, accused CBC News of ignoring the Syrian refugee crisis. 

"I'm actually interested in why this is the first Power & Politics panel we've had on this," he said.

Alexander went on to say that "the biggest conflict and humanitarian crisis of our time has been there for two years, and you and others have not put it in the headlines where it deserves to be."  

Barton noted later the subject had been discussed at least 32 times on Power & Politics, including in interviews with Alexander. As a minister, Alexander was not allowed to appear on panels.

Watch Chris Alexander debate Paul Dewar and John McCallum in the player above.