A committee of prominent Canadians that includes Louise Arbour and Ed Broadbent is calling for an urgent, de-politicized response to the Syrian refugee crisis that would see Canada push for a ceasefire in Syria, cut its immigration red tape and send visa officers into the field to speed refugee processing.
The group, chaired by former immigration minister Ron Atkey, aims to provide the non-partisan advice that could enable Canada to more quickly welcome large numbers of Syrians displaced by civil war. Its stated aim is to admit "as many Syrians as possible as quickly as possible." It also calls for Canada to step up its diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire by convening an international peace conference that would work toward an enduring solution in the region.
"It's a cri-de-coeur that's coming out from many parts of the country," Ms. Arbour said. The former United Nations human-rights commissioner and chief prosecutor at the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, said she's not rosy-eyed about the prospect of a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war, but said Canada should lend its voice to the effort.
Mr. Atkey, who oversaw immigration at the time of the Vietnamese crisis of 1979 when Canada welcomed 60,000 refugees, said Canada should take immediate action to put visa officers into the field to evaluate and process refugee applications. It also needs to streamline its refugee process, he said, to give Syrians access to visas that would allow them to travel more quickly, rather than being stuck in a process that can take years to complete. Canada has responded quickly to previous crises, such as the exodus from Kosovo in 1999, he said.
"We hope that all of us will shout out loud that there is a way," Mr. Atkey said. "Social will creates political action and humanity wins."
One of the concerns that has been raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is that security screening of refugee applicants is necessary in a region that has been decimated by years of civil war, government-sanctioned atrocities and the rise of the Islamic State. Norman Inkster, a member of the committee who was RCMP commissioner from 1987 to 1994 and a former president of Interpol, said security screening is always an issue, but that it can be addressed. Mr. Harper has said Canada will take in an additional 10,000 Syrians over the next three years and said this week that new measures to expedite the process would be announced soon. The Liberals and NDP have both said they would take more refugees and do so more quickly.
The committee, which is calling itself Humanity Wins, is being convened by the Mosaic Institute, a think tank focused on harnessing Canada's diversity and global connections to foster peace. It said in a media release that it "stands ready to assist the government in revising its policies."