France's ambassador to Canada is blunt: The pushback against plans to resettle refugees after last Friday's Paris attacks is, he says, a "mistake" and "an intellectual aberration."
Resettling Syrian refugees helps France and other countries in Europe and elsewhere cope with large numbers of displaced people, Ambassador Nicolas Chapuis said, and is part of the global struggle against the Islamic State (IS).
"Refugees – that's part of the Syrian war," Mr. Chapuis said. "These people are fleeing the same enemy. So let's be coherent."
Since Saturday, Mr. Chapuis has insisted that France is not upset that Canada's new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, plans to withdraw Canadian CF-18s from air strikes against the Islamic State. France hears Mr. Trudeau saying he's committed to the fight and believes Canada can "bring added value" in other ways, Mr. Chapuis said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
But he expressed dismay at the backlash against Syrian refugees.
"It is a mistake. It is an intellectual aberration. Seventy-five per cent of the refugees are women and children. Have any of the [IS] attacks involved a woman or a child? No," he said. There may be Islamic State infiltrators to the West, but that would happen without refugees, he said.
In Canada, some politicians have raised qualms about the Liberal government's plan to resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, though prominent skeptics such as Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall have criticized the pace of the planned resettlement, not the principle of accepting Syrian refugees.
There has been sharper pushback against Syrian refugees in the United States and Europe. Reports that one Paris attacker carried a Syrian passport that was used by someone who landed in Greece fuelled concerns about potential Islamic State infiltrators, but French officials have suggested the passport might have been a forgery.
Mr. Chapuis said he believes the Islamic State – he calls the organization Daesh, a pejorative Arabic term – is engaging in propaganda to encourage Westerners to turn their backs on refugees.
"When people knock at the door and seek your help, you open the door. It's basic human feeling," he said.
"And then, you find yourself in a situation where the perpetrators were not refugees, they were foreign fighters, indigenous French citizens, dual citizens sometimes, who went down to Syria to train to fight, and who came back. No refugees there. Then you have one passport, out of hundreds of thousands of refugees coming to Europe, possibly a forgery, possibly planted."
Mr. Chapuis has surprised some by insisting France does not object to the Canadian plans to withdraw from air strikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. French President François Hollande declared war on IS, and has called for a "grand coalition," including both the United States and Russia. But France's ambassador insisted Mr. Trudeau's pledge to quit the strikes but stay in the coalition, and do more in other areas such as training ground forces, is not a withdrawal in the eyes of the French.
"We are confident that Canada is within the coalition, remains within the coalition, and will in fact bring more added value, considered relative to its own capacities," he said. Six Canadian fighters aren't the only possible contribution, he said: "We bring an aircraft carrier. The U.S. has many planes."
France does not see Mr. Trudeau's plan to quit air strikes as a symbolic retreat at the wrong time. "It's not at all that way that we look at what Canada intends. His cabinet was elected on that platform. Remember when other governments were elected on withdrawal from Afghanistan? And they did it. That's part of democracy," he said. "So we understand that."
Despite that, there is no doubt France is trying to move the world to a unified effort, symbolically and practically, including a strengthened UN Security Council resolution. It hasn't invoked NATO's mutual-defence provisions, but Mr. Chapuis noted there is already a larger anti-IS coalition, including Arab nations.
And Mr. Hollande has pressed for Russia to work in concert with that coalition, even though Western allies have complained that Moscow's main goal is to support the Assad regime in Damascus, and its willingness to fight the Islamic State is unclear. "So let's clarify," Mr. Chapuis said.