Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.
Do the math: Canada has a compassion problem.
The Syrian-Iraqi refugee crisis is one of the worst of our lifetimes, and the numbers and practice of how Canada is responding are so confusing that it's drawing no public engagement. What we do know is that 1,100 Syrian refugees have been allocated to be sponsored by the end of this year in Canada through 85 "sponsorship agreement holders." Immigration Canada has yet to respond to an appeal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for 100,000 Syrians to be resettled, and there is no numerical plan yet in place for how Canada intends to respond to this crisis in 2015.
In Parliament, no one seems to notice that while we posture over military action, our moral leadership is muted. Gone are the days when MPs of all stripes jockeyed to address human suffering. In 1979 and 1980, the plight of many hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asian "boat people" refugees was near the top of the agenda, and Canadians responded by sponsoring almost 70,000, winning the UN refugee agency's Nansen medal for our efforts. But today, while more than three million Syrians languish in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, nobody is debating in Parliament how many we'll sponsor.
Martin Mark, of the Catholic Office for Refugees in the Archdiocese of Toronto, is one of the persistent ones with his numbers lined up, at least for now. For the entire archdiocese, the federal government allotted 130 refugees to be rescued from the genocide devastating Iraqi and Syrian Christians. After making a vociferous public attack on the red tape and delays in Ottawa, Mr. Mark told me last week that "A strange and wonderful thing happened – we got expedited, we got, like, miracle-fast processing for Syrians and Iraqis."
Don't expect the Catholics to be quiet for long. They would like to sponsor more, but have zero capacity left because the government isn't giving them any new cases. "You can imagine, we are one of the biggest sponsors in Canada and we can't even get a spot. Definitely we would like to take more," Mr. Mark said. He knows the media attention surrounding the Islamic State is a marketing moment, but concedes that compassion is not like a tap to be opened and closed – momentum has to be allowed to build through public messaging by government, communities and sponsoring groups.
There are more than 40,000 places of worship in Canada, and care for our global neighbours matters to them. But now is when we will find out whether these communities can put action behind their beliefs. Mark Blumberg of Global Philanthropy reports that faith groups have increased overseas aid philanthropy 300 per cent since the boat people crisis, but my guess is we may be sorely out of touch with what it means to bring a refugee crisis into our suburban and rural homes today.
"It's extremely provocative and it should act as a question to all of us as Canadians, as people of faith. The generous people who sponsored 70,000 refugees of the South Asian crisis still exist. That is still who we are, but the mean, nasty atmosphere that surrounds us now, that's also true," refugee advocate and author Mary Jo Leddy told us recently on Context TV.
"It has blinded us to the simple fact that these are our brothers and sisters," she added. "… When you see them face to face and they look you in the eye [and they say] please help me, you at that moment are summoned, and it may well be one of the most important choices of your life."