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Editorials Ottawa makes smart decision to slow arrival of Syrian refugees

John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, announce Canada’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees on Tuesday.

Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Breaking an election promise isn't generally considered a smart move, but the Liberal government showed sound judgment when it announced Tuesday that it will not meet its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31 for bringing in 25,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict.

Instead, Ottawa says it will bring in 10,000 by the end of the year and 15,000 more by the end of February. This is a more reasonable pace and means the job is more likely to be done correctly – so that 25,000 desperate people find sanctuary in Canada as quickly as possible while Canadians' security and health are protected.

It would have been madness to try to bring in 25,000 people in less than six weeks. The slightest appearance of chaos or mishap would have cast a pall over this much-needed humanitarian effort and possibly scuttled it. The Liberals have greatly reduced the chance of that happening now.

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The government is also wise to announce that many of the refugees coming by Feb. 29 – up to 10,000 of them – will be privately sponsored. Ottawa says it has thousands of applications from Canadians willing to take on this responsibility, and it makes sense to honour their generosity. Private sponsors put up thousands of their own dollars to house and help support refugees for the first year after their arrival.

Whatever number are privately sponsored, the government says it will still bring in a total of 25,000 government-assisted refugees over the course of 2016. Which means, in the end, the total number will be closer to 35,000.

Some of those additional refugees should be single, heterosexual men. One miscue in the government's latest plan is that it excludes men travelling alone. The current selection process will prioritize women at risk, families and people in the LGBT community. That's acceptable for now, but the government should let it be known that, in the long run, all are welcome here.

Overall, it appears this government has listened to critics who said it was moving too quickly, and to the officials in the many departments responsible for making this happen in an orderly fashion. Go ahead and knock them for breaking a promise if you must, but remember that the Liberals also promised to be responsive – and to base policy decisions on evidence, not partisan ideology.

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