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A man holds a poster with a drawing depicting a drowned Syrian toddler during a demonstration for refugee rights in Istanbul, Turkey on Thursday.

Osman Orsal/Reuters

In the emotional and fast-moving aftermath of the world-wide publication of photos of a drowned little boy washed up on a Turkish beach, at least one thing has become clear: Canada has not responded as well as it could have to the Syrian refugee crisis that led to Alan Kurdi's death.

Syrian civilians are trapped in a horrific civil war now in its fourth year. The country is extremely unstable and dangerous, its people squeezed between the Assad regime and the Islamic State. More than nine million Syrians have been displaced, including close to four million who have fled to neighbouring countries. Many of those are now trying desperately to get to Europe, or to find refuge in countries that will take them in.

One of those countries is Canada. The government pledged in January to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years – a fairly modest goal. That comes in addition to a vow in 2013 to bring in 1,300 by the end of 2014. And last month, at the start of the election campaign, the Conservatives promised, if re-elected, to bring yet in another 10,000 refugees fleeing religious persecution in Syria and Iraq over four years.

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Canada could do more. But even the modest goals set by the Conservative government are not being met. For reasons unknown, Ottawa has been slow to move and reluctant to share information. It wasn't able to meet its original commitment to bring in 1,300 by the end of 2014. The actual number was closer to 700. At one point, the government bizarrely said anyone who wanted to know how many Syrian refugees had been settled would have to file an access to information request.

Chris Alexander, the Immigration Minister, now says that 2,300 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada so far. With this year more than half over, that's an average of about 1,000 a year since 2013. It's a pace that suggests Canada will not hit its target of another 9,000 over the next three years.

Why is that? There is a large Syrian population here ready to sponsor refugees. And Canada, as a nation that brings in nearly 300,000 immigrants and refugees a year, certainly has the infrastructure to handle the numbers. With millions of refugees looking for shelter, why is Canada having so much trouble selecting a few thousand to offer it to?

Canada should not be falling short of its own limited goals in this crisis. If anything, it should be exceeding them as the crisis deepens. That's a subject we'll take up tomorrow.

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