Among the many story lines emanating from the swearing-in of the new federal cabinet is the government's plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year's end.
You remember the Syrian refugee crisis, don't you? It became the focus of the election campaign after the photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, his tiny figure washed ashore on a Turkish beach, rocketed around the world. The global outrage and condemnation was deafening. How could we stand by and allow this to happen?
Former prime minister Stephen Harper, you may recall, was attacked as being cold and heartless for what was perceived as a rather stiff and unsympathetic response to the refugee emergency. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, was applauded for his promise to bring thousands of refugees to Canada by year's end. And yet a funny thing happened in the interim: The crisis lost the world's attention.
This is fairly typical. A tragic event provokes our anger and disgust, and then a few days later we move on. Except that the calamity that put Alan Kurdi's family in danger and the horrendous circumstances that led to the death of the boy, his brother and his mother – crossing dangerous waters in a small boat for a better life – has not suddenly improved. The plight of the Syrian refugee is as perilous as ever.
Only last week, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lamented the pitiful response to the migration disaster after more than 30 people drowned while attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece. Most of them were children. And yet the deaths of these young souls barely rated a mention here. As is often the case, the story has fallen off the front pages and the top of the evening news. Meanwhile, these people need our help more than ever.
This is why it is so important that Prime Minister Trudeau not allow the public's, and the media's, lack of interest to affect his campaign pledge to get thousands of refugees here by the end of December. While Mr. Trudeau has a long list of priorities, responding to this crisis has to be chief among them.
Of course, his new government will have to carry out this mission against cries that any rush to aid these unfortunate people is inviting trouble. That in our haste to be good global citizens we are going to open our doors to terrorists. While the worry of allowing undesirables into our country is not unwarranted, there are avenues that would allow the government to meet its goals while minimizing opportunities for people with evil intent to be among those coming here.
You would think that if anyone were going to harbour a terrorist concern it would be a former Canadian chief of defence. Yet retired general Rick Hillier is among the voices urging the government to do even more. He believes it's possible to bring 50,000 refugees here before the new year. He says we could reduce the danger of opening our country to extremists by focusing on low-risk candidates such as families, orphans and elderly people.
The former commander imagines an operation using leased cruise ships to carry thousands of refugees at a time. He says databases developed by the United Nations, Interpol, and other police and intelligence agencies could be accessed to weed out any potential bad apples. To meet its objectives, the federal government is certainly going to need to carry out a military-type operation. The kind someone such as Rick Hillier could capably lead.
The most important thing, however, is that action is taken, promises are lived up to and, once initial targets are met, new ones are established. Twenty-five thousand refugees by the end of December can be only an initial response to the catastrophe. This can't be Europe's problem alone to solve.
The image of Alan Kurdi's body on that Turkish beach stirred something in all of us: indignation, despair, sadness. We can't forget how we felt, because there have been dozens of Alan Kurdis who have died in much the same manner since that day in early September. Their deaths need to count just as much.