The Refugee Crisis

There has been a lot of media attention this week about the deaths of a Syrian family on the shores of Turkey. As a first response, I was pleased to allow my son, Jonathan, to speak for all of us, giving the honest and heartfelt reaction of an average Canadian to the tragedy.

Is it a Game-Changer?
However, it is the task of the media to make some sense of the situation, and that’s a real problem. What I heard on CBC was a discussion of whether this could be the great stroke that brings the Harper government to its knees.
I can’t see it.
It’s an unfortunate comment on the state of our democracy when the serious media (CBC is fairly serious, after all) is considering that even the most striking photo could have such a great effect on an election. Sounds more like a demonstration of how media gets into politics, and how politics gets in the way of the operation of the country. So you’re a politician in the middle of an election and something like this is dropped in your lap.

How Do You Handle the Media Coup of the Decade?
There is a great difficulty for the opposition parties to strike the right note. You’d really like to blame the present government, but…The worst possible approach would over-politicize the situation, and thus lose your credibility as a thinking, feeling human being. Everybody who watches the party leaders react is asking the cynical question, “How is he going to make his political points here without being so political that he loses political points for being cynically political?” Or something like that. As a result, it is very difficult to make a point of any sort, because of the way it might be perceived, analyzed, twisted or spun. But the next worst approach is not to say anything. The measure of the politician is how he manages to navigate this minefield. I’ll leave it to the voter to decide how Trudeau and Mulcair rated.

But no matter how you spin it, the incumbent is in trouble when a picture as emotion-provoking as the body of a three-year-old starts making the media rounds.

How Accurate is the Argument?
With all the above in mind, I don’t think the present government can completely shrug off its responsibility for Canada’s disgraceful record for accepting refugees recently. Historically, Canada has taken action such as sending commercial or military aircraft to rescue refugees from similar situations. The statistics show a definite change in the last 9 years or so. Instead of cutting through the crap and doing the job, we now have a wall of bureaucracy nastier than the razor wire recently erected on the Hungarian border. Canadians have a right to ask. Do we have the usual disgraceful uselessness of a bureaucracy that simply can’t get things done, or do we have someone using the vagaries of bureaucracy to ensure that nothing gets done?”
My wife would say the latter. After a couple of glasses of wine she has been known to opine that a right-wing element in our politics is feeding off the present government’s fear-mongering against all Arabs.
Even with sober second thought I can’t find it in my heart to argue. You might suggest that the plight of the Kurdi family has little to do with the world’s, and specifically Canada’s, reaction to the situation in Syria. The telling factor is the bureaucratic response of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, whose main point in defence of their inaction centred on family members not filling out their forms correctly. That doesn’t cut much ice with Canadians whose perception of their country is that of a people who react with their hearts and get the paperwork straightened around later.

Does Anyone Understand What’s Going on?
The other telling factor is the Harper government’s single-minded insistence that bombing is the only appropriate response to the crisis. In case no one noticed, we haven’t had a war where the issues were that clear-cut since 1945. The trouble in the Middle East is a complex interplay: a centuries-old religious dispute, overlaid by a couple of hundred years of European colonialism, exacerbated by lingering Cold War rivalries and present-day economic realties measured in petrodollars. This has created an intertwining of philosophies at the diplomatic table and populations on the ground that nudges the chance of a bombing raid being accurate into the ridiculous, and pushes the chance of a simplistic solution into the impossible. We need to start acting on basis of this reality with a multi-faceted response, both as a nation and as a member of the United Nations.

Who Are We?
The result of the whole affair is Canadians realizing that the world might perceive us as mean, paper-pushing bureaucrats whose only response to world trouble is to increase the violence. If the average voter makes a connection between that image and the governing party that created it, then change could happen.

And How Do We Effect Change?
While I feel it inappropriate and counterproductive for a photo in world media to have a crucial effect on the result of a Canadian election, if that’s what it takes to get voters to take a serious look at the kind of country recent leadership has been creating, then so be it.

To finish, I will continue my practice of quoting those more eloquent than myself on this topic. Here’s the last word from an ex-military friend of mine:

“If George W. Bush and Stephen Harper were both in charge of our respective countries at the same time, they’d have us all on the Fourteenth F___ing Crusade.”

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