Thank you for reaching out to me and my office. I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t admit that it has been a difficult seven days. As a Muslim Canadian, I can’t help but be affected by the tragic shootings at the mosque in Quebec City. The range of emotions I have experienced has been vast, from shock and horror, to rage and anger, and more recently to hope and solidarity.
If anything positive can come from an event as horrible as this, it is the renewed commitment I have observed by Canadians of all faiths and beliefs to unite behind their fellow citizens who were killed in their place of worship, simply because they were worshipping. As many have stated in different ways this past week, at this time we are all Muslims, and we mourn together with our Islamic brothers and sisters. The vigils seen around the country one day after the attack stand as a testament to this collective national grieving.
When I communicate with Islamic leaders in our community and across the country, and hear their pain and fear I am saddened; but when I see the leadership of MP Joel Lightbound, whose community includes the mosque that was attacked, I am inspired; when I see the white ribbon campaigns in my community of Parkdale-High Park supporting our Jami Mosque I am proud; when I know grade 11 students at Humberside Collegiate are reaching out to support the Islamic community, I am comforted ; when I learn of circles of protection formed by Christians and Jews around mosques for Friday prayers, I am simply amazed. This is the Canada I know and I am committed to serve–the Canada where we recognize our diversity as one of our greatest strengths. In my new role as Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism, assisting the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I will be redoubling our Government’s efforts to promote the values of inclusion and tolerance that we hold dear. And make no mistake–this work is needed and will take time to accomplish.
On the same day as the funerals for victims Hassane Abdelkrim, Khaled Belkacemi and Aboubaker Thabti in Montreal, in the very same city, a mosque was vandalized. We, as a nation, have a great deal of work to do together to ensure that all Canadians feel safe and secure to practice in their place of worship, and to confront, challenge and root out those that seek to divide us. This will entail difficult conversations, but these are critical to maintaining our social cohesion and building the inclusive Canada I believe we all want to see.
Many of you have also reached out regarding Canada’s policy response to global events of the previous 10 days and the impact of these events on those seeking safe haven. Know that Canada remains committed to our refugee policy which is one of the most tolerant and compassionate in the entire world. Last year in total we welcomed 55,000 refugees to this country, and this year we will welcome 40,000 more. These numbers are quadruple the figures admitted annually by the previous government. Even more important, in my view, is the fact our refugee policy is religion blind—we welcome the most vulnerable regardless of their particular faith. On this basis, we opened Canada’s doors to thousands of Sunni Muslims victimized by Daesh, a policy which stands in stark contrast to that of the previous government.
There has also been some misunderstanding circulating regarding limits on Private sponsorship of refugees–we are not capping the number of refugees who can come to this country under private sponsorship at 1,000. To the contrary, this year we will accept 16,000 refugees through private sponsorship (this is coupled with the 17,800 refugees who were admitted under private sponsorship in 2016). In the last 16 months we have heard from generous Canadians who want their government to enable more private sponsorship, and we have responded. Once again, this stands in direct contrast to the previous government, who in 2014, when the Syrian conflict was well underway, limited overall Private sponsorship opportunities in Canada to 4,500 per year.
Many of you have also written and called me regarding the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. This agreement entrenches a well-accepted international principle, endorsed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that generally an individual is expected to make their refugee claim in the first country they arrive in. Following from this principle, it is critical to understand that the Safe Third Country Agreement relates primarily to persons already within America who make an “inland” application for asylum, not to those seeking to travel to the United States as a “resettled” refugee from any particular nation—as such any changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement would not impact those directly affected by recent events. In any event, you should also know that under our governing legislation, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, all Safe Third Country Agreements are required to be regularly monitored, to ensure that the conditions for establishing the Agreement in the first place continue to be met. (For example, one of the prerequisites for a Safe Third Country Agreement with any country is the existence of an independent judiciary that can ensure compliance with international treaty obligations and domestic law–clearly, this condition continues to be met.) This is precisely what our government is doing–we are staying on top of a situation that has been changing rapidly over the past ten days, keeping Canadians informed, and responding accordingly.
Overall, I understand the sense of urgency in your communications with me and my office. You are witnessing global and domestic events which challenge our understanding of Canada and its place in the world and you are looking for leadership. Our Government has provided this leadership in its response to the refugee crisis over the past 16 months, and we will continue to do so in the future. At a community level, as your local representative, I am committed to hearing from you about how together we can ensure that the values of tolerance, compassion and inclusion triumph over bigotry, hatred and discrimination. These are values I have spent my entire adult life promoting, and they informed my original decision to run for elected office. With your input and advice I look forward to continuing to defend them.
Member of Parliament for Parkdale–High Park
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Heritage (Multiculturalism)