Harper on refugee interference allegations: 'We prioritize the most vulnerable'
Published Friday, October 9, 2015 11:14AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 9, 2015 2:14PM EDT
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is denying reports the Prime Minister’s Office interfered in the selection of refugees from Syria, saying those decisions are not made by politicians.
Harper was asked to respond to a report, from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife, that PMO staff went through refugee applicant files to ensure that persecuted religious minorities with established communities already in Canada were prioritized. The belief was those applicants would be most likely to vote for the Conservatives, sources told Fife.
The insiders also said the PMO actively discouraged Citizenship and Immigration from accepting Sunni or Shia Muslims.
“We prioritize the most vulnerable people in terms of our refugee acceptance policy,” Harper told reporters Friday.
“The vulnerable minority religious and ethnic groups in the Syria and Iraq area in fact being targeted by ISIS and its allies for extermination. And that is why we have put a higher priority -- it’s not exclusionary – but why that is an important factor in making our refugee decisions,” Harper told reporters in Richmond, B.C.
Harper said vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities were “not exclusively Christian by any means“ and included Muslim minorities as well.
He added that the PMO staff did not make decisions on refugee selection.
“They’re not made by political people. Those decisions are made by arm’s length bureaucrats,” Harper said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau expressed anger Friday, at reports that PMO staff were sifting through Syrian refugee applicants.
“To know that somewhere in the Prime Minister’s Office, staffers were poring through their (the applicants’) personal files to try to find out which families would be suitable for a photo op for the prime minister’s re-election campaign? That’s disgusting,” Trudeau told reporters.
He added that a Liberal government would "absolutely not" prioritize particular religious or ethnic minorities.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair told a crowd in Montreal Friday, that Harper was playing “a dangerous game.”
He said it appeared to him that even while Harper was publicly mourning the death of Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach in early September, he and the Prime Minister’s Office were hindering the “neediest on Earth” from ever making it to Canada.
After facing criticism over the speed at which Syrian refugees have been processed, the Conservatives have pledged to fast-track the number of refugees into Canada, with a goal of resettling 10,000 by September, 2016.
The NDP has vowed, if elected, to bring in 10,000 by the end of 2015, and 46,000 over four years.
The Liberals have said that Canada should take in 25,000 Syrian refugees before next year.