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Five contentious ways Canada could be doing more for Syria

By Pieta Woolley

The first rush of the 31,000 Syrian refugees has arrived across Canada. In both big cities and small towns, in churches and even summer camps, Canadians are learning about the horrors of the conflict from regular folk who have fled Syria.

For those of us who aren’t from the Middle East, having neighbours that are makes watching the bombs rain down on Aleppo even more excruciating. In an Observer blog post, “The Globalization of Indifference,” former NDP MP Dennis Gruending calls for Canada and the U.S. to take a greater role in settling the world’s 65 million refugees and ending armed conflicts. That we have a moral obligation to do something is obvious. But what we should do is less so.

Here are five contentious ways Canada could be doing more for Syria.

1. Take in far more refugees

Do it because: We can, as it doesn’t cost much. Other countries, such as Germany, settle far more than what Canada has offered. In fact, wealthy countries, such as Canada, settle less than one percent of the world’s registered displaced people, whereas already-stressed countries host the most refugees.

Don’t do it because: Most Canadians don’t want more Syrian refugees.

2. A bigger military role against ISIS

Do it because: In February, Canada ended its bombing mission against ISIS. At the time, most Canadians wanted the bombing missions to continue or even increase. Just one in 10 Canadians wanted Canada to end its military role against ISIS entirely

Don’t do it because:
It’s expensive, and as the Huffington Post’s Joe Killoran writes, “Canadian leaders also have a responsibility to ensure any mission which endangers Canadian lives has clear, realistic and worthwhile objectives. Fighting ISIS does not meet this standard.”

3. Send more aid money

Do it because: Canada has committed $1.6 billion over three years for Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon — over and above other aid commitments. Even so, Canada’s foreign aid package is half of what it was in 1975 in today’s dollars and represents far less of our GDP than the UN target of 0.7 percent, which many European countries meet.

Don’t do it because: Canada has more pressing needs at home. What’s more, aid money isn’t audited well.

4. Ensure leadership roles for Syrian women

Do it because: The Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy has a plan for peace but isn’t funded internationally and can’t afford to be at the meeting to negotiate ceasefires and peace agreements.

Don’t do it because: Nope. No one seems to be arguing against this one — for now.

5. Remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council

Do it because: MP Irwin Cotler, who founded the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, is urging Canada to vote against reinstating Russia on the council on the basis of its anti-civilian violence in both Syria and Ukraine.

Don’t do it because: While no Canadian has publicly argued in favour of Russia staying on this particular council, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion argued earlier this year that "Canada's severing of ties with Russia had no positive consequences for anyone, not for Canadians, not for the Russian people, not for Ukraine and not for global security."

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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