Conservative reaction to refugee crisis appears insincere: Seligman

Toronto immigration lawyer Robin Seligman says the federal government’s reaction thus far to the Syrian refugee crisis appears to be strictly political.

Seligman, a certified specialist in citizenship and immigration, says a recent opinion piece in the Toronto Star — entitled, “Will the photo of Aylan Kurdi change anything?” — accurately sums up concerns that have been building within the immigration and refugee bar for quite some time.

The heartbreaking photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shores of Turkey earlier this month, “stirred the consciousness of not only Canada, but the world,” Seligman tells

As the Star opinion piece — written by McGill law student Humera Jabir — notes, “Conservative officials may stand at their election podiums and extend heartfelt condolences to the Kurdi family but these are crocodile tears. In practice, the Harper government views asylum-seekers who use human smugglers as criminals first rather than desperate, vulnerable, and even courageous people like the Kurdi family, whose circumstances forced them to take the most heart-wrenching of risks to seek a better life for themselves and their children.”

Jabir writes that in the last decade, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former immigration minister Jason Kenney, and current Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, "have worked tirelessly to paint an image of asylum-seekers coming to Canada as 'bogus' claimants, 'queue-jumpers' and abusers of Canada’s immigration system."

The newspaper reports the Conservative party has promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees if re-elected.

Alexander defended the government’s record on refugee protection, claiming that Canada “remains a model of humanitarian action” and is “the most generous country to refugees in the world," reports the Star.

Seligman, past chair of the Canadian Bar Association's national section for Citizenship and Immigration and past chair of the Ontario Bar Association, Citizenship and Immigration section, says these promises and claims come off as disingenuous.

“Now that the refugee crisis is front row and centre in the media, the federal government is suddenly saying it cares,” she says. “Given its regressive refugee policies and the fact that the Conservatives are in the middle of an election campaign, it appears to be strictly a political move.

“My concern is that the federal government has known about this issue for a long time and has done little to assist," Seligman says. "To all of a sudden become compassionate appears insincere. These are not new issues. These are issues the immigration bar has been talking about and complaining about for a long time."

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