OTTAWA — Europe’s migrant and refugee crisis washed over the Canadian federal election trail Thursday, sweeping the immigration minister from the hustings to deal with Canada’s response to the case of a Syrian family who drowned while trying to get to Europe.
Chris Alexander said he was returning to Ottawa from his Toronto-area riding as he was dealing with fallout from the image of the dead body of a young Kurdish boy washed up on a Turkish beach.
The minister had to confront reports that Canada rejected the refugee application of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his five-year-old brother Galip and their mother Rehan — all of whom died after their unsuccessful attempt to reach Europe by boat.
Fin Donnelly, who is running for re-election in Port Moody-Coquitlam for the New Democrats, said he delivered a letter in March to Alexander on behalf of Abdullah’s sister Teema Kurdi, who lives in the Vancouver area. But Donnelly said the sponsorship request was not approved.
The images Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body, and those of a Turkish police officer who plucked it from the surf, have now resonated across the globe.
“The tragic photo of young Aylan Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world,” Alexander said in a statement Thursday.
“Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS.”
Alexander said he would also get an update on the migrant crisis.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair Alexander said the images of Kurdi reminded him of the iconic Vietnam war photo of the naked, nine-year-old girl fleeing a napalm attack in 1972.
“Chris Alexander has a lot to answer for, but that’s not where we are right now. We’re worried about how we got here,” Mulcair said in Toronto.
“The international community has failed. Canada has failed.”
While campaigning in Brossard, Que., Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked about Alexander’s decision to get an update on the Kurdi family case.
“You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign. You either have it or you don’t,” Trudeau said.
“This government has ignored these pleas of Canadian NGOs, of opposition parties and of the international community ... all believe that Canada should be doing more, should have been doing more.”