Comment: Greater Victoria mayors urge action on Syria

The following was written by 11 mayors from the capital region.

As mayors of Greater Victoria, we are coming together to add our voices to the call for Canada to respond immediately to the Syrian refugee catastrophe.

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We have all seen the horrific, heart-wrenching images of three-year old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on the beach of Bodrum, Turkey. The images have galvanized people from across Canada and across the political spectrum to take action now.

Canada has a long and proud history of responding to humanitarian crises. We took in Irish escaping from famine, Doukhobors fleeing intolerance and Mennonites seeking religious freedom. We’ve welcomed Czechs, Hungarians, Ugandans and many others in times of crisis.

It is these newcomers to Canada who have contributed to making our country the rich and diverse place it is today.

Premiers and mayors are uniting across the country and calling on federal authorities to act on two fronts. We are adding our voices to theirs. We would welcome these refugees into our communities.

There are few, if any, valid reasons, with the screening in place, why a family being sponsored for entry into Canada would be denied.

First, we urge the federal government to increase the number of refugees admitted to Canada in response to the current crisis. We don’t know the right target for the number of refugees to admit. But we do know that the challenge of increasing the numbers of refugees accepted into Canada must not deter us from moving forward now.

Second, we urge the federal government to reduce the barriers that stand in the way of resettlement. Many Canadians are discouraged by the sheer paperwork and bureaucracy required for individual or group sponsorships. This paperwork is costing people’s lives.

The current crisis is not a political issue with a large or small p. It is a humanitarian crisis that requires everyone to look beyond politics and respond as global citizens. We must put politics aside and affirm — and act on — the values that make Canada a beacon of hope for so many. We must once again open our hearts and our doors.

We are also encouraging residents of the capital region to band together to sponsor families. There are several different ways to take action.

Residents can participate in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees. There are three ways to do this:

1. Through an organization that is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the Government of Canada. Two local SAHs are the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia and the Inter-Cultural Association. There are more than 80 SAHs across Canada. See cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/ sponsor/list-sponsors.asp

2. Through a local community group that is not an agreement holder (up to two refugee families per year, and requires an application by a group).

3. Through Groups of Five — any five Canadian citizens or permanent residents can come together to apply to sponsor one family. Sponsorship involves going through the application process for the refugee family, raising funds — about $30,000 for a family of four, enough to support them for a year — and assisting in the resettlement.

Perhaps the best way to support this worthy effort is to support the relevant charities involved in the process. The majority of the successful applicants will wish to settle where they already have family and a cultural support system. Residents of Greater Victoria can help by donating to agencies such as LifeLine Syria or Oxfam or other organizations that help Syrian refugees come to Canada.

We as mayors pledge our support.

We urge Canada to act globally and residents of the Capital Regional District to rally locally.

This submission from Greater Victoria mayors reflects their views and not necessarily the views of their councils. It was signed by Mayors Richard Atwell of Saanich, Barb Desjardins of Esquimalt, Carol Hamilton of Colwood, Lisa Helps of Victoria, Nils Jensen of Oak Bay, Steve Price of Sidney, John Ranns of Metchosin, David Screech of View Royal, Maja Tait of Sooke, Ken Williams of Highlands and Ryan Windsor of Central Saanich.

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