Tonda MacCharles (The Toronto Star):
Conservative leader Stephen Harper who has repeatedly said he has “already” moved to expedite the resettlement of refugees from Syria switched tack Thursday to say his government will soon announce measures to do just that.
Under growing public pressure to act more swiftly, Harper was asked by reporters after a campaign event Thursday, what specific measures he’d already taken. He said he could have more to say on that question very soon, a signal of a possible upcoming campaign announcement.
Harper was also asked if he would elaborate on the security threat he believes might be posed by Syrian refugees coming into Canada, but he refused, saying “the short answer is, ‘no.’ ” He went on to state he’d visited refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East and seen the deplorable conditions and was well aware of the suffering of so many.
He told the small partisan crowd that his government had moved before the crisis hit the headlines to increase the number of Syrians resettled as refugees here.
After Harper spoke after the campaign event on Thursday, the party circulated to reporters additional information the journalists had been seeking for days. It said, under Harper, the government eliminated the processing backlog at a refugee-application processing centre in Winnipeg. “As a result, refugee applications are now processed in real time.” A party spokesman could not explain what the backlog was, and now how long it takes to process an application. Refugee advocates say the waits can be up to 31 months or more.
The email said the government has given “applications from Syria and Iraq global priority.”
It added: “We have deployed more people to our embassies in Beirut, Amman and Ankara. Twice as many officers are now working on these files at these missions than there were 12 months ago. These measures have helped bring down overall processing times by more 50 per cent since 2012.”