Until recently, Canada’s upcoming election seemed headed for a three-way tie, with potential for constitutional turmoil if Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to stay in power. Harper’s Conservatives, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals each hovered around 30 percent in the polls ahead of the October 19 vote.
Then the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach, and initial reports suggested relatives had been trying to bring the Syrian boy and his family to Canada, only to be rebuffed under new, Harper-imposed rules that have slowed the admission of Syrian refugees to a trickle. The real story turned out to be more complicated. Canadian immigration officials had actually rejected a refugee application from Alan’s uncle’s family, although Alan’s aunt in Vancouver said the application had been part of a two-stage plan to eventually resettle the entire extended family in Canada.
From his hermetically sealed campaign tour, where Harper permits only a handful of press questions daily, the prime minister reacted to the outcry over Canada’s asylum policies grudgingly, insisting Syrian refugees had to be carefully vetted lest they pose security threats. The real solution, he said, lay in the continued bombing of the Islamic State, a military campaign in which Canada has a minor role. Under aggressive questioning by a CBC reporter, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander refused to say how many Syrians had been admitted to Canada—apparently because the number is so embarrassingly small.