South Surrey-White Rock MP Dianne Watts said she is not opposed to resettling Syrian refugees in Canada – but that it must be done “with due diligence and an abundance of caution.”
“Most certainly the biggest issue – and it has been my issue all along – is in terms of the time frame,” the new Conservative MP told Peace Arch News on Friday, noting that she has had first-hand experience with practical issues of refugee resettlement during her 10 years as mayor of Surrey.
“Bringing people into the country is easily done, but alongside that we need to do the diligence in heightening the screening process. We also have to make sure we have the funding and resources in place to ensure refugee families have the support they need when they’re here.”
(After Peace Arch News’ press time Tuesday federal Immigration and Refugees Minister John McCallum revealed plans to slow the intake of some 25,000 Syrian refugees to 10,000 by the end of December, with the rest resettled through January and February.)
But while some members of the Conservative caucus have been unreservedly critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s original commitment to bring all of the refugees into Canada by Jan. 1 – MP Candice Bergen tweeted she is “embarrassed and sickened” by the Liberal leader for his stance on refugees and Canada’s ISIS mission – Watts said she has no issue with the general principle of accepting refugees.
“But there’s no need to rush it, let’s just do it right,” she said, adding that the Syrians Canada is looking at resettling are currently in refugee camps, already removed from the violence in their homeland.
In a press conference following the G20 Summit in Turkey last week, Trudeau told media the government’s refugee commitment has “in no way weakened our resolve to ensure first and foremost that Canadians are kept safe.”
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS director Michel Coulombe had both gone on record as saying it is feasible to safely screen that number of refugees by the end of the year.
Watts – who received flak in her home riding during the election campaign for a Conservative Party flyer issued on her behalf that stated “We will fight Jihadist terrorists at home and abroad” – said she has not received feedback that indicates her constituents are against accepting refugees.
But she said that resettlement involves some “very complex issues” which can include families receiving help with health and mental health concerns, post-traumatic stress disorder and making sure children are properly streamed into the educational system.
The necessary support “is multi-faceted, and needs to be secured and in place,” she said, while noting that “a lot of community organizations are prepared to step up and help.”
The CBC has reported that Canada’s refugee plan will focus on accepting women, children and families first to avoid security risks posed by single men seeking asylum.
Watts advocated a similar approach for screening applicants.
“It needs to be done in layers,” she said. “We can take care of the kids, the moms and the grandmothers; possibly make sure we get them settled before they are joined by the fathers.
“The issue is not people just looking at young single men in their 30s or under – that could be a very different process,” she said.
Watts said that her appointment last week to the Conservative ‘shadow cabinet’ as critic for infrastructure and communities will also allow her utilize experience she gathered during her years as Surrey mayor (during that time she spearheaded the Build Surrey construction and investment initiative, and served a term on the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation).
“It touches on everything I was working on, both in Surrey and in the Lower Mainland,” she said.
She said she is looking forward to looking at the issues on a national level, noting that Trudeau has mandated development of a 10-year plan for infrastructure that includes everything from public transit to social and green infrastructure, as well as the Build Canada program, which covers such development as ports and border facilities.