Chris Alexander suspends campaign after news that Canada rejected family’s refugee bid before boy drowned

Conservative Immigration Minister suspended his re-election campaign Thursday morning to return to Ottawa as news spread that the Syrian-Kurdish boy who washed up drowned on a Turkish beach was trying to reach .

Canada rejected a refugee application from the boy’s family in June. Port Moody-Coquitlam NDP MP Fin Donnelly said he had hand-delivered the Kurdis’ file to Alexander in March.

The photo of the lifeless three-year-old boy, Aylan, after washing up on a Turkish beach made front pages around world Thursday. His brother, Galip Kurdi, five, their mother, Rehan, and eight other refugees died when their boat overturned in a desperate flight from to the Greek island of Kos. The boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was supposed to appear on @CTVCanadaAM this morning, but cancelled.


Katie Simpson (@KatieSimpsonCTV) September 03, 2015

CTV’s Katie Simpson said on Twitter Thursday morning that Alexander cancelled a scheduled appearance on Canada AM and told the station he was temporarily suspending his campaign.

“The tragic photo of young and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world,” Alexander said in a statement Thursday morning. “Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS.

: Conservative candidate and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander “temporarily suspended” his re-election campaign. Via @CTVCanadaAM


Katie Simpson (@KatieSimpsonCTV) September 03, 2015

“…I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis.”

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was unimpressed with Alexander’s suspension of his campaign.

“You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the in the middle of an election campaign. You either have it or you don’t,” Trudeau said Thursday morning in Montreal.

“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.”

NDP leader Tom Mulcair struck slightly a different tone at a new conference in Toronto.

AFP/Getty ImagesAFP/Getty ImagesA Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on Sept. 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.

“This is hard for everyone. This is a failure by the international community. This is a failure by Canada,” he said. “(It’s) too easy to assign blame.”

“…I don’t think there was a Canadian waking up this morning who saw those pictures and did’t say ‘Enough,’” Mulcair said.

On Wednesday, hours before it was revealed that the Kurdis had been trying to reach Canada, Alexander was enthusiastically defending the government’s humanitarian record regarding the migrant crisis.

Alexander appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics Wednesday evening to talk about what the federal government is doing to aid the thousands of people fleeing the civil war in while Europe grapples with its largest influx of refugees since the Second World War.

“I think Canada remains a model of humanitarian action,” Alexander said, adding that Canada has received “approximately 2,500” Syrian refugees and “over 20,000 Iraqi refugees” so far.

“We are the most generous country to refugees in the world. We take one in ten resettled refugees annually,” he said. “The numbers grow quickly through private sponsorship and government assistance.”

Alexander went on to blame the media for not drawing enough attention to the refugee crisis.

Hours later, Postmedia News learned that the Kurdi family was the subject of a “G5” privately sponsored refugee application that the ministry of citizenship and immigration rejected owing to the complexities involved in refugee applications from Turkey.

After receiving the application earlier this year, Alexander said he’d look into it, according to Donnelly, but the application was rejected in June.

Abdullah’s sister, Teema, lives in Donnelly’s Greater Vancouver riding, and was trying to sponsor her brother’s family.

“I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat,” Teema said. “I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has committed during the campaign to allow 10,000 more Middle East refugees into the country over the next four years, said that simply granting asylum to the desperate won’t fix the crisis.

“We have plans to do more, but I would say repeatedly that as we are doing more, we can’t lose sight of the fact that refugee resettlement alone cannot, in any part of the world, solve this problem,” Harper said.

The extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is at the root of the problem, he said.

Associated Press, DHAAssociated Press, DHAA paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.

Both the NDP and Liberals said the scenes of desperation playing out overseas make it clear the federal government must do more, although they offered no new policy proposals.

“Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing horrors: We’ve got to step up to the plate, we’ve got to be part of an international solution, we’ve got to start doing our fair share,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. “Harper has failed completely so far to do just that.”

RelatedTragedy at sea: Migrants’ long route into Europe marked with chaos, hardship and death

Justin Trudeau repeated his party’s position that Canada would, under a Liberal government, take in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

He also accused the Conservative government of not living up to its “meagre” commitment to accept refugees from Syria and elsewhere.

“We need to provide the support we can, and we need to be making this situation better in various ways that, quite frankly, we’re not doing at this time,” Trudeau said.

The Conservative government promised in January to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria over the next three years. But it came under criticism after refusing for weeks to release information on how many had arrived.

Days after the campaign began last month, the Citizenship and Immigration Department said that as of late July, 1,002 people had resettled in Canada as part of the January commitment.

For months, the 28-member European Union has been at odds on how to cope with the tide of more than 332,000 refugees who have arrived at its borders this year. Greece, Italy and Hungary have pleaded for more help. Germany, which is expecting to receive an EU-leading 800,000 asylum seekers this year, has appealed for EU partners to bear more of the load.

With files from Terry Glavin and The Daily Telegraph

About Aileen Donnelly, The Canadian Press