Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Resettlement of Syrian Refugees: The Positions and Roles of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Its Members

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Resettlement of Syrian Refugees: The Positions and Roles of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Its Members

Article excerpt

Introduction

City governments as well as other municipal governments have a long-standing interest in immigrant and refugee settlement. Their interest results from the positive and negative implications that such settlement has for them as governments and for their communities (FCM 2011). The central objective of this article is to provide an overview of the policy positions and roles of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and its members, but particularly members that comprise the Big City Mayors' Caucus (BCMC), in the resettlement of Syrian refugees from the fall of 2015 until the fall of 2016 (FCM 2015d). More specifically, the purpose of the article is to provide an overview of the following: the positions of the FCM and its members that comprise the BCMC on the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada; the major categories of roles performed by members of the BCMC; and the importance of the positions of the FCM and the actual roles of its members that comprise the BCMC. Succinctly stated, the FCM is a national umbrella organization consisting of nearly 2,000 municipalities wherein approximately 91% of Canada's population lived, and the BCMC is a constituent sub-group of the FCM consisting of twenty two of the largest cities in Canada (FCM 2017).

Background and Context of the Positions of the FCM and its members

A full understanding and appreciation of the positions and roles of the FCM and those of some of its members, but particularly of members that comprise the BCMC, on the resettlement of the first wave of Syrian refugees, requires an understanding of at least two important matters: first, the events that led to Canada's commitment to accept at least 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015, and even more thereafter; and second, the number, categories, and destinations of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada between the latter part of 2015 and the early part of 2016.

Canada's large commitment to resettle Syrian refugees was borne not only out of the armed conflict in Syria but also out of the partisan political conflict among the major parties in Canada within the context of the federal election of 2015. During that election campaign the resettlement of Syrian refugees became one of the most prominent issues, particularly after the drowning death on 2 September 2015 of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old boy with relatives in Canada who had intended to sponsor him and his family for resettlement in this country. That tragic incident captured the attention of the Canadian public and politicians regarding the plight of Syrian refugees in ways that nothing else had to that point. The incident prompted an extensive debate on the nature and scope of Canada's response to the resettlement of Syrian refugees (Mackinnon 2015). Part of that debate centered on the issue of how many refugees Canada would accept for resettlement and how quickly it could resettle them. The Liberal party promised that if it formed the government it would resettle 25,000 Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) by the end of 2015--a far larger commitment than the other parties made.

After winning the election held on November 4, 2015, the Liberal majority government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, declared in its first Throne Speech that it would proceed to fulfill that particular election promise (Canada 2015). The declaration was made despite differences of opinion, and in some instances even strong concerns, expressed by governmental and non-governmental actors both during and after the election regarding the capacity and prudence of processing and resettling so many refugees in such a short timeframe. The capacity issue focused both on the ability of the federal government to process and transport the refugees into the country, and on the ability of settlement agencies, sponsors and other public organizations (e.g., schools) to facilitate the resettlement of so many refugees in such a short period. …

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