“The government of Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it the most by providing refuge to thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people,” says Faith St. John, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Vancouver.
“I’d really say it’s in our national DNA to stand up and respond to these situations of upheaval and humanitarian crisis around the world,” says Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, a grassroots coalition of individuals and nongovernmental organizations advocating refugee resettlement in Ottawa. “We see ourselves as a nation of immigrants, we can empathize with people in these situations,” she adds. “It’s also important that we’ve responded to these refugee crises for a long time, going back at least to the Vietnamese in the ‘70s, so Canadians tend to say, ‘We can do this, we’ve done this before many times.’”
It would be impossible to explain the outpouring of support and compassion that allowed Canada to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of weeks without taking into account the impact on Canada’s national psyche of the death of Alan Kurdi. Alan was the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean with his family last September and whose body washed up on a Turkish beach–to be famously photographed as he was picked up and cradled by a Turkish police officer.
For Canadians it became personal when it was learned that his family had relatives in British Columbia and had been trying to legally immigrate to Canada before giving up in desperation and taking to the sea.
Says Ms. Taylor. “When it became known that his family had been trying to get to Canada, it was like a national punch to the gut,” she adds. “People were saying ‘That’s not Canada,’ that if we had been true to our values the Kurdi family wouldn’t have got in that dingy and Alan would be preparing for nursery school in B.C.”