Defend the rights of Muslims and refugees



Statement by OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants

January 31, 2017/Toronto - OCASI is shocked by the horrific attack on worshippers at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec) on Sunday January 29. We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of six lives and injuries to eight people. We offer our deepest condolences to the families, the congregation and the communities affected.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we speak out and act to counter Islamophobia and racism. We call on our leaders to speak out against hate, and act swiftly to ensure that Muslims are safe everywhere in Canada. As Canadians we must be vigilant to ensure that the language and laws of exclusion are given no place in our public discourse.

The attack followed an Executive Order by the President of the United States temporarily banning the entry of nationals from certain predominantly Muslim countries, and temporarily banning the admission of all refugees, as well as an indefinite ban on those fleeing Syria.

We are dismayed at the impact this will have on Muslims who want to enter the US as well as those in the country, and the impact on those fleeing persecution from around the world. The order serves to deepen the climate of intolerance, particularly Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism.

We take heart from the statements made by Justin Trudeau - Prime Minister of Canada, and by Ahmed Hussen - Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, affirming the government’s commitment to refugee resettlement and to building a tolerant and accepting Canada.

We urge the government to demonstrate those commitments by doing the following:

a) Increase Canada’s refugee settlement targets, including for the private sponsorship of refugees. At the recent press conference, Minister Hussen said that refugee numbers will not be increased. The refugee resettlement target for 2017 is 7,500 Government Assisted Refugees and 16,000 Privately Sponsored Refugees.

b) On an emergency basis resettle all refugees who were approved for resettlement to the US but are now denied entry to that country. These refugees should be considered outside of Canada’s resettlement target for 2017.

c) Immediately withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US. The US has never been safe for all refugees, and with the recent developments it is less safe. The Agreement keeps out most refugee claimants from entering Canada through the land border with the US. It likely contributes to people risking physical and other dangers to cross the border irregularly.

d) Abolish the Designated Country of Origin list. Created by the previous government, the list presents a two-tier system that treats certain claimants differently and with more restrictions.

e) Undertake widespread public education to counter racism, hate, Islamophobia and xenophobia and work with Canadians to build a society where we all belong and are not merely tolerated.

f) Regularize the status of those without immigration status in Canada. These numbers include those were failed by the current refugee determination system, as well as many others who are in limbo because they have no avenue to become legal residents.

As the umbrella organization for immigrant and refugee-serving agencies in Ontario, we take pride in the resilience and strength of our member agencies who work every day to support refugees and all migrants to settle in Canada and build a new life here. We are inspired by the hundreds of Ontarians who have donated their time and money to OCASI agencies to support refugee resettlement, and as well to build welcoming communities. Our political leaders can do no better than to emulate their example.