Three high profile Mennonite-connected politicians expressed their views this week on how to handle the 25,000 Syrian refugees newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to resettle in Canada by the end of 2015.
Newly appointed Health Minister Jane Philpott, who has been handed the file on resettling the refugees, told CBC’s Power and Politics Monday, Nov. 16, that “a rigorous screening process has always been central to the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees.” She was pressed on how she would handle refugees amid new security concerns after the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.
Philpott is a member of Community Mennonite Church, Stouffville, Ont., and has been thrust into the media spotlight less than two weeks after being named health minister.
At the same time, the popular Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who has Mennonite Brethren roots and heritage, called on the federal government to delay its plan to resettle Syrian refugees, citing security concerns in the wake of the Paris attacks.
In a letter to Trudeau, Wall says he understands “that the overwhelming majority of refugees are fleeing violence and bloodshed and pose no threat to anyone. . . . However, if even a small number of individuals who wish to do us harm are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating.”
In her TV interview Philpott said a number of people across various federal departments have been working to address the refugee crisis while being mindful of health and security concerns. “Many, many people have been working in the background over a long period of time to address how this can be done effectively.”
She said she hoped the federal government would have more details “by sometime next week” and that the government's plan will address security concerns in a “responsible” way.
Several Mennonite political observers have questioned Wall’s concern for security over an open-arms approach, considering that his Mennonite ancestors were given an open invitation by Canada to as many as 7,000 refugees fleeing Russian persecution in a late 1800s mass migration. Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, a dean and historian at Tyndale University College and Seminary and a fellow church member with Philpott, said in Facebook discussion that Wall “should look further back in his genealogy for vision on mass migration and resettlement of refugees.”
When he was elected premier in 2007, Wall was a member of Bridgeway Community Church, a Mennonite Brethren church in Swift Current, Sask. He now attends Eastside Church of God in Swift Current. Always on a list of potential Conservative leaders, opines national columnist Tim Harper, “Wall … also disagrees with Trudeau's decision to pull back our CF-18s in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIL) and is expected to be an outlier on climate change, but if political ambitions seeped into his refugee position, he’s a piker compared to the xenophobia cheerleaders on the right south of the border.”
In Saskatoon, meanwhile, another Mennonite governing official, Charlie Clark, a city councilor attending Osler Mennonite Church, took issue with Premier Wall this week in a “passionate letter on Facebook regarding the refugee crisis,” according to the Star-Phoenix.
“Clark wants people in Saskatoon to remember Aylan Kurdi,” the newspaper said. “When people here talk about concerns over bringing in more refugees, he wants them to remember the photograph of the dead three-year-old Syrian refugee washed up shore.”
In his Facebook post Clark writes that in the wake of the recent attacks it’s more important than ever to make refugees here feel welcome. The post reads, “This moment of empathy–of realization that we are much more alike other human beings trying to survive across the world than we are different. This is a moment of grasping what it means to truly be part of a global society, which is what our challenge is ahead.”
Clark said the attacks like those in Paris and Beirut “create tremendous stress for people living as Muslims here, as they face the suspicion and accusation from too many in our society.”
See more on Mennonites in politics: “Seeking the welfare of the city”