By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
A student-led federal election forum for Lethbridge riding candidates was held last Tuesday night at Calvin Christian School (CCS), located near Coalhurst in Lethbridge County.
“It was suggested by the staff. They thought it would be a good leadership skill for the students to help plan it. It really seemed to come together,” said MC for the evening and Grade 12 student Josh Oudshoorn, adding close to 20 Grade 12 students helped out with the forum in various roles and responsibilities.
Oudshoorn noted students have been learning about federal politics over the years in school and the forum was a perfect opportunity to put their knowledge to the test with creating questions for the five local candidates. Topics of questioning ranged from various bills being presented and debated in Ottawa, current events and taxes and the floor opened up for questioning by parents and invited guests in the audience.
As for the candidates, Oudshoorn noted it was fairly easy to get them involved in the school’s forum.
“They were very enthusiastic to come out and share with us,” he said.
The all-candidates forum included Christian Heritage Party (CHP) candidate Geoffrey Capp, Conservative candidate Rachael Harder, Green Party candidate Kas MacMillan, Liberal candidate Mike Pyne and NDP candidate Cheryl Meheden. The forum was also moderated by a Grade 12 student.
During student-generated questions, one of the students asked the candidates — How can Canadians be sure radical Islams don’t enter Canada? The issue of Canada accepting legitimate refugee claims, especially from Syria, were also part of the question.
“The CHP would like to see a moratorium on immigration from countries with Islamic governments,” said Capp, adding if the CHP were given the chance to govern Canada, the party would like to see immigrants from countries with Islamic governments assimilate to Canadian laws, standards and culture upon admittance to the country. “And not going to try and impose their own laws and standards,” he added.
Sharia Law, Capp explained, is very harsh and unequal and it basically discriminates in favour of male Muslims.
“I think you agree — we don’t want that in our country. We don’t want their harsh reaction to homosexuality, we don’t want their harsh treatment of women. That is our strategy — a moratorium, until they can ensure they respect our laws and standards,” said Capp.
With the 11 million people in Syria alone that have been displaced, said Pyne — four million of them have spent the last two years in refugee camps under the auspices of the United Nations.
“These people have been there a long time and they’ve been identified,” said Pyne, adding Canada has extremely good programs already in place on the ground to do the job.
“Nothing in life is 100 per cent but I think we can go 99 per cent that we’re not going to have a problem with terrorists coming into our country,” Pyne added.
Harder said one of the places Canadians don’t want to find themselves in is in a place of significant fear.
“Fear towards inviting refugees into our country altogether. At the same time, I believe there’s a balance, where we want to be reasonable and we want to be responsible,” she explained.
Harder, is of the belief, it is government’s first and foremost responsibility to take care of its citizens.
“To make sure they are kept safe. To make sure they are kept secure. With that, I do believe we have a responsibility to take a reasonable approach to this issue. We have a number of Syrian refugees that is in the millions, between 11 and 12, and our government had said we want to take an approach that looks like this — we want to assess these refugees, we want to do proper background checks and we want to bring in a reasonable number we can sustain in Canada. We want to make sure we’re bringing in the most vulnerable, particularly we’re more interested in women and children. And, we want to make sure they’re able to come to Canada and set up a viable life for themselves,” said Harder.
But again, Harder added, the Conservatives believe doing a proper security check is absolutely important in order to make sure the citizens of Canada are kept safe. “That their security is never put at risk.”
Meheden said she has worked at immigration and in the 1980s Canada welcomed over 100,000 Vietnamese people into the country. “Canada was known as a gracious and welcoming place,” noted Meheden.
According to Meheden, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has a very rigourous screening process and combined with the work of Canadian intelligence agencies at home — these agencies are around to ensure people are who they say they are.
“Those agencies keep radical Islamists out of Canada. The other part of this equation is security forces we have on board in Canada — people like the RCMP, CSIS, the Department of Defence — those groups are also responsible for making sure our country is safe. One of my concerns is there has been significant cuts to those groups and in the last five or six years, $11 billion dollars from those three combined budgets has gone unspent. I think if we’re serious about our safety as Canadians, we need to ensure we are putting resources into the forces on the ground that are going to protect us,” said Meheden.
Currently on Earth, there are approximately 1.5 billion people who identify with Islam, MacMillan said, and of that group there is a small amount that are radical.
“All over Earth there’s Muslims in the Middle East, in south east Asia, in China but most of them do come from the Middle East. Currently, with the Syrian refugee crisis, we need to recognize a lot of people coming from this area are men, women and children who are fleeing their areas from their homes and they don’t have a lot of documentation with them and that’s where the issue arises because it’s hard to identify them, exactly who these people are,” he noted.
There is a screening process the United Nations goes through, MacMillan said, but Canadians do need to rely on their own institutions to pick up what the U.N. can’t do.
“About 30 years ago, we took in refugees from Vietnam and from eastern Europe when a lot of these countries were under communist control. Our institutions were able to sift out the security threats back then. I do believe our institutions are able to do the same thing today, as long as they’re actively funded,” MacMillan added.