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Governor General urges support for Syrian refugee program

Gov.-Gen. David Johnston described the Syrian refugee crisis as a defining moment for Canada Tuesday, as he joined officials from all levels of government in urging Canadians to warmly welcome the thousands of Syrians set to arrive in the coming days and weeks. The unprecedented gathering at Rideau Hall was clearly designed to counter public skepticism and fears about the incoming wave of newcomers, which was evident in some circles even before last month s terrorist attack in Paris sparked fresh security concerns. Federal, provincial and municipal leaders all spoke about the challenges they face ensuring Canadians remain onside during what Johnston described in an opening address as both a challenge and an opportunity for Canada.

At a personal level, my biggest challenge is to communicate effectively with Canadians and to keep Canadians onside with this project, federal Immigration Minister John McCallum said during a question and answer session after Johnston had finished speaking.

McCallum acknowledged the security concerns that many Canadians have about the refugees, though he noted that the RCMP and Canadian spy agencies have all said they are satisfied with the current screening process. He also said the government needs to guard against seeming to pamper the refugees. Noting that many Canadians are out of work or have been waiting months and years for affordable housing, McCallum acknowledged the threat of a backlash, saying: We don t want as Canadians that we are giving refugees everything and not accommodating the needs of our own people. Provincial and municipal leaders also referred to security concerns, legitimate or not, that many Canadians have with regards to the 25,000 Syrians who will be arriving between now and the end of February. Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said the Paris attacks clearly had an impact on public opinion.

But Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, whose city has seen countless waves of refugees and immigrants arrive by boat over the past two centuries, said it was important to face down fear with reason.

This is the time as individuals and as a nation that we look into ourselves and our soul, and determine what kind of nation we are, Savage said, later adding: If we wait for a perfect response, we will never act. We recognize it s not a perfect scenario. This is an opportunity for us to make the best (of the situation). All the leaders adopted a similar message, namely that it was essential Canada respond the way it has so many times in the past. They couched their message by saying it was not only a moral imperative, but also of long-term benefit to Canada.

This yes is a short-term cost. It is a huge humanitarian venture. But it is also a long-term investment, McCallum said. These refugees, like those who came before them, after settling down, will go out and find work. During his address, Johnston cited Canada s acceptance of 60,000 Vietnamese boat people a community that has become a vibrant part of Canadian society as well as the first European settlers in Nova Scotia as examples of how Canada responded in the past and has benefited in the long run.

Our history is full of such stories of diverse people helping each other through hard times, he said. Like those early settlers, many Syrian refugees will be arriving in winter. A warm Canadian welcome in a cold Canadian winter, what could be more fitting?

Some eyebrows were raised when Johnston announced he was hosting Tuesday s event, given that the Governor General is supposed to be a non-partisan position.

But McCallum argued the Syrian refugee crisis is not a partisan project. He acknowledged opposition parties have been critical of some aspects of the Liberal government s plan. But he described the effort to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by Feb. 29 as a Canadian project.

We have brought in thousands of refugees in the past, McCallum said. It is our way. It is not the slightest bit partisan.

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Santa Fe police seek suspects in million-dollar heist

Santa Fe police are searching for three people who stole $1 million in jewelry from a store on the Plaza in what appeared to be a carefully planned heist. Two thieves may have created a diversion while a third snatched valuables from an unlocked display case.

Surveillance video showed that the suspects a woman and two men had been in the store, Diva Diamonds and Jewels, two weeks earlier, possibly planning the job, police said. They didn t buy anything.

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Snyder calls for more talks before taking in refugees

Snyder Calls For More Talks Before Taking In RefugeesBuy Photo

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has said he has paused Michigan’s plans to settle more Syrian refugees in Michigan, asking the federal government to review its vetting process of refugees.(Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)Buy Photo

LANSING Gov. Rick Snyder is sticking to his decision not to encourage resettlement of refugees in Michigan until vetting procedures are further scrutinized and, in a letter to federal officials, called on the Obama administration to continue talks to address concerns raised by governors across the nation. Snyder’s office on Tuesday released a copy of the letter, written a week ago, to Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, asking that the administration involve the 10-member Council of Governors an advisory board that Snyder belongs to as well as state police agencies and homeland security experts to discuss questions regarding the safety of the refugee resettlement program.

“With these experts in the room, I am confident that we can engage in a deep dialogue on the effectiveness of the vetting process,” Snyder wrote. “Further, I would like to expand the discussion to include enhanced communication between federal, state, and local government officials to ensure the public is well informed about the fidelity of the screening process for all individuals who wish to come to America.”

Snyder was the first of more than two dozen governors to raise questions about the security of the nation’s refugee resettlement program in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks in which more than 130 people were killed. While Snyder said only that he would suspend his own efforts to attract refugees to the state until the program was reviewed, several other governors urged the Obama administration not to resettle any Syrian or Iraqi refugees for a time, fearing that potential terrorists could use the program to infiltrate the U.S.

Snyder Calls For More Talks Before Taking In Refugees

DETROIT FREE PRESS

Jackson: U.S., Michigan must welcome Syrian refugees

Michigan has received thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees from fighting in those war-torn countries in recent years, more than all but one or two other states in the nation and would be expected to receive more, with the Obama administration saying it intends to continue efforts to accept refugees. The administration has pointedly noted that the screening process for refugees takes years and includes several interviews and vetting against security databases, making it the most robust of any process for letting people into the country. On Monday, the White House offered Snyder and other governors more access to information about refugees resettled in their states but made no mention of demands made by several that Syrian refugee resettlements be suspended after the Nov. 13 attacks for which ISIS, otherwise known as ISIL or the Islamic State, took credit.

Snyder Calls For More Talks Before Taking In Refugees

DETROIT FREE PRESS

White House offers governors more info on refugees

In a letter obtained by the Free Press, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough proposed to Snyder and 33 other governors who participated in a call with him the week after the Paris attacks that the nation s governors could, if they wished, get updates including monthly, if they chose on how many refugees are resettled in their states, as well as the nationalities, age ranges and genders of the refugees. The information would be provided only after the refugees are resettled in a state, however, and would not include specific identifying information about them, underscoring not only President Barack Obama s insistence that the refugee resettlement program continue at full speed despite efforts to slow it down but also the scant role governors have in determining where refugees live in the U.S.

This proposal responds to the governors input while protecting the privacy of refugee families, McDonough said in the letter, which also mentioned the likelihood of future talks between the Obama administration and the governors about the refugee vetting process. In his letter to Kerry and Johnson, Snyder said he appreciated the “clarification of the security vetting process” and accepted that it was both “extensive and rigorous” but said he still believed ti would best to address the concerns being raised about security. He suggested the administration discuss the topic with the Council of Governors at its meeting early this month.

The council is a 10-member group intended, according to a description on the National Governors Association website, “to serve as a mechanism for governors and key federal officials to address matters pertaining to the National Guard, homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities.” It was not immediately clear when the council was meeting. Michigan has been the arrival state for more Syrians and Iraqis than almost any other state in the nation since the beginning of 2013. The most recent State Department data available indicates of the 2,225 Syrians resettled in the U.S., 211 came to Michigan, trailing only California (243) and Texas (236). In terms of Iraqi refugees, only California, with 7,602, has received more than Michigan s 6,660. Contact Todd Spangler at 703-854-8947 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.

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