MANILA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday vowed to stick to a plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by Jan 1, even though a growing number of critics say the target is too large and could threaten security following the attacks in Paris.
The affair is threatening to become the first real political challenge for Trudeau’s fledgling Liberal government, which took power earlier this month after winning an Oct 19 election.
Trudeau campaigned on the promise to bring in more refugees, saying Canada should do more to help tackle the Middle East crisis.
But in the wake of last week’s deadly attacks in Paris, which were claimed by Islamic State militants, even politicians who initially backed the Trudeau plan say he should push back the deadline to ensure all the refugees are properly scanned.
Trudeau said that even before the Paris massacre, his government had made clear the security of Canadians would be paramount when dealing with the refugees.
“We are aiming to keep our election commitments and we are working on a plan to do just that,” he told reporters on his plane as he flew to Manila for an Asia-Pacific summit.
“My commitment was to bring in 25,000 refugees by Jan 1 in complete security and we will make every effort to achieve that,” he added.
Trudeau also said he was speaking to a special government committee he set up earlier this month to study how best to meet the target.
He made his remarks after reporters asked about a letter he received from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, who wrote that “if even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating”.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, one of Canada’s most prominent progressive politicians, tweeted that Wall “was right to raise legitimate questions about refugee settlement”.
The immigration minister in the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec, Kathleen Weil, says she does not believe Trudeau’s goal is realistic.
If Islamic State members were able to enter disguised as refugees it would undoubtedly alarm the United States, which shares a long undefended border with Canada.
Trudeau said on Monday that U.S. officials had not raised any security concerns so far relating to the refugee plan.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Nick Macfie