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Trudeau says government can do better for LGBT Syrian refugees

‘It hasn’t been as successful as we would have liked’

When he was first elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately set about letting in thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada, to much international acclaim. LGBT Syrians were one of the four priority groups for resettlement. But half a year later, Trudeau acknowledges the government could have done better when it comes to LGBT Syrians.

Arshy Mann

When he was first elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately set about letting in thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada, to much international acclaim.

LGBT Syrians were one of the four priority groups for resettlement. But half a year later, Trudeau acknowledges the government could have done better when it comes to LGBT Syrians.

“It hasn’t been as successful as we would have liked,” Trudeau says.

Speaking to Daily Xtra, Trudeau says that the logistical challenges of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees, especially the most vulnerable, in a compressed period of time was a difficult operation.

“We did a pretty good job of that across the board, but it really does emphasize that you cannot just hope to accept in everyone and save them by bringing them to Canada,” he says. “We can do that for a lot of people, but not everyone obviously.”

LGBT people in refugee camps often have a difficult time being identified because they fear violence if they come out to officials.

NDP MPs Jenny Kwan and Randall Garrison have criticized the Liberal government for not being able to quantify how many LGBT Syrians have made it to Canada.

When asked if the government has any way of tracking or knowing how many LGBT Syrians have come to Canada, Trudeau says that issues with how LGBT refugees were treated have come to the government’s attention.

“We had a number of these issues highlighted and we know that we need to do more,” he says. “But there’s always challenge around labelling and identifying — it creates as much potential mistrust and right issues as it solves.”

The government has also come under fire for declining to take Mexico off of the designated country of origin list, which makes it more difficult for asylum seekers to get refugee status when they arrive in Canada.

The list was created by the Harper government as an attempt to cut off refugee applications from countries that were deemed safe.

But a recent report from the international human rights program at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law points out that for LGBT and HIV-positive people, Mexico is far from a safe place.

Between 2005 and 2013, at least 555 people are estimated to have been killed in Mexico because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

When asked why his government declines to remove Mexico from the safe countries list, Trudeau — who is meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto this week — says that Canada should help Mexico become safer for LGBT people.

“There’s a level of engagement with the Mexican government, and that’s certainly one of the hopes that I have as we’re creating closer ties with this upcoming visit, that we’re going to be able to help them with some of the real challenges they’re facing around discrimination, around the LGBT community, among others,” Trudeau says. “We know there are challenges around violence, around police actions, around gangs and criminality, cultural challenges as well.”

When asked why the government can’t both help Mexican asylum seekers when they come to Canada as well as making the situation in Mexico better, Trudeau says his government is looking at lifting the Mexican visa brought in by the Harper government.

“And how we work to make sure that that goes smoothly and allows opportunities for people fleeing persecution without creating the kind of overload of our system that led to the bringing in of the visa in the first place,” he says. “These are things that we are trying to get the balance right on and move forward in all directions.”