TAYLOR: Hillier refugee plan workable

By Scott Taylor

Pundits have suggested that Retired General Rick Hillier be made a special envoy to oversee a refugee plan.

Since the dramatic photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless little body washed up on the Turkish shore were first published on Sept. 2, the plight of the desperate human wave of migrants has been the focus of international attention.

Canadians were naturally saddened at the fate of Alan and that of his mother and five-year-old brother Galip, especially when it was revealed that the Syrian-Kurd family had been seeking refuge in Canada. That public sorrow soon morphed into anger when it was revealed that since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, our fair country has only accepted 2,500 refugees from that civil war. This of course pales in the extreme to those western European nations such as Germany and France, which have been taking in thousands of migrants per month to the tune of 184,665 in 2014 alone.

With the public outcry for Canada to do more to help ease the suffering, we have seen something of a mid-election bidding war between the political parties.

The Conservatives announced that they will do their best to speed up the process and bring in another 2,500 by year’s end. The New Democrats vow that if elected, they will quadruple that total and bring in up to 10,000 migrants before 2016 rolls around. The Liberals upped the ante by proclaiming that under a government led by Justin Trudeau, Canada would bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees — immediately.

From outside the political spectrum, my old friend, retired general Rick Hillier, threw out the number 50,000 and reminded Canadians that our military is well suited to gear up for the task of managing such a huge influx of desperate people. Hillier also suggested that the government could alleviate the problem of transportation and accommodation for this flood of migrants through the simple solution of chartering cruise boats.

Many pundits applauded Hillier for his typical no-nonsense approach and some even suggested that the famous former chief of defence staff be made a special envoy to oversee the task.

Of course, the Conservative government pointed out the very real fact that hidden among all these thousands of unscreened refugees could very easily be ISIS or al-Qaida sleeper agents. They are, after all, operating in the same regions the Syrians are fleeing from and, yes, they have in the past made videotaped threats to kill us in our Canadian bedrooms.

However, if as Hillier suggests they are confined to cruise ships until they have been thoroughly screened both medically and for security purposes, then that threat is nullified.

Another possibility would be to bring in migrants by airlift, utilizing the RCAF’s fleet of C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes and house them at CFB Goose Bay in Labrador.

There is already a large, newly built facility there intended to house a large contingent of NATO pilots for the now mostly defunct low-level flight training school. These permanent quarters could be used to house Canadian administration, medical and security officials, while the migrants themselves could be housed in comfortable temporary shelters.

For instance, all those years that we committed thousands of soldiers to the desert climate of Kandahar, Afghanistan, required ingenuity in providing our troops with all the necessary amenities to make their off-duty hours comfortable.

If there is one thing we have in Canada, it is the expertise and equipment to make very livable housing conditions in very inhospitable locales. In fact, there are a large number of Canadian companies that specialize in the design and construction of a wide variety of such shelters.

Given that Goose Bay is isolated in the middle of Labrador, security would not be a factor, as even the most dedicated ISIS sleeper agent would have one hell of a trek to the next major urban centre. Also, if apprised of the situation in which they will be placed (for example, a temporary camp, in the middle of nowhere during a harsh winter season) and they still decide to participate, you will have already weeded out the genuinely desperate from those simply seeking a personal benefit. That wouldn’t necessarily be the case if we offer them cruise-ship living. Hell, I would love to spend this winter on a cruise boat!

That said, we could still put Hillier in charge of the whole program.