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Should Yellowknife help? Public meeting on Syrian refugees

The City of Yellowknife is holding a public forum on Thursday evening to discuss ways the city and its residents can help Syrian refugees.

The meeting will take place at City Hall from 7pm.

“For the past several days, there has been an outpouring of support from Yellowknifers to do something tangible for those suffering from the events of recent years in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis,” said the city’s mayor, Mark Heyck.

“To help facilitate this spirit of giving, we will be hosting a public forum to discuss ways that Yellowknifers can help alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis.”

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Hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly Syrian, have arrived in European nations so far this year – with many more hoping to make new homes in North America.

By the start of September, Canada had accepted 2,500 Syrian refugees. Provinces like Quebec and Saskatchewan have pledged to accept more refugees, while Nova Scotia’s justice minister recently called on the federal government to “open the door to Canada”.

The city of Vancouver held a similar public forum on Tuesday as BC Premier Christy Clark established a $1 million fund to help refugees settling in the province. Ottawa’s mayor, Jim Watson, says he is in talks with the mayors of Toronto and Vancouver to see what those cities can do to help.

Background: Syrian refugee crisis timeline

However, some Yellowknifers say the city should be focusing on social issues closer to home.

“This is a very noble sentiment,” wrote Stacie Smith in response to Mayor Heyck. “However, I have to wonder what is the city doing to alleviate the growing crisis of our homeless population.

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“Though this crisis may not seem as severe as that of Syria, it is one that needs our utmost attention as it is outside our front doors.

“Our time and money would be much better spent in cleaning our own back yard rather than jumping the fence.”

Smith’s views were echoed by several others.

“I feel the pain of other countries and am thankful to be Canadian,” one resident wrote on the City of Yellowknife’s Facebook page, “but we have Canadian children and youth dying everyday on our streets, Canadian children going to school hungry, Canadian issues that need focus before focusing on the issues of other countries.”

But resident Katia Lapka, writing to Moose FM, said: “We have homeless shelters, we have alternatives. They don’t. If we don’t open our doors lots of lives have potential to be lost.

“At what point has helping people who are completely helpless become a debate?”

“There’s room for both,” Heyck told Moose FM. “This is not an either-or question, in my view.

“It’s a matter that has come to global and certainly Canadian attention in recent weeks, and there’s a desire on the part of some of our residents to help out in whatever way they can.”

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