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Jagmeet Singh 'disgusted' by refugee rhetoric at Burnaby South debate

NDP leader took issue with answers to question about resettling people fleeing danger
pre debate
Debate moderator Stephen D'Souza explains the ground rules of to Burnaby South candidates. Left to right: independent Terry Grimwood, Liberal Richard Lee (behind), NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People's Party, independent Valentine Wu and Conservative Jay Shin.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was “disgusted” by the rhetoric of his fellow candidates at a Burnaby South byelection debate after hearing their answers to a question about refugee resettlement. 

All six candidates – Singh, Liberal Richard Lee, Conservative Jay Shin, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People’s Party, independent Valentine Wu and independent Terry Grimwood – in the Feb. 25 race to replace former MP Kennedy Stewart squared off at Maywood Community School Monday evening. 

Things got heated shortly after moderator Stephen D’Souza asked “How will you support refugee claims? Will you be a national and global champion for those coming to Canada to apply for refugee status and those wanting to come to Canada as a refugee?” 

Lee said the Liberal government is taking safety issues related to refugees “very seriously.”

The former BC Liberal MLA said the previous Conservative government cut funding to the Canada Border Services Agency, which the Liberals restored after taking power in 2015.

“The government is taking action to strengthen some of the ideas on security issues,” Lee said

Wu said it’s important not to confuse people opposed to current refugee policies with people who are anti-refugee. 

Grimwood said refugees should be settled in rural Canada. 

Shin highlighted the fact he came to Canada as a child from Korea. He said Canada must continue to allow immigration to grow the country. 

"I'm all for legal immigration ... What I'm against is illegal immigration, illegal border crossers coming to Canada, putting a strain on our immigration process and making it difficult for proper immigrants who come here and populate this country.” 

Thompson also raised safety and security issues related to refugees.

“I believe that, as a Christian, that we are to open our houses and our country to foreigners – that is not the issue,” she said. “The issue is we do need to know who they (refugees) are. We do need to understand that there are some people who enter our country who might not share our values.”

Thompson said the murder of Burnaby teen Marrisa Shen was an example of why Canada must screen refugees more stringently. The man accused of her murder is a refugee from Syria, but there is no public evidence suggesting he had a criminal record or that there were other warning signs missed by Canadian officials. 

When it came for Singh to answer the question, he said he was “disgusted by some of the values being espoused.”

Some in the audience clapped and cheered for Singh’s comments as others booed and one man wearing a People’s Party button shouted “Canadians first!”

“We're talking about refugees; we're talking about people who are fleeing danger,” Singh said as the crowd grew louder. “These are people fleeing death; these are people who are fleeing serious situations.”

Another man in the crowd shouted “Terrorists!” as Singh continued his answer.

It was the most heated moment in a debate focused on “social inclusion” in Burnaby South.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned with Lee in the riding.

For more from the debate and Trudeau’s visit, follow the Twitter thread linked below.