The #Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has announced that his party will devote $9 million (£4.4 million) to fight for religious freedom in the Middle East if re-elected. Harper made the announcement at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Markham, outside Toronto, on August 10. He expressed concern that people live in "daily fear of imprisonment, torture and death" because of their beliefs. This is especially true in areas controlled by the Islamic State and associated organisations, who are believed to have executed 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in December and January.
Harper has also promised to accept 10,000 refugees from #Iraq and Syria over the next four years. He did not say how many of those would be supported by the government financially. The pledge comes a matter of hours after Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, argued that Europe could not cope with the quantities of migrants it was attracting. Some see 10,000 as too few, especially since 3 million Syrians or more may have already fled to bordering states like #Turkey and the Lebanon.
However, Harper has emphasised that the Islamic State itself needs to be tackled or it will continue producing refugees. "The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria cannot be solved, cannot even come close to being solved, by refugee policy alone," he said. "We must stop ISIS. We can accept thousands or tens of thousands...but ISIS left to its own devices will create millions, tens of millions, of refugees and victims on a monthly basis." He accused his election rivals of planning to solve the problem through aid alone, while military action is needed too.
Harper has been in office since 2006, but his premiership has seen difficult times. In 2011, his government lost the confidence of the House of Commons and a general election was called, though Harper ended up winning this. He is hoping to secure another majority in this year's federal election on October 19. We are now in the second week of campaining, and Harper has promised tax credits to encourage businesses to hire apprentices if he is re-elected. Yesterday, he said he would also make it a criminal offence to travel to "places that are ground-zero for terrorist activity" - presumably like Syria and Iraq. Exceptions may be made for journalists, diplomats etc., but Harper asserted that there are "few legitimate reasons" to go to such places.