Vancouver: Canada`s Conservative government came under fire on Thursday after reports the family of a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach had wanted to emigrate to Canada, rattling Prime Minister Stephen Harper`s re-election bid.
A photograph of the tiny body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi face down in the sand at the Aegean resort of Bodrum swept social media on Wednesday and appeared prominently on front pages on Thursday, spawning sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees.
The boy`s aunt, Vancouver resident Tima Kurdi, said she had hoped to bring her brother - the father of Aylan - and his family to Canada, but had first tried to sponsor another brother, currently in Germany, an application that was rejected.
Canada`s Department of Citizenship and Immigration said the application of the first brother had been returned because it was "incomplete" and that there was no record of an application from Aylan`s family.
Fighting tears, New Democratic leader Thomas Mulcair, whose party has been leading in polls ahead of the Oct. 19 election, said one of his members of parliament had been trying to help the boy`s family.
"It`s just unbearable that we`re doing nothing. Canada has an obligation to act," Mulcair said, choking up while speaking during a campaign stop in Toronto.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said Canada must immediately accept 25,000 Syrian refugees.
Conservative Immigration Minister Chris Alexander abandoned his own campaign and returned to Ottawa to focus on the refugee crisis. He said he was meeting with officials to get an update on the family`s case and broader migrant crisis.
Harper said he and his wife, Laureen, had seen the photos of the drowned boy and thought of their own son at that age.
"If we look at the millions of people who are in danger, the tens of thousands who are dying, we could drive ourselves crazy with grief. Obviously we do what we can do to help," Harper told reporters.
"Refugee policy alone is not remotely a solution," he said, pointing to Canada`s participation in the military campaign against militant group Islamic State.
Harper`s overhaul of the country`s immigration system has been criticized by refugee advocates.
Canada has set it would accept 23,000 Iraqi refugees and 11,300 Syrians, but has been criticized for only resettling 2,300 Syrians to date. Alexander said the government will accept 10,000 more persecuted minorities from the region.