Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a campaign stop in Surrey on Thursday.

Surrey transit announcement gives way to Syrian refugee crisis

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says federal government is probing drowning death of boy, 3, whose family was trying to reach Canada.

A planned announcement on federal funding for rapid transit in Surrey was derailed Thursday (Sept. 3), as Prime Minister Stephen Harper re-purposed his stop in the city to comment further on the Syrian refugee crisis.

In his first visit to Surrey since the election campaign began, Harper had been expected to promise federal money for light-rail transit – a move designed to bolster Conservative support in the city, which has already seen campaign visits from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Instead, speaking to the assembled crowd at the Fruiticana Warehouse in Newton, Harper was offering assurances that Canada has one of the most generous refugee systems in the world.

“We have to do everything – that is the reaction that people should have,” he said.

“…We should be doing everything, we are doing everything and we will do more of everything – that’s our conclusion.”

Conservative candidates Dianne Watts (South Surrey-White Rock) and Harpreet Singh (Surrey-Newton) were in attendance at the high-security event, but made no public comments.

Harpers’ comments came in the wake of international outcry after the drowning death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on the shores of Turkey this week, and revelations that his family – refugees escaping civil war in Syria – intended to seek asylum in Canada.

Harper told the Surrey crowd that Alan’s older brother and mother also drowned when the little boy’s family tried to reach Greece from Turkey in a small boat. The vessel capsized, and only Alan’s father, Abdullah, survived.

Harper said the federal government is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the drowning.

Alan’s aunt and uncle live in Coquitlam and say they could have housed and provided for the family there.

While initial reports said Canada had rejected the family’s bid for asylum, the Citizenship and Immigration Department later said that no request had been made for Abdullah Kurdi’s immediate family, although a request for another family member had been returned as incomplete.

Harper said Internet photos of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body were “heart-wrenching – it brings you to your own family.”

However, he said, he couldn’t understand those who support humanitarian aid while at the same time wanting Canada to walk away from a military coalition that is trying to defeat ISIL forces in Syria.

“We need to help people who are actually there and can’t get away,” he said.

“And part of the way we need to help them is to stop the awful violence that is being directed at them, displacing them and killing them.”

VIDEO: Stephen Harper comments on Alan Kurdi’s death, Syrian refugee crisis