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January 10, 2019 2:55 am EST
Updated: January 10, 2019 2:58 am EST

Trudeau defends Canada’s refugee program, as he addresses a teen girl’s killing in B.C.

When asked about the connection between a Syrian refugee and the murder of a B.C. teen, Trudeau said Canada's strength is in its diversity as the world is "hardening its hearts to immigration."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced questions on several topics at a town hall held at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C. on Wednesday night.

They covered areas such as climate change, First Nations and international students.

But one question in particular had Trudeau reminding his audience they were going to hear from a “wide range of perspectives.”

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One audience member asked him about the killing of Marrisa Shen, a 13-year-old girl who was found dead in Burnaby, B.C.’s Central Park in July 2017.

Ibrahim Ali, a 28-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada in March 2017, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.

The audience member asked Trudeau, “can you guarantee that Marrisa Shen was not killed by a Syrian refugee who came to Canada after you were elected, and if not, what in your opinion is the acceptable number of Canadian lives lost as a result of your policies on refugees?”

READ MORE: Man accused of murdering Marrisa Shen appears in Vancouver court

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Trudeau responded first by saying violent crime — and what the Shen family has gone through — is a “terrible tragedy, and we have a judicial system, we have a process through which to go.”

“But the generalizations and the danger that we get in, in tying in things like immigration policies to incidents like this, is something that I don’t entirely know is helpful or useful in a diverse, pluralistic, inclusive society like ours,” he said.

Trudeau went on to say that the “safety and well-being of all Canadians is at the forefront of our responsibility as government, responsibility as a society, and we need to do everything we can to keep our children safe.

“But to set up a false dichotomy that says, well part of everything we need to do to keep Canadians safe is to keep people from away out of this country, is simply not the way we are as Canadians.”

The prime minister drew cheers for that remark.

He said people are living in a time when the world is “hardening its hearts to immigration, and not seeing the economic benefits of welcoming in people who are looking for nothing more than the opportunity to work hard and build a better future for themselves and their kids.”

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When Trudeau campaigned for prime minister in 2015, he set a goal of taking in 25,000 refugees — that’s how many arrived between December 2015 and March 2016.

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Since then, critics have been skeptical about the plan, with then-Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall suggesting that it be suspended over security concerns.

Refugees undergo a lengthy, multi-step process before they come to Canada — and statistics don’t suggest a close correlation between recent immigration and crime.

In fact, it’s the opposite in Canada’s biggest city, based on data from the 2006 Census.

A Statistics Canada report looking at Toronto found that the percentage of recent immigrants was inversely proportional to all types of violent crime, including sexual assault, common assault and robbery.

  • With files from The Canadian Press

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