Sean Fine contrasts Canada’s current response to the Syrian refugee crisis with the way Canadians welcomed and resettled 5,000 people each from Kosovo and Uganda (1990s and 1972, respectively) and with the 60,000 Vietnamese we received from 1978-1980. In a companion article of the same date, Harper says military action needed to address root causes of refugee crisis, Bill Curry, Daniel Leblanc, Ian Bailey and Tu Thanh Ha report on Prime Minister Harper’s redoubling his message that military action is required, as well, to address the root cause of the refugees’ flight from Syria.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Question to Explore:

  • How does Canada’s response to the current refugee crisis compare with the way we accepted Vietnamese and other refugees over the past 40 years?

New Terminology:

Crises, Islamic State, Amnesty International, boat people

Materials Needed:

Globe articles

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Students most likely will have seen the horrific images of the lifeless Syrian refugee child that stunned the world on September 2nd. As the Syrian refugee crisis continues and Canada’s response is criticized daily by opposition political parties vying for power during the current federal election campaign, students can benefit from a short lesson and assignment that provides some historical perspective on the way we have received refugees in the past.

Students will work in pairs to use the attached articles as their principal resource (however, your best judgment always applies, should you wish to use other sources) to complete a short worksheet and writing assignment. Discuss their homework assignment in a subsequent class.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion to set up the assignment, which students will complete for homework. Consider these questions and prompts to help focus the discussion:

  • Ask students if they had seen the images of the drowned Syrian child. Ask for volunteers to explain their understanding of the refugee situation.
  • Ask if students are aware of any other refugee crises in which Canada welcomed refugees in our country.
  • If you have students whose parents or guardians have been refugees to Canada, ask if they would be willing to talk about their experiences.

Provide the following assignment.

Choose a partner. Working individually, use these two articles as your resources to complete a short worksheet for homework. When you have completed all your written work, connect with your partner to discuss your work and to compare their work with your own. Without changing your work, add a note at the bottom of your sheet indicating where your partner’s views changed your own, if at all.


Part 1:

  • Why are Syrian refugees fleeing their country?
  • How many Syrian refugees has our current government committed to accept this year?
  • How does this compare to previous promises made in 2013?
  • As of the date of this article, how many Syrian refugees has Canada received and how does this compare to our committed numbers?
  • In their election campaign announcements, how many refugees have the Liberals and NDP promised to take in and by what date?
  • How does the government counter criticisms that we are not doing enough to date? (Note the answer by Immigration Minister Alexander)
  • What connection, if any, is there between our military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the Syrian refugee crisis?

Part 2:

  • How many Vietnamese refugees did Canada accept from 1978 to 1980?
  • How many refugees from Kosovo were received in the late 1990s?
  • Which governments were in power during these periods?
  • What was the main difference between the way the current government is dealing with refugees and the way the governments dealt with the Vietnamese refugees, in particular?

Part 3:

Write a paragraph or two in which you offer your own opinions on the way we are handling the refugee crisis. Include answers to the following questions:

  • Do you think we should be bringing in more refugees and faster than the government has committed to date?
  • Would you be willing to volunteer to help in some way? Why?
  • Do you think the Conservative government’s policy on immigrants is different from previous governments and if so, do you think this has an effect on our ability to receive more refugees and faster?
  • We are told regularly and often by Prime Minister Harper that the refugees’ crisis must also be resolved by military action of the type Canada is currently undertaking (air strikes by our air force). Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer.

Finally, discuss your work with your partner (name your partner) and note below how your discussion has changed your views, if at all.

Bonus question: Is your family, church group or other community organization planning any efforts to help out during this crisis? If so, describe what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Discuss the homework assignment in a subsequent class to see how informed students have become and to see how they use what they have learned to inform their position on the refugee crisis.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students understand the basic facts about and present informed opinions on the refugee crisis.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students become engaged with the fate of the refugees and bring news of the crisis to class as it emerges. Students describe efforts by their churches, families or community groups to assist during the crisis.