Swept to the Shores: An Analysis of Crisis Response Strategies by Canadian Political Leaders in the Aylan Kurdi Crisis
- Swept to the Shores: An Analysis of Crisis Response Strategies by Canadian Political Leaders in the Aylan Kurdi Crisis
This MRP explored Stephen Harper and Chris Alexander’s responses to the Aylan Kurdi crisis Canada faced in September 2015. Aylan Kurdi, a three-yearold boy, was found dead and photographed on the Turkish shore, close to where he drowned on September 2, 2015. Tima Kurdi, Aylan Kurdi’s aunt, told the media that the family had been trying to come to Canada through a G5 sponsorship agreement but had been denied entry by the Canadian government. Alexander and the Canadian government were criticized – and a crisis resulted. The crisis was particularly important as it came forward during the 2015 Canadian election, when the Conservative government’s refugee policies gained increasing attention. Arguably, this impacted professional image and reputation, as well as Canada’s national reputation.
The purpose of this MRP is to identify the types of image repair strategies Chris Alexander and Stephen Harper used to respond to the crisis in terms of both professional and national reputation.
Two video responses were selected for examination; they were representative of Harper’s and Alexander’s initial responses to the Aylan Kurdi Crisis. The videos were chosen based on frequency of words such as: crisis, apologize, tragedy, failure, action, and blame. These words have come up frequently in the literature review conducted for this MRP. A content analysis was conducted for this MRP. Both videos were transcribed and coded to determine the types of crisis response strategies used by these leaders. The strategies examined are categorized into four types: denial, evasion of responsibility, reducing offensiveness, and mortification. Descriptors for each category (or sub-strategies under each category) included shifting the blame, defeasibility, bolstering, and apology. All 15 descriptors were drawn from the works of Coombs and Benoit (based on Image Repair Theory and Situational Crisis Communication Theory). To quantify percentages, the entire numbers of crisis responses were divided the number of times a particular crisis response strategy was used.
Results indicated that both Harper and Alexander used crisis response strategies of reducing offensiveness, denial, evasion of responsibility, and mortification. Both leaders mainly focused on reducing offensiveness in terms of transcendence, bolstering, corrective action, and performance history. Through an analysis of their responses, it was evident that both leaders addressed Canada’s national reputation.
The findings of this MRP present a key area for further exploration in crisis communication: how nations use image repair strategies to restore a tarnished image.