Liberals still vowing 25,000 Syrian refugees by year's end
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, October 28, 2015 7:16PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 28, 2015 10:29PM EDT
Refugee advocates continued to question Wednesday the wisdom of Justin Trudeau’s pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada before New Year’s Day. But veteran Liberal MP John McCallum says his incoming government is still committed to making it happen.
“We’re keeping to our commitment to bring in 25,000 government-assisted refugees before the New Year,” McCallum told CTV Power Play.
“We have experts like (former defence chief) Rick Hillier and (retired lieutenant-general) Romeo Dallaire saying we could do more,” he added.
McCallum noted Canada brought in 60,000 Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s, a process that took 18 months, and 35,000 Hungarians “in a single year” in the 1950s.
He added that even with security checks, resettling 25,000 people in several weeks is a matter of “political will.”
“Where there is a will, and where there Canadians are behind this initiative, magnificent things can be done,” said McCallum, who represents the Toronto-area riding of Markham-Thornhill.
Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, told CTV News Channel Tuesday that after a conference call between refugee advocates, it was clear it would be “impossible” to “properly support” so many on such a short timeline.
On Wednesday, Friesen clarified that while he believes it is “possible” to bring in 25,000 refugees over several weeks, it would impose “significant challenges that would affect the settlement outcomes of these refugees.”
“It would require a massive military operation,” Friesen said. “It would involve most of the 25,000 remaining on military bases for upwards of several months, while the rest of the system was upgraded and enhanced.”
Friesen gave the example of language classes as one service that would need to be ramped up. He said there are currently six- to 10-month waiting lists for the government-funded classes.
“The mechanics of moving 25,000 is one thing,” he said. “The challenge once they’re here is how to successfully integrate them into Canadian society.”
Friesen said officials have informed his group that Canada is currently on track to meet the Harper government’s commitment of having 11,300 Syrian refugees arrive in Canada by Sept. 2016, and that a new processing centre in Beirut is currently processing about 700 cases a week.
Speaking to CTV’s Power Play Wednesday, NDP MP Matthew Dube noted that his party had committed to the “realistic” goal of resettling 10,000 Syrians immediately during the election.
However, Dube said his party is “willing to work hand-in-hand” with the Liberals on the refugee issue once parliament resumes.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel told Power Play there are “some serious concerns around the government’s ability to screen and provide adequate security checks.”
Rempel also called Trudeau’s plan for Canada to withdraw from the bombing campaign against ISIS “short-sighted.”
“There’s a reason why these people are refugees,” she said.
Peter Showler, the former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, told Canada AM earlier Wednesday that “to identify 25,000 people where there are little security concerns (is) not difficult at all.”
However Showler said that even if Canada expedites the resettlement of relatives of Syrian-Canadians who have already been trying to get to Canada, “it still wouldn’t get them to 25,000 by the end of the year.”
Provinces willing to help
Ontario announced in September that it would set aside $8.5 million to help resettle 10,000 refugees in the province by the end of 2016.
Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Chan said Wednesday he doesn’t think it will be possible to take in 10,000 by the end of 2015, but that he will do his best to be ready “to take in as many people as possible.”
Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab, meanwhile, said there’s a lot of “work that is being done on the ground” to get ready for more refugees in that province. Earlier this week, Nova Scotia held an immigration summit where it emphasized the need to grow its population through immigration.
Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said her province will take 3,650 refugees this year and the same number next year, meaning the province would resettle 7,300 by the end of 2016.
With a report from CTV Ottawa Deputy Bureau Chief Laurie Graham