Canadian military can already house 12K Syrian refugees
The Canadian military is already prepared to house 12,000 Syrian refugees -- nearly half of the 25,000 that the Liberal government has promised to bring to the country -- by the end of the year, CTV News has learned.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance ordered a review weeks ago so that the military could hit the ground running in case the government asked for his support.
Refugees could be housed in cadet summer camps and military training bases.
"We've got the whole network of bases across Canada -- probably, though I’m just guessing at this stage of the game -- it could probably come back to (Canadian Forces Base) Trenton, where they could be processed and distributed out," said retired Major General David Fraser.
Earlier on Monday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum announced that a cabinet sub-committee has been tasked with bringing the Liberals’ goal to fruition.
The chair of the sub-committee will be Health Minister Jane Philpott. Other members include Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef.
McCallum said each sub-committee member has a portfolio that touches on the refugee issue. He singled out Philpott, who has worked with refugees in Africa, and Monsef, who was herself a refugee from Afghanistan.
McCallum said the Liberal government is still committed to bringing the refugees in by the end of the year, but wants to do it “correctly.”
In a statement, NDP MP Jenny Kwan said her party "supports" the Liberals’ goal, but believes that McCallum's announcement was "short on details."
"We believe Canadians were looking for a concrete plan for getting vulnerable refugees out of harm's way, not hearing about new cabinet subcommittees," she said.
"This is the new government's first test on delivering the change they promised to Canadians. We hope that the next announcement on how they will achieve this goal is coming very soon."
McCallum said that Ottawa is relying on support from provinces, territories and municipalities, as well as groups and individuals who want to support refugees to accomplish its goal.
“As long as we do the job right, that is to say with speed but also with due attention to important considerations of health and security,” he said.
He acknowledged “time is limited” for the government to meet its goal, but said he will have a more detailed announcement “soon.”
In an appearance on CTV's Power Play on Monday, immigration lawyer Jennifer Bond said she believes the refugee target can be achieved and that so far the Liberals have taken the right steps forward.
"I think we should feel confident that a lot of senior people have been put on this portfolio, today's subcommittee is filled with people who have both good portfolios to be at the table but also a lot of good individual personal experiences," she said.
"We need to move quickly and I'm very hopeful that today's announcement is not a stall tactic, but actually a real commitment to actually work together to make this happen."
Bond added that refugees are "dying every single day and the increasing numbers of people are dying as conditions worsen overseas."
"As Canadians we can't only cry over the children that have died but we really have to do what we can do to help those that are still at risk, and I think that's where we’re heading," said Bond, who is also behind the University of Ottawa's Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.
Former Canadian ambassador to Syria Glenn Davidson, who also appeared on Power Play, agreed with Bond's assessment, saying that there's "no question (Canada) can handle" 25,000 refugees.
"I think that the steps that the government is taking -- that minister McCallum announced today -- are exactly right," he said.
"Put the focus of this new team firmly on this, put the resources behind it and move aggressively to make it happen."
When asked how the refugees will travel to Canada, McCallum said that “every option is on the table.”
He said involving the Royal Canadian Air Force, commercial planes, as well as ships, are possibilities.
"We would do what is the most efficient, cost-effective quick way to get those people here, and then we have to welcome them, and we have to accommodate and we have to help them settle into Canada," he said.
However, the air force likely won't have as large of a role as commercial airliners because of its limited capacity.
Air Canada has already offered to help the government transport Syrian refugees “to the fullest extent possible.” A company spokesperson told CTV News that the airline has so far only exchanged “preliminary information” with Ottawa.
McCallum said the government now has to figure out the fastest, most secure and cost-effective way to bring Syrian refugees from other countries that have taken them in. He said Ottawa will focus on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
“We have to clearly liaise with the governments of those countries and with the United Nations.”
McCallum said the government has already deployed "dozens of additional immigration officials" to the region to handle the incoming case load.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who is also on the refugee sub-committee, will examine the related costs, McCallum said.
The exact cost of the mission has yet to be determined because all the "variables" have yet to be sorted out, but McCallum said it is going to cost a "penny or two."
"We've put aside some money in our platform for this, but it is not going to be cheap to bring 25,000 people to country and help them settle," he said.
"Don't forget these people come from the most dire of circumstances … this is probably the worst refugee crisis in decades," McCallum added.
The government will also have to find accommodations for all the refugees once they arrive. McCallum said that Canadian military bases are “one possibility” in the "short run," but working with provincial governments, as well as municipalities, non-governmental organizations and will be key.
McCallum said many groups, including the Syrian community, and individuals across the country have also offered to take in refugees.
McCallum said he also hopes to have refugee health care reinstated in line with the same end-of-year deadline.
"I don’t control the parliamentary calendar, and we will not have very much time before Christmas. But I certainly am hoping very much this will be the case," he said.