The Canadian government is advising temporary housing suppliers to plan on receiving Syrian refugees by early December as it scrambles to find sufficient homes for 25,000 asylum seekers from both private providers and the military.
This notice sent out by the Department of Public Works on Thursday is the first indication of when the Syrians might start arriving.
The federal government’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees will cost $1.2-billion over the next six years, according to a government document obtained by The Canadian Press. The document, which lays out the proposed funding model, says $876.7-million would be needed in this fiscal year alone.
Ottawa’s rush to secure lodging comes as the Department of National Defence “winterizes” housing at Canadian Armed Forces bases in Meaford and Borden in Ontario to prepare for a flood of newcomers. The military has been ordered to prepare to house as many as half of the refugees but it’s unclear whether it will take that many.
The Forces said Thursday the planning priority right now is for interim lodging at bases in Quebec and Ontario, including CFB Valcartier north of Quebec City and CFB Trenton in Southern Ontario – but others could be added later.
The military said some personnel temporarily residing in Valcartier and CFB Edmonton are being moved to other bases in case the need for more space arises. The Forces are also signalling that Christmas leave may be cancelled or shortened for some CAF members as the Forces prepare to receive a significant portion of the Syrians.
Public Works posted a notice Thursday asking temporary lodging suppliers to signal whether they were interested in bidding on contracts to provide “temporary winterized lodging for groups of 500 to 3,000 people by early December.”
The department said lodging might be required for up to three months and must be self-contained, meaning that they supply everything from on-site power as well as water and waste management and recycling services.
Public Works said it’s looking for “clusters of housing units” for “individuals and large families” with a facility that could accommodate a health clinic for up to six people at a time.
Speaking after a resettlement planning meeting in Calgary on Thursday, Fariborz Birjandian – who is leading the steering committee for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the city – said Canadian officials don’t have time to process all the refugees overseas, and will bring some here to be vetted on military bases in Quebec and Ontario.
“They’re dealing with large numbers, in a very short period of time. It seems that they are not able to process all those things overseas. They’re going to do it in Canada,” Mr. Birjandian, who is also chief executive of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said of the federal government.
He said his understanding is that refugees screened at bases would then be sent to the communities where they will live.
“It’s more important to do it right because the people who are coming, they already have suffered a lot. So we have to really take care of them, and I think we have to be sure we create a condition so that they become successful,” Mr. Birjandian said.
“They’re not coming here as a visitor. They’re coming here to stay. They’re not going back.”
The logistical planning for this mass arrival has been in the works for months. The federal bureaucracy first started planning before the Oct. 19 election was over. After the Liberals won office, the very first briefing provided to Mr. Trudeau’s transition team by public servants was on this ambitious resettlement plan. The Liberals, who ran on a pledge to bring in 25,000 by year end, were given a number of options to meet their promise.
Senior Trudeau aide Cyrus Reporter, has been put in charge of overseeing the refugee file in the Prime Minister’s Office, and he was part of this Tuesday’s meeting of the cabinet committee on refugees in Centre Block. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS director Michel Coulombe on Wednesday told media they are confident refugees can be sufficiently screened by the end of the year as the Liberal government had promised.
Concerns about the security risks of Syrian refugees began spreading among provincial and municipal governments after last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris. A Syrian passport found near the body of one the assailants in the Paris attacks has raised questions about whether refugees who entered during the mass immigration were involved in the deadly assaults on Nov. 13.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum spent much of the week trying to assuage security concerns among provincial and municipal officials.
On Thursday, he and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale met with counterparts in Quebec to plan that province’s contribution to the Syrian resettlement effort.
The Trudeau Liberals are eager to get other governments to endorse their plan, despite concerns the year-end target is unrealistic. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who has publicly urged Ottawa to delay its timeline, said Thursday that his government will establish a “refugee settlement centre” to co-ordinate the arrival of Syrian refugees into that province.
Mr. Wall said he is still waiting to hear how many Syrians will be landing in his province, adding no one should doubt the province’s willingness to make the resettlement a success.
“We need to take our time and get this right. We need to get the safety and security outcomes right at the front of this process and get the resettlement outcomes right at the back end of this process. I’m not sure that’s possible by Dec. 31, but regardless of the timeline, we will make every effort to make it work,” Mr. Wall said in a statement.
STEVEN CHASE, DANIEL LEBLANC AND KELLY CRYDERMAN
OTTAWA And CALGARY — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 8:42PM EST
Last updated Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 11:57PM EST