Some 214 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in Toronto Tuesday afternoon, the latest such mass transfer by the federal government, which is "working very hard" to meet its goal of hosting 10,000 people fleeing strife in the war-torn country, says Immigration Minister John McCallum.
"In coming days, there will be many, many more flights," he said, though he did not specify when or where those flights are expected. McCallum also did not say when Tuesday's plane, a chartered Jordanian flight, is expected to arrive.
The minister said there are "just shy of 1,000" refugees in the country so far, which includes last week's flights as well as those who have arrived by commercial flights.
The first wave of refugees arrived by military aircraft Thursday night. A second flight arrived in Montreal on Saturday.
Immediate health care coverage in Ontario and Quebec
Incoming refugees have had "one-stop shopping" processing, McCallum said, receiving permanent resident status as well as their health card when they arrive.
In Ontario and Quebec, refugees will receive immediate health care coverage, he said. However, some provinces require a three-month waiting period before permanent residents can access provincial health care.
The government's restored refugee health program will provide coverage in the interim in those provinces, he said.
"That extended coverage is exactly the same as what Canadians on social assistance receive," McCallum said.
It will also provide "extended coverage" in Quebec and Ontario for care not provided by the province, he said.
Putting suspicious cases to the side
McCallum also emphasized that the government is keeping up its momentum when it comes to processing refugees by focusing on those who have the greatest need. For example, security agencies won't be spending a lot of time processing applications that contain red flags.
"If we put the suspicious-sounding cases to the side and proceed with the cases that do not appear suspicious, then I think that would speed up the process significantly," said McCallum.
South of the border, security concerns have dominated the discussion around refugee processing.
In November, governors in several American states — both in the conservative south such as Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and in many northern states including Michigan, Illinois and Maine — opposed accepting refugees, arguing they posed significant security risks.
Asked about the difference between Canada's rate of refusal compared to the United States, McCallum said Canada's spy agencies have assured the government that incoming refugees are among the most vulnerable.
"The bulk of these people are whole families together," McCallum said. "I don't have precise numbers on either U.S. or Canadian refusal rates."
Government-assisted refugees on their way
Two or three of those arriving on Tuesday's flight will be government-assisted refugees (GARs), while the bulk will be privately-sponsored. That's because the private sponsorship groups began their work earlier on, McCallum said.
In October, it emerged that the previous government halted the process of sponsoring Syrian refugees pending an audit into security screening processes.
The minister said the current government's plans are independent of its predecessor when asked about how the Conservatives' decision may impact its goal of settling 10,000 refugees in Canada by the end of the year.
"I don't want to blame them for anything… [or] hold them responsible for any difficulties we may have along that path," McCallum said.