Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship says cabinet will form a subcommittee to co-ordinate government efforts to bring thousands of Syrian refugees to this country.
"Canadians can and must do more to help Syrian refugees who are desperately seeking safety," McCallum said Monday during a news conference in Ottawa. "The new cabinet ad hoc committee is our first step towards Canada providing more Syrian refugees with the safe haven they so desperately need."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced Monday the appointment of Malcolm Brown, a top bureaucrat, and the current deputy minister for international development, as special adviser to the clerk of the Privy Council on the Syrian refugee initiative.
"This is about showing leadership and doing what is right as Canadians," McCallum said of the appointments, less than a week after the new Liberal government was sworn in.
Logistics, housing up in the air
The minister reaffirmed the government's ambitious commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada through government sponsorship by the end of the year. Even more refugees could be accepted through private sponsorships.
Some critics have said that the government's target is far too ambitious, but Trudeau himself took to social media to champion the new cabinet committee as a sign he's serious about getting to the promised number.
"We are working on the logistics of that," McCallum said, when pressed on whether it was feasible to bring that many to Canada in such a short timeframe. "But we are also determined to do the job well, which means proper consideration be given to security concerns and health concerns."
McCallum left the door open for a revised target, saying the government's first priority is to ensure resettlement is "carried out in a humane and expeditious way."
"A good number will be coming in the weeks to come. I cannot give you a precise number. But as we speak, we are working on transport."
McCallum said the new government could enlist commercial airlines and the Royal Canadian Air Force — and possibly even oceanliners — to get the refugees to Canada.
"Every option is on the table, whatever works, whatever is cost effective, whatever will get them here safely and quickly."
Air Canada has already offered to help the government transport Syrian refugees "to the fullest extent possible," the airline said in a statement to CBC News. A company spokesperson said the airline has so far only exchanged "preliminary information" with Ottawa.
As for where the refugees will be housed, McCallum said he was working closely with his new cabinet colleague, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, to hammer out a plan.
"The army is playing a major role because military bases could be one of the locations in which these people are housed," McCallum said.
We remain committed to our goal of sponsoring 25K refugees from Syria. A new cabinet committee will help it happen: https://t.co/3pCwhsUNBW— @JustinTrudeau
Canadian immigration officials will focus on Syrian refugees living in wartorn Syria's neighbouring countries, which have faced a massive influx of people fleeing.
"There are three primary countries we are looking at: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon," McCallum said. "We have to clearly liaise with the governments of those countries and with the United Nations.
"Each country has its own particularity. It's possible we will take some refugees from each of those countries, or maybe there will be more of a focus on one or two of them."
The New Democratic Party, for its part, said it supported the new cabinet committee but said it was disappointed with a lack of details on how exactly the government would get the refugees to Canadian shores.
"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," newly elected NDP MP Jenny Kwan said in a statement.
McCallum, in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, said more such details would be released over the course of the next week.
Price tag a moving target
McCallum told reporters that the cost of resettling the refugees is still in flux, but added the government would fulfil its campaign commitment to invest at least $100 million in refugee processing and resettlement services in Canada.
The Canadian government will also give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees an immediate cash injection of $100 million to support the relief activities in Syria and the surrounding area.
The costs — and logistics — associated with resettlement are likely to be spread out over a number of federal departments, hence the formation of a cabinet committee to facilitate interagency co-ordination.
The ad hoc committee will include the following members:
- Jane Philpott, minister of health, chair.
- Mélanie Joly, minister of Canadian heritage, vice-chair.
- Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.
- Stéphane Dion, minister of foreign affairs.
- John McCallum, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.
- Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board.
- Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of international development.
- Harjit Singh Sajjan, minister of national defence.
- Maryam Monsef, minister of democratic institutions.
The committee will hold its first meeting on Nov. 10.