Syrian refugee deadline tough to meet, Quebec immigration minister says

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil says the arrival of Syrian refugees will take place with the security of Quebecers in mind - but the province's target of 5,700 people may not be reached by the end of the year.

Province still waiting for Ottawa to finalize its plans, Kathleen Weil says

Quebec Immigration minister Kathleen Weil speaks at a news conference in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 16, where she briefed the media on Quebec's plans to bring in refugees from Syria. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil says the arrival of Syrian refugees will take place with the security of Quebecers in mind.

But Weil told a news conference Monday the province's target of 5,700 people may not be reached by the end of the year.

"To be frank, I'm not sure it will be possible," she said in Montreal. 

"I think that people realize it'll take the time it'll take, but we are determined to do it well."

Weil acknowledged concerns about security in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris, but said she's assured by the federal government's claim that proper checks will be done before the refugees arrive in Canada.

A Syrian refugee child sleeps in his father's arms after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. Quebec could welcome 5,700 refugees by the end of the year. (Muhammed Muheisen/The Associated Press)
She said those who signed anti-refugee petitions and unfurled an anti-refugee banner last week in the provincial capital are sending a message to "take the time to do things properly."

"I think people need to be reassured that first of all we hear their message, we hear their concerns and that the governments will act responsibly to ensure that all of their concerns are responded to, because Quebecers have a big heart and an open heart, and they're always there," she said.

Quebec City mayor urges caution

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, however, had a different take. In a Facebook post, Labeaume said he thinks federal authorities should avoid acting too hastily when it comes to accepting refugees. 

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume says welcoming Syrian refugees should not be done to 'the detriment of security.' (Jacques Boissinot/CP)
"Let us open our hearts to human distress, but not to the detriment of security," he said.

​His counterpart in Montreal, Denis Coderre, said his city is ready to take on refugees, but suggested the federal government to take the time to do it right. 

Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau, meanwhile, called for an emergency debate at the National Assembly. He said there a still a lot of unanswered questions.

"We need to make sure we will be able to have the proper environment to get these refugees in a proper way, and a proper manner," he said.

Montreal schools poised to accept Syrian students

Quebec has already approached several school boards to organize plans to handle the influx, including Montreal's French-language school board, the Commission scolaire de Montréal.

The CSDM is one of three school boards in Montreal asked to make room for up to 2,400 Syrian children between the ages of four to 17.

At the moment, Montreal's English school boards have not been approached.

Lester B. Pearson School Board Chairwoman Suanne Stein Day had expressed the hope that some of the newcomers would be granted humanitarian exemptions to allow them to attend schools in her board. 

A provision under Quebec's language law — Bill 101 — specifies that only immigrants to Quebec who have parents who were educated in English in the province or elsewhere in Canada can go to English-language schools.

With files from The Canadian Press


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