Canada's Syrian refugee plan: What we know and don't know

Immigration Minister John McCallum will release details today of the Liberal government's plan to resettle 25,000 refugees across the country. Some information has already been leaked, but there are still outstanding questions about how the plan will unfold.
A young Syrian refugee clutches his treasure — an orange — as his mother begs on the streets of Beirut. As many as 1.2 million refugees have flooded into Lebanon from neighbouring Syria as the conflict rages there. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Immigration Minister John McCallum will release details today of the Liberal government's plan to resettle 25,000 refugees across the country. Some information has already been leaked, but there are still outstanding questions about how the plan will unfold.

Will the Liberals stick to their year-end goal of 25,000 refugees?

During the election campaign, the Liberals pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year. But with only a little over five weeks left in 2015, some have questioned whether the Liberal plan is too ambitious. Some have expressed concerns over whether that many refugees can be properly screened and given temporary accommodation in that time.

Who will be selected?

The CBC's Rosemary Barton reported that to deal with security concerns, the government's refugee plan will focus on families and not include unaccompanied men seeking asylum. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has expressed concerns and raised questions over excluding individuals based on gender.

Syrian refugees line up to receive aid for the winter from the UN refugee agency in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

"While security concerns remain of vital importance, will a young man who lost both parents be excluded from Canada's refugee program?" asked Mulcair. "Will a gay man who is escaping persecution be excluded? Will a widower who is fleeing [ISIS] after having seen his family killed be excluded?" 

McCallum is expected to provide more details on who will be included or excluded.

What is their initial destination?

As many as 900 refugees a day are expected to arrive from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The vast majority of them will arrive in Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton, but the details are still unknown. And it's also unclear how they will arrive — via commercial flights, military planes or by cruise ships.

Most of the newcomers will initially be housed in military bases, which have been preparing for their arrival. Other kinds of housing will also be used, including hotels and abandoned hospitals. 

A spokeswoman with the Department of National Defence told CBC News last week that the Armed Forces are currently planning on providing interim lodging at bases in Quebec and Ontario as a priority. But other bases and locations may be used if requested by the government.

CFB Trenton in Ontario is expected to become home to 1,000 refugees and CFB Valcartier in Quebec will take in 500.

The military is also making plans to winterize some of its training bases to accommodate refugees and is moving Canadian Forces members who are in military bases in Quebec and Edmonton on temporary assignments to other wings or rental units to free up space

Where will they be resettled?

Generally speaking, when refugees are settled in Canada, in most cases they've gone to cities, but they also have gone to other areas of the country, said Dan Hiebert, a University of British Columbia geography professor who specializes in international migration.

"We don't yet know what [the government's] geographical strategy is going to look like," Hiebert said.

Some of the provinces are concerned that the refugees will decide to settle in the big cities, rather than go to regions that need families and people with skills.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said that his city might receive somewhere between 2,000 to 2,500 refugees. But Tory said he still doesn't know where the new arrivals will live. The big city mayors spoke with McCallum on Monday, but Tory said there was only a "peripheral" discussion about the temporary housing available, the Toronto Star reported.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said his government has already set aside funds for 3,600 people, but if the province is expected to take in a larger number, more money will be required.

What are the costs?

According to a government document obtained by The Canadian Press, the cost of the Liberal government's plan has been pegged at $1.2 billion over the next six years. Of that, $876.7 million would be needed in 2015-16 alone. The Liberal platform only earmarked $100 million for refugee resettlement this year.

On top of the logistical costs of getting that many people into Canada are the millions more it is going to require to look after their housing, health, education and integration requirements. It is still unknown what costs the cities will have to bear and what financial assistance Ottawa might provide.

"Premiers and mayors are justifiably wondering how the federal government is going to pay for it," said Mulcair.

What is the screening process?

The government has provided few details about the security screening. Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Michel Coulombe said last week that CSIS was involved in planning the screening of Syrian refugees and that "the measures in place are robust." 

The refugees will have been pre-vetted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which looks for those who are deemed less risky — women, children and those who may have sustained injuries from the conflict.

But most importantly, anyone who could raise security markers, is associated with any jihadi groups or involved directly in the conflict, would be rejected. Last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canadian officials will conduct screenings on top of what the United Nations is already doing.

With files from The Canadian Press