Suppliers for Syrian refugee welcome kits kept secret for security reasons

The government is taking "exceptional measures" to provide welcome kits to Syrian refugees, but the suppliers of goods and services will be kept secret for security reasons. Remi Lariviere, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said costs and other details will not be disclosed.

Government says 'security implications' preclude release of details around parkas, tuques and books

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives newly arrived Syrian refugee Sylvie Garabedian a winter jacket as her mother Anjilik Jaghlassian looks on at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The government is taking "exceptional measures" to provide welcome kits to Syrian refugees, but the suppliers of goods and services will be kept secret for security reasons.

Remi Lariviere, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said procuring the items to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees is being done as "efficiently and cost-effectively" as possible. But details around costs will not be disclosed.

"Given the security implications of this initiative, the government of Canada, as per the National Security Exception, will not disclose the identity of any supplier or the location of where the work will be done," he said.

On Tuesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said he has not been briefed on that. 

"I have been involved in handing out those parkas, but I do not know the way in which they were sourced, and I will find that out," he said.

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The government website says the exception can be invoked to exclude Canada from international trade agreement obligations for security reasons. 

Upon arrival at welcome centres, the refugees receive:

  • Parkas/jackets for youth and adults.
  • Two-piece snow suits for kids.
  • One-piece snow suits for infants.
  • Tuques, mitts/gloves, socks and snow boots for all from infants to adults.
  • Bag with a maple leaf design.‎
  • Parks Canada tuque.
  • Children's books.
  • Copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in English and French.
  • National Film Board DVD, which includes short films for all ages without words‎.

The welcome packages were developed by Canadian Heritage, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Parks Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the National Film Board.

Books include those submitted for the Governor General's Literary Awards and donations from publishers across Canada, while the DVD provided by the National Film Board includes films such as The Railroader, Cosmic Zoom, Log Driver's Waltz and The Boy and the Snow Goose.

Michelle Rempel, the Conservative critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, called it "bizarre" that the government would use security as a reason to "sole-source" a contract for parkas. 

She said it's another example of the government not providing enough details, and that there are many questions around the procurement of other services, from housing to consulting, to language training.

'Get it right,' Rempel says

"We all want to help, but we want to get it right," she said, calling for more accountability.

On Monday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum announced another 214 refugees will arrive in Toronto on Tuesday, by chartered flight. The first 163 arrived in Toronto last Thursday night by government aircraft, followed by a second flight touching down in Montreal on Saturday with 161 refugees.

Along with the welcome kits, refugees are also provided with written information throughout the process about Canada, and what they can expect upon arrival. 

According to the department, all 25,000 refugees targeted to arrive in Canada by the end of February will receive the same kit to help integrate the newcomers into Canadian society.

"For this emergency humanitarian effort we are taking exceptional measures to speed up our procurement processes to provide goods and services essential to the wellbeing of the refugees and to the success of Canada's efforts while obtaining the best value for Canadians," Lariviere said.