Speaking notes for the Honourable John McCallum, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at a news conference updating Canada's plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, following his return from a trip to Lebanon and Jordan


Ottawa, Ontario
December 23, 2015

As delivered

Thank you. Good morning. Hello to everyone. This is probably my last of these regular briefings of the year. One never knows, but I think it is the last. And consistently, I have tried to take Canadians through the whole story, with the pluses and the minuses. And this being the last event, probably, for the year, I do have a number of things to relate to you.

As you know, I have recently returned from a visit to Jordan and Lebanon, so I thought I’d begin by telling you what for me was the most moving part of this trip.

It was a meeting with a dozen children at a UNICEF centre in Jordan. And all of these kids told me that they wanted to come to Canada, and also that they heard the message of our Prime Minister who greeted the first refugees to arrive in Toronto. However, their family, to my knowledge, had not asked to come to Canada.

I particularly remember a little girl who told me that she wanted to come to Canada, that she had heard Mr. Trudeau’s message, and that her two brothers – aged 13 and 15 years old – worked in construction every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. And so I tried to find a way to include these people and their family among our refugees. My staff told me that this wouldn’t be appropriate, and they were right.

So I’ll always remember that little girl who is not, at least for the moment, able to come to Canada. But the good news is that we will have well over 10,000 children like her arriving in our country before the end of February.

Also, I have said many times that this is truly a national project in which we celebrate the support of Canadians in one way or another, and I would just like to announce a few such supporters. 

At the upper end of our corporate ladder, we have CN, RBC, Scotiabank, giving between them eight-and-a half million dollars – and many, many other companies. We have an anonymous company that has just pledged $2 million, but doesn’t want its name to be known. 

And then we have the Muslim community of the Greater Toronto Area. Khalid Usman, a leading member of that community, held a fundraiser where he raised $1-million. The mosques in the area raised a further $2 million. The Islamic Foundation of Toronto has committed to support 200 or more families, and that has a value of at least $4-million. 

And then at the other end of the spectrum, we have little children across the country committing to produce 25,000 toques for the refugees. This started in Quebec, but has spread across the country. And we have 50 or so school kids I met in Parliament a week or so ago who have all made welcoming signs. 

So I think it’s a great message that across the country during this Christmas season, from the large companies I’ve just mentioned contributing eight-and-a-half-million dollars, to the Toronto Muslim community contributing at least that amount of money in terms of value, to little kids making toques and signs, I think it is a great sign of the generosity of all Canadians according to their means.

Now I think some of you may be wondering whether we will hit our targets, and as I have said before, this is like a wave. It starts slow, and it builds up. And once the wave builds to maximum level, large numbers of refugees are able to fly across the ocean to Canada. One thing I can say with certainty is that our fundamental target will be hit – that is to say well before the end of February, 25,000 Syrian refugees will have landed in Canada as permanent residents. So I am very confident that target will be achieved.

In terms of the more short-term target for 10,000, there is a plane in the air right now with 298 people onboard heading for Montreal. And when that plane arrives, we will have significantly more than 2,000 Syrian refugees having already arrived in this country. 

When I visited the processing centres in Lebanon and in Jordan, I was super impressed by the powerful machines that we have built in both of those cities of Beirut and Amman, particularly on the medical front, because you may recall I said that was one of the issues, the problems, the bottlenecks. But in large measure because of additional help from the military, we are now processing 800 medical cases per day in the two cities combined. We are already up to 8,000 medical cases certified, so within two or three days, we will be above 10,000. And so I am convinced that by the end of the year, 10,000 or more Syrian refugees will be fully processed.

The issue is whether all of those 10,000 Syrian refugees will have arrived in Canada, will have their feet on Canadian soil, by December 31st. That certainly remains our target. We are working day and night to achieve it, but there are certain factors outside our control, like the weather — as you know, flights in late December are sometimes cancelled because of weather, or delayed — and human nature. If an individual is told that his or her family can come to Canada with two days’ notice, they may not be ready to come in two days because much as their desire strongly to be here, they also want to say goodbye to their friends.

So the human element and the weather element make it impossible to guarantee the 10,000 will have arrived on Canadian soil by the end of this month, but we are working very hard to achieve it, and I am very confident that, at a minimum, 10,000 will have been fully processed by the end of this month, if not necessarily already in Canada. And I am very confident that 25,000 refugees will be physically in Canada well before the end of February.

And finally on this subject – I said a flight is in the air now. I cannot give a day-by-day schedule of flights because things change so quickly on the ground for the reasons I have mentioned, but Canadians will be informed on a day-by-day basis of flight projections. And I can certainly tell you there will be many, many flights between now and the end of the year, hopefully enough to bring to Canada 10,000 refugees.

So to summarize, I am quite confident that 25,000 refugees will be here in Canada before the end of February, and I’m sure we have improved our medical process, as we will have at least 10,000 cases verified by that end of the year. And we should also see 10,000 processed as permanent residents by the end of the year. The challenge is to ensure that they are capable of physically arriving here in Canada, and there is a question of weather –which is not always great toward the end of December – and also the question of human nature. But we are working very hard to achieve all of the objectives that I’ve just mentioned.

Two other points: I’ve been talking about the refugees when they’re across the ocean. There’s also the question of what happens when they arrive in Canada, and we are of course working very hard to make sure that they have a place to stay and a roof over their heads at the moment they arrive in Canada. Our resettlement agencies are playing a crucial role in this regard. They always do for refugees, and this is a much larger number than they are used to dealing with.

Last week, I announced an additional $3.6-million for these resettlement agencies to help in their settlement process, and today, I’m pleased to announce an additional $15-million, which will be allocated very quickly to these resettlement agencies in order to assist them with the task of resettling large numbers of refugees over a short period of time.

So I’m very happy to announce that we will transfer $15-million to these resettlement agencies, in order to help them welcome the refugees, and ensure that they will have a roof, a space, a house, as soon as they arrive in Canada.

And the last point – after which I’d be happy to take your questions – is that we have two groups of people. We have Syrian families anxious to bring their families over to Canada and get them out of harm’s way, but who don’t necessarily have enough money to pay for this. We have, on the other hand, very generous Canadians who have indicated a desire to sponsor refugee families. So the one challenge is to bring these two groups together — those who have relatives in harm’s way over there who want to come here and the other group of Canadians who want to sponsor such people. 

And so my department is working on this, and within a month of today – that is January 23rd – we will have a system up that will facilitate the coming together of those two groups of people.

So with that, I’m happy to take your questions.

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