A gateway to Canada for Ukrainians fleeing war

Canada has a long history of welcoming people from war-torn countries, including those affected by the current conflict in Ukraine. In response to the situation, the Government of Canada implemented temporary immigration measures to help thousands of Ukrainian nationals find safety within our borders.

A person holding Canadian flags and welcome signs

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is leading the effort, with support from partners that include Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).

PSPC played a key role in arranging air transit for an initial wave of displaced Ukrainians. The department also secured contracts with hotels and developed a dedicated hotel booking system to ensure Ukrainian arrivals have a place to stay during their first days in Canada.

Initial steps

PSPC has a Shared Travel Services team that provides business travel solutions for public servants across the federal government. The team was asked to leverage its travel expertise and contract with a company providing travel management services to assist IRCC. “We were there from the outset, to help define the requirements, provide guidance and deliver services,” says Eugénie Beaudoin, with the PSPC travel team.

In May of 2022, the government announced that it had arranged 3 federal charter flights for Ukrainians who wanted to come to Canada, departing from Poland and arriving in Winnipeg, Montréal and Halifax. PSPC’s travel team created a form for Ukrainians interested in the flights and, based on their submissions, collaborated with IRCC on the flight manifests listing the passengers and cargo expected.

An airplane on the airport tarmac

With the details worked out, PSPC’s procurement specialists were able to award a contract for the flights. “We used emergency protocols to speed up the process,” says procurement officer Paul Rolland. “After reaching out to commercial and charter airlines, we received 3 bids and chose the best overall offer.” The contract got off the ground quickly, and the flights brought over 900 Ukrainians to temporary safe haven in Canada.

Hotels rooms were needed as urgently as flights. PSPC procurement officer Nathalie Sielatycki and her colleagues were asked to book blocks of rooms during the busy 2022 spring and summer travel seasons. “We started with a quick callout letter to hotels,” says Sielatycki, “and secured some spaces that way. But we also had to think outside the box by turning to universities and colleges to use their student quarters.” Later that year, when there was more time to plan, the procurement team issued a nationwide Request for Proposals to the hotel sector, which allowed PSPC to build a large inventory of hotel rooms.

The expertise of the PSPC travel team was critical in identifying the flight and hotel requirements for the contracts. “We think about details others may not consider,” says travel team member Lisa Henderson, “such as whether people are coming with pets or wheelchairs, or if they need to refrigerate medication.”

New solutions

With an influx of displaced Ukrainians arriving in Canada by the summer of 2022, it soon became clear that a hotel booking system was critical. The PSPC travel team worked with the government’s travel management supplier on a custom tool to book hotel stays of up to 14 nights for Ukrainian newcomers.

A crowded airport arrival hall with people at desks greeting arriving passengers

“The booking system allowed us to automate and streamline a manual process that required a lot of work. All the rooms are now in a central database and availability is shown in real-time,” says Henderson. “It has made finding rooms much easier for IRCC and its partner organizations on the ground, who can access the system from the airport kiosks where they greet Ukrainian arrivals in need of assistance.”

PSPC’s travel team was involved in defining the parameters of the system, exploring industry options to meet the requirements and carrying out technical testing before the launch. Ultimately, the system was developed and deployed within 2 months. “We succeeded because we had the expertise, collaboration and contracts to make it happen,” explains Beaudoin. Between October 2022 and March 2023 alone, there were over 9,000 registrations in the system, representing either individuals or families.

The travel team continues to oversee the system and the contract with the travel management supplier providing it, to ensure all the project goals are met. “This is PSPC’s responsibility,” says Beaudoin. “The service delivered by our contractor must enable Canada to meet its commitments to displaced Ukrainians.”

The success of this system is an example of how the federal government’s actions to improve operations and services through technology, under the Digital Ambition Strategy, can provide real-world benefits.

A meaningful effort

PSPC will keep the procurement and technology processes in place as long as necessary to support IRCC.

The backs of a person and a young person walking down an airport hallway with their luggage

“The project has its stressful moments,” Henderson says, “but it’s also very rewarding and important. We’re doing this for people who are suffering and need help. So you take on the challenge with open arms.”

Learn more about the Government of Canada’s immigration measures and support for Ukrainians and their families. For other interesting articles about PSPC people and projects, check out Our stories.

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