OTTAWA — Some security screening will be conducted on Canadian soil as the Liberals push to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says.
Goodale told reporters that security checks on the refugees will be conducted both before and after the refugees begin arriving in Canada.
"It will be a combination of both," Goodale said after a cabinet meeting Thursday.
Security concerns were among the chief reasons the previous Conservative government advocated for moving slower on the refugee file — although Harper's former chief of defence staff, Rick Hillier, suggested those were overblown.
Goodale said his officials assured him they can get the job done, despite the ambitious timeline. Goodale's portfolio includes CSIS, which does much of the screening work, as well as the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP.
"My officials are satisfied that, to the extent that there are security issues, that they can be properly managed within the frame that the government is considering, and that Canada can fulfil the objective of receiving and settling 25,000 refugees in an expeditious way," Goodale said.
Goodale was speaking after cabinet got its first look at a plan hammered out by new cabinet committee to meet the end-of-year target. The details of that plan have not been released, but a source told the Star that it's expected to be revealed early next week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted it will be a "tremendous challenge" to meet the 25,000 target, but he has a "great deal of confidence" that his government will make good on their campaign pledge.
"I know that Canada has benefited for decades and generations from various waves of immigrants, people who were often fleeing for their lives and who have established good lives for themselves and contributed greatly to our country's success," Trudeau told reporters at the National Press Theatre.
The Liberal campaign platform promised that 25,000 government-sponsored refugees would be welcomed to Canada immediately. However, the Liberals have also promised to work with private organizations to bring in even more.
The 25,000 promised by year's end could be a mix of government and private sponsorships, but the Prime Minister's Office said Thursday evening the government remains committed that over time, 25,000 will be government-sponsored.
It remains to be seen where the lion's share of the refugees will end up. Quebec expects to welcome about a quarter of them, nearly 6,000 — a figure equal to its percentage of the Canadian population, according to a report in La Presse.
"We are hearing rumours that the operation could start on Dec. 1, that upwards of 900 refugees a week will arrive, and that Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton will be the transit points. We are also hearing there will be military involvement," said Chris Friesen, chairman of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance.
"Where they will go after they arrive, we are not sure. It could be military bases but nothing has been confirmed yet."
Friesen said he anticipates a conference call with officials from Citizenship and Immigration Canada will take place later this week or early next week to formally alert settlement agencies of the government's plan.
A number of the refugees may find temporary lodgings at CFB Valcartier, a military base near Quebec City, but it's Montreal that is preparing to shoulder the largest load of resettlement efforts.
Montreal's school boards have already drawn up plans to integrate more than 2,000 Syrians between the ages of 4 and 17 into its schools as of January 2016.
"We were told to prepare for a flood of new students every day over a period of weeks. We've put in place a plan to welcome them and to teach them French. Today we are ready," Catherine Harel Bourdon, head of the Commission Scolaire de Montréal, told La Presse.
The plan envisions the hiring of dozens of new teachers for the new students. But in the short-term, it hinges on Arab-speaking staff at three Montreal school board helping the new arrivals transition to a French-language environment. School psychologists and social workers will also be required help the refugees deal with the culture shock and the lingering trauma of having fled their warring country.
Other provinces are also busily making plans to resettle the refugees, though they haven't been as forthcoming as Quebec about how many people may be coming their way, or how they're going to be housed and handled.
British Columbia's government on Thursday deferred questions to Ottawa, while Alberta, which has already set aside $250,000 for the job, said it's waiting for the federal government to nail down the national plan before it finalizes its resettlement strategy.
"Right now, community forums are being held throughout the province to help with planning and to identify priorities and challenges that may require additional support from our government," Lori Sigurdson, Alberta's minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, said in a statement.
With files from Marina Jimenez