Lee Berthiaume (The Ottawa Citizen) and Tara Carman (The Vancouver Sun):
Montreal and Toronto had better get ready to roll out the welcome mat. That’s because those two cities are set to become home to nearly two-thirds of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the government plans to resettle between now and the end of the year.
Documents obtained by Postmedia News show that as of Nov. 19, Citizenship and Immigration Canada had nearly 9,500 Syrian refugee applications in the queue. Of those, about 7,700 were applications from private sponsors such as families and church groups. The government had sponsored most of the other 1,800.
Those numbers line up almost exactly with what the Liberal government had said would be the breakdown of the first wave of Syrian refugees to be resettled into Canada by Dec. 31. A second wave of 15,000 is due to follow in January and February.
The documents also provide a detailed city-by-city breakdown on where those refugees are expected to go. Refugee groups have been asking the government for this information, saying it is essential for knowing how much they need to ramp up, and for determining what types of services will be needed.
The Montreal area, which is already home to Canada’s largest Syrian-Canadian population, is set to welcome by far the largest number of refugees. The documents say the federal immigration department had more than 3,000 applications from the region on Nov. 19, almost all of which were privately sponsored.
Of those, 2,402 were for the actual city of Montreal, while 628 were for the northern suburb of Laval. Another 45 applications originated in Outremont, while the rest of the city saw a scattering of applications. The only other Quebec city with a sizeable number of applications was Sherbrooke, with 49.
The Greater Toronto Area will also become home to a large number of Syrians. The documents show that there were 1,491 applications for the actual city of Toronto, which included a combination of privately and government-sponsored refugees.
Another 1,127 private sponsorship applications were linked to the affluent Toronto suburb of Willowdale. It wasn’t immediately clear why Willowdale was so well-represented. Scarborough, Thornhill, Mississauga and Etobicoke were also listed, though the numbers were significantly smaller.
Alberta is also set to see an influx of Syrian refugees. The figures show 439 applications for Calgary and 276 for Edmonton, nearly all of which were private sponsorships. By comparison, there were only 171 applications for Metro Vancouver, 169 for Ottawa and Gatineau, 75 for Winnipeg, and 46 for Halifax, the largest number in Atlantic Canada.
In fact, the number of applications from the other provinces outside Alberta, Ontario and Quebec was relatively modest. British Columbia had 204 applications, while Newfoundland and Labrador had nine and New Brunswick only three.
The documents list 1,427 as having an unspecified location, but more than 1,000 of those had been referred by the United Nations and would be supported by the government. That suggests officials had not determined where those refugees would end up going.
The figures have emerged on the eve of what is being billed as a historic two-day meeting in Toronto that will bring together more than 100 representatives from government, the refugee sector and other areas to figure out how to make the Liberal government’s Syrian refugee plan work.
That plan was unveiled earlier this week, but lacked details. Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance president Chris Friesen, who will co-chair this weekend’s meeting, said the focus now is to fill in the blanks so everyone is ready when the refugees begin to arrive.
The list of logistical challenges is long, and includes everything from translating orientation material into Arabic, to finding proper housing, to making sure the refugees have quick and ready access to health care, language training and education.
“We’ll sort of methodically go through the five key phases of the plan and ensure at the end of Sunday that everybody walks away with clarity of direction and purpose, and understands the role that they will play in this great Canadian national project,” Friesen said.