Latest plane load of Syrians arrives but how many more flights unclear

Photo Courtesy: CTV

By Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Ottawa: The latest group of Syrians being brought to Canada on a government-sponsored flight have arrived in Toronto.

Approximately 214 people were expected, mostly refugees being welcomed by private groups but also some being supported directly by the government.

From Toronto, they’re to fan out across the country with four people bound for Halifax, eight heading for Vancouver and surrounding cities and the rest settling somewhere in between.

The flight is the third organized and paid for directly by the government as part of its program to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada by the end of February.

Immigration Minister John McCallum says he doesn’t know how many government flights will be organized in the coming weeks.

While the Liberals promised to resettle 25,000 people by March, they also promised 10,000 would arrive in Canada by the end of this year.

Including Tuesday’s arrivals, there would be just over 1,100 Syrians who’ve landed in Canada since the Liberals were sworn into office in November. In addition to the three government-sponsored flights, people have also come on commercial aircraft.

Though the numbers may suggest the deadline won’t be met, McCallum said it is still important to have one.

“I think when you set a deadline, you stir a greater degree of action among all of our partners in order to make it happen well, but also to make it happen relatively quickly,” he said.

A government briefing is expected for Wednesday to provide more detail on the status of the program and possibly also the fate of another refugee-related program: federal coverage for refugee health care.

Health Minister Jane Philpott suggested Tuesday details will come at that briefing on how the Liberals will meet their campaign commitment to reverse Conservative cuts to the interim federal health-care program.

The cuts sharply curtailed access to certain kinds of health care for specific refugees and refugee claimants. The Liberals had already announced Syrians would have full access, but hadn’t entirely reversed the cuts for all refugees.