Canadian Forces ready for Syrian refugees

CBC's James Murray  takes us through the facilities
CBC's James Murray takes us through the facilities

Canadian officials are already on the ground in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan screening potential Syrian refugees for entrance into Canada, although the final details of the Canadian response have yet to be released.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has pledged to bring 25,000 people fleeing the Syrian civil war to Canada by year’s end.

The debate over accepting refugees has raged across the world as the conflict, which began in 2011 between the government of Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces and has since devolved into an internecine bloodbath, has sent millions into exile in the surrounding countries.

One of the attackers who blew himself up outside a Paris soccer stadium on Nov. 13 was apparently carrying the passport of a Syrian immigrant, which the French government later said was a fake.

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall sent a letter to Trudeau expressing concerns that the screening process may be rushed and could allow terrorists to enter the country and harm Canadians.

Earlier this week, CBC reported that Trudeau’s plan, to be unveiled Tuesday afternoon, would be limited to women, children and families and exclude young, single men.

Canadian Forces spokeswoman Dominique Tessier said in an email that the military has personnel on the ground working with diplomats in Ankara, Turkey; Amman, Jordan; and Beirut, Lebanon.

Tessier said that the military has yet to be formally asked to provide housing assistance, but it is nevertheless preparing to provide interim lodging for refugees at bases in Ontario and Quebec.

“As a matter of prudent planning, the Canadian Armed Forces are currently reviewing accommodations available at bases and wings should the CAF be called upon to provide assistance in that regard,” she said.

Soldiers in training at CFB Valcartier in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Que., have been moved around in order to free up space for refugees. At CFB Edmonton, those who are scheduled for training early next year have had their accommodations transferred to nearby hotels and rental units.

Other bases, such as CFB Meaford and CFB Borden, have extra space that will need to be winterized in order to house refugees, she said.

Tessier would not rule out that some soldiers may be tasked to work during the Christmas break.

“The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are ready to do everything they can to contribute to a whole of government effort to assist the Syrian refugees,” she said.

The RCMP, which is involved in the screening of Syrian refugees along with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in a statement that it has nothing to add beyond what commissioner Bob Paulson had said at a Nov. 18 news conference.

At that event, Paulson said that any potential refugees would undergo rigorous security checks.

Remi Lariviere, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said in an email that accepting the refugees will be a large national project.

“We have been working with all levels of government, stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and service providing organizations as we implement this significant, complex and compassionate humanitarian initiative,” he said.

He said security screening has always been paramount in the government’s planning for the refugee process.

“The government has reiterated its commitment to resettling Syrian refugees without compromising security,” he said.