Syrian refugee resettlement deadline pushed back two months

The federal government now aims to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016, missing its initial year-end deadline by two months.

Government ministers Jane Philpott, John McCallum, Harjit Sajjan, Ralph Goodale and Mélanie Joly discuss Canada's plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees at a press conference in the National Press Theatre on Nov. 24. Ministers announced they now aim to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by Dec. 31, with the remaining 15,000 to follow by February 2016.

Government ministers Jane Philpott, John McCallum, Harjit Sajjan, Ralph Goodale and Mélanie Joly discuss Canada’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees at a press conference in the National Press Theatre on Nov. 24. Ministers announced they now aim to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by Dec. 31, with the remaining 15,000 to follow by February 2016.

According to Health Minister Jane Philpott, chair of a special committee coordinating the government’s Syrian resettlement effort, a minimum of 10,000 Syrian refugees will arrive in Canada by Dec. 31; the remaining 15,000 will follow by the end of February 2016.

Fifteen thousand refugees will arrive as government-assisted refugees, while 10,000 will arrive through private sponsorship.

Initial target proved too ambitious

John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration, rejected suggestions from reporters that security concerns factored into this decision. “This is a happy day and this is an important day for Canada,” he said. “Yes, we want to bring them fast, but we also want to do it right.”

Minister McCallum and government officials both said the government’s initial year-end deadline was revised to ensure communities in Canada were ready to deal with the influx of refugees, as well as in response to the need to identify refugees for resettlement.

Both also sought to allay security and health concerns. “We will not compromise the quality of the security work that must get done,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

All Syrian refugees will undergo rigorous security and health screening processes. If there are any concerns at any point, the file will be set aside for potential future consideration, said Goodale.

Priorities on eligible Syrian refugees remain

To be eligible for resettlement under this program, refugees must be either Syrian nationals or stateless persons who are former residents of Syria.

Canada will only consider Syrians located either in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. Refugees must be registered either with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the Turkish government.

In terms of government-assisted refugees, certain groups will continue to be prioritized as they have been for the past several years. These include:

  • Complete families, whatever their composition;
  • Women at risk;
  • Members of the lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual or intersex (LGBTI) community;
  • Single adult men, if they are identified as a member of the LGTBI community, or if they are accompanying their parents as part of a family.

Officials confirmed while unaccompanied men may still be resettled, they will not be prioritized.

These priorities don’t apply to privately sponsored refugees.

Settlement challenges still to be addressed

Ministers and officials both highlighted the considerable settlement needs that will need to be addressed, including housing and psychosocial supports.

Government officials will hold a workshop this weekend with settlement service providers and municipalities from across Canada to discuss how to meet those challenges and what additional resources might be required.

The government has already announced it will spend $678 million over six years to expedite the resettlement of refugees and support their integration in Canada. Between $325 million and $377 million will be directed toward refugee settlement and integration.

Ottawa groups rally to welcome Syrian refugees

Refugee resettlement expert James Milner discusses Canada's response to the refugee crisis at an event at the main Ottawa library on Nov. 23, 2015. The forum was the first in a series of events organized this week by Refugees Welcome Ottawa.

Refugee resettlement expert James Milner discusses Canada’s response to the refugee crisis at an event at the main Ottawa library on Nov. 23, 2015. The forum was the first in a series of events organized this week by Refugees Welcome Ottawa.

While the government announced details today of its ambitious plan to resettle Syrian refugees to Canada, organizations and people in Ottawa continued to work frantically to make sure they are up to the task.

“There’s a lot of energy and excitement,” said Carl Nicholson, executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants. Nicholson said he is optimistic the city is ready, having heard “tons of good ideas” from people across the city who want to help.

Refugee organizations and community groups are leading the charge, mobilizing to raise awareness and make Ottawa a more welcoming place for refugees.

“I think people really want to figure out what they can do concretely and to think with others about what we can do,” said Fiona Jeffries, an organizer with Refugees Welcome Ottawa. The coalition is hosting a series of events this week, including a community discussion this Friday.

Jeffries said that while much of the focus has been placed on private sponsorship, not everyone has the financial and social resources to sponsor a refugee. She hopes her organization’s work will motivate more people to do their part.

Refugee resettlement expert James Milner agreed there are more than enough opportunities for those looking to help. “If you’re not part of a group that’s sponsoring a refugee, there are other ways to be involved,” said Milner, an associate professor at Carleton University. “If you’re just interested in volunteering a day a month, an afternoon a week, there are ways you can do that. That’s probably one of the most important ways to contribute to this pathway to integration.”

Parish ready to welcome Syrian refugees before Christmas

Pierre Beemans, a member of Ottawa’s Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church, is proud that his parish will soon welcome a family of seven refugees. The church has been preparing since April, after learning of the plight of Syrian refugees in Iraq. “We had only two people who said, ‘We don’t think it’s such a good idea.’ But we had almost 90 that said ‘We’re fully behind it and we’re willing to contribute financially or with furniture or with clothing or helping with the children or language classes and so on.’”

After months of fundraising and preparations, Beemans is anxiously awaiting the family’s arrival before Christmas.

“Are you ever as fully ready as you should be? No, but we’re certainly ready to do it. The buy-in is very strong and the commitment all across the board is really amazing.”

Howard Richmond’s post-traumatic stress disorder to blame for wife’s stabbing, defence tells murder trial

Howard Richmond’s defence lawyers turned to expert testimony in court today, arguing Richmond killed his wife as a result of a flashback triggered by post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Ontario Superior of Court of Justice in Ottawa heard from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Helen Ward, a recognized specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders as well as the evaluation of criminal responsibility. Ward testified that Richmond’s previous statements that he could “see himself stabbing Melissa” are consistent with a dissociative flashback, where persons feel and act as though they are re-living an initial trauma. Her testimony is the latest move by Richmond’s defence lawyers to portray him as a once-capable soldier deeply troubled by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Richmond is charged with the first-degree murder of his wife, Melissa, whose body was found in a ditch near the South Keys Shopping Centre on July 28, 2013. He has admitted to stabbing her repeatedly with a knife and screwdriver, but his lawyers argue he should not be held criminally responsible for his wife’s death.

The court has previously heard that Richmond and his wife were acting out a rape role-playing game outside the South Keys shopping centre around midnight on July 24, 2013, when a sudden loud noise triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder. Richmond maintains he experienced a flashback to the cold-blooded killing of a young girl he witnessed during a peacekeeping tour in Croatia, throwing him into a murderous frenzy.

Earlier today, defence lawyer Jason Gilbert cross-examined Richmond, focusing on his alleged memory lapses and foggy recollection of events following the stabbing. When asked why he did not tell the police that it was Melissa who allegedly suggested they perform the “bad man” scenario near the shopping centre, or why he did not recall the incident even after her car was found at the mall, Richmond said he simply didn’t remember.

Ward told the court that memory lapses are typical of the flashback-related amnesia. This amnesia is not deliberate, she said, “it’s just what happens.” Ward also testified that while such episodes typically only last seconds or minutes, they have been known to last for hours, even days.

Wearing a plain white shirt with a stiff, unbuttoned collar, Richmond sat motionless in the prisoner’s box during Ward’s testimony. For hours, his steady gaze was fixed squarely ahead.

While the Crown accepts that Richmond suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, assistant Crown prosecutor Peter Napier argued yesterday that Richmond’s defence of a dissociative flashback is a “complete and utter fabrication.”

As the court was called to recess, Richmond rose to attention in military fashion, his clenched fists and straight arms pressed firmly to his sides, before shuffling his way out in ankle shackles.

Already behind schedule, the trial is expected to continue for at least another week.

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