British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has announced a $1-million fund to assist Syrian refugees who settle in her province, saying Canadians have a duty to share the good fortune with which they've been blessed – and she isn't the only provincial leader unveiling new plans to combat the global refugee crisis.
The Ontario government said Tuesday it, too, is considering a provincial fund, while Alberta announced support for the Canadian Red Cross and local refugee settlement agencies. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said he would help sponsor a refugee family, one day after his government announced it would aim to triple the number of Syrian refugees it resettles this year.
The federal government has been criticized for its response to the crisis, and while refugee advocates say it's heartening to see the provinces and the public step in, they add there's only so much that can be done without greater support from Ottawa.
Ms. Clark, at a news conference to announce the new funding, became teary-eyed as she mentioned Alan Kurdi – the three-year-old boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to reach the Greek island of Kos, triggering outrage and renewed urgency over the plight of refugees.
"We are incredibly lucky and, as Canadians, we have an opportunity and I would argue a uniquely Canadian duty to share the luck that we have as Canadians to live somewhere safe, somewhere just, somewhere democratic, somewhere where people can really live out their dreams," Ms. Clark told reporters in Vancouver.
Ms. Clark said B.C. does not have the same powers as Quebec and cannot move to simply take in more refugees. Quebec has greater control over its immigration policy.
The premier said the $1-million would help "fill the gaps" in refugee services.
The money will be used to help sponsors navigate the refugee-sponsorship process and to assist refugees with employment. Money will also be available for trauma counselling. Ms. Clark said exactly how the funds will be disbursed will be determined after consultation with settlement agencies and community groups.
"It is our belief that it is just not good enough to only open our doors. We have to make sure that when refugees get here, we are doing everything that we can to help them realize the Canadian dream and find their way as seamlessly as possible into British Columbian society," she said.
Ms. Clark steered clear of criticizing the federal government's response to Syrian refugees, saying her province's role is to assist those who arrive.
But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne called on Ottawa to "speed up" the process for getting Syrian refugees into Canada. She told reporters her government would provide the resources necessary to take in more refugees. Ontario last week announced $300,000 in funding for Lifeline Syria, an organization that is recruiting private individuals and groups to sponsor 1,000 Syrian refugees to settle in the Toronto area.
Michael Chan, Ontario's Citizenship and Immigration Minister, in a statement wrote that while the province cannot directly sponsor refugees, it will work to assist groups who do so. He said the province is considering a provincial fund.
The Alberta government, in a statement, wrote it would provide $75,000 in immediate funding to the Canadian Red Cross for its response to the refugee crisis. It said the province would, in addition, match donations by Albertans to a maximum of $75,000. The government also pledged an additional $100,000 for local refugee settlement agencies.
Janet Dench, executive director for the Canadian Council for Refugees, said in an interview the response from the provinces shows Canadians want to help. Ms. Dench said she was pleased to see the support, but would still like to see Ottawa take greater action. The council last week said Syrians with family in Canada should be allowed to travel here immediately and then complete processing. It also called on Ottawa to bring a minimum of 10,000 government-assisted refugees to Canada immediately.
Later in the evening in Vancouver, more than 200 people crowded into a city hall meeting room and hallways to attend a forum that Gregor Robertson hastily called to talk about how the city could respond to the refugee crisis.
The mayor said his office is getting a stream of calls from people looking for a way to contribute.
He said the city has already contributed money and established policies in the past to make refugees welcome, including putting in $4-million for a new welcome centre in the city and creating a "sanctuary city" protocol to ensure refugees can access city services without having to worry about being reported to immigration authorities.
But he acknowledged that he had no preconceived ideas about what the city or service groups could do.
"It's really just an initial step to see what's possible," said the mayor, as he opened the meeting. But he did say that Canadian citizens are expecting all levels of government to do more than they're doing now.
He got applause from the crowd when he said he will be bringing a motion to council urging the federal government to accept 20,000 refugees a year.
People at the meeting spoke urgently about their desire to sponsor refugees, their frustration with the lengthy process, and the need to help many more groups than just Syrian refugees.
Lois Boxill, an American engineer who is now a Canadian citizen, said a group of people she connected with through her church have raised $14,000 in the last week but are stymied about how to find a refugee family to sponsor.
"We want to contribute in a very material way. The biggest hiccup we see is needing vetted refugees."
With files from Frances Bula