A movement is building for Canadian cities to take a lead role in organizing the sponsorship and settlement of refugees fleeing the chaos of Syria.
Canada's mayors stepped to the fore Friday expressing their support for a stronger Canadian response to the refugee crisis. First among them was Toronto Mayor John Tory, who spoke to his counterparts in Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton about joining forces with Lifeline Syria, a grassroots initiative for connecting citizens willing to privately sponsor a refugee, and one through which Mr. Tory has personally pledged to sponsor a refugee family.
He said he asked that the issue of refugee resettlement be added to the agenda for the next meeting of the big-city mayors. Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey said she, too, would be making a donation through Lifeline Syria and urged others to do the same.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has called Canada's handling of the refugee situation a "disgrace," said municipalities need to co-ordinate their efforts with faith groups, non-profit organizations and community associations to encourage citizens to sponsor as many refugees as possible.
"I don't have a lot of levers, but what I do have is a pulpit, and encouraging people to do what they can as individuals, as families, as faith groups to just take people in is an immediate thing we can do now. That's something I'm looking forward to pushing as much as I can," Mr. Nenshi said. "Let's bring more and more people to Calgary. It's always been a city of welcome, it's always been a city of sanctuary."
His counterpart in Edmonton, Don Iveson, said the Syrian situation is heartbreaking. As a leader, he hopes to encourage community initiatives for refugee assistance and settlement.
"Most good things happen from the bottom up and not the top down. It's easy to blame the federal government, but we have a tradition in this country and especially in this city of welcoming newcomers and particularly people coming from tragic, war-torn situations, with open arms and great generosity," Mr. Iveson said.
In Whistler, B.C., Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she had watched the growing crisis this summer with a feeling of helplessness, but was spurred to action by the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's body washed ashore in Turkey. She said she asked her staff to see what could be done, and preliminary indications are that it would be possible for the municipality itself to act as a sponsor for refugee families, Ms. Wilhelm-Morden said. Whistler has a population of about 10,000 that fluctuates with tourist seasons, but surely it could support three or four refugee families, the mayor said.
"Imagine if every town and city across Canada did this, just take three or four families. What a difference we could make," Ms. Wilhelm-Morden said.
Montreal's Denis Coderre, a former federal immigration minister, said his city is prepared to welcome more Syrian refugees and called on the federal government to step up with a special program for people fleeing the crisis in the Middle East.
"There are 4-1/2 million people displaced. It can't just be a one-day story. The Canadian government must not just say, 'We've already done our part.' We have not done enough," Mr. Coderre said.
He urged politicians to put aside the federal election battle for a few days to concentrate on alleviating the suffering of migrants.
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the stark images of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe have reminded Canada of "the role that it has traditionally played as a caring nation in times of global crisis."
"We've been a community that has welcomed people in the past. I believe our doors will once again be open if Canada were to welcome more Syrian refugees," Mr. Vrbanovic said.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said his city is also ready to do more, but details will have to wait until the regional council weighs in on Tuesday. "Halifax is a welcoming community. The province wants more immigrants, and not just people who come with pockets full of money," he said. "When you're facing a humanitarian crisis, there's a moral obligation for everyone to act."
With reports from Ann Hui, Patrick White and Dakshana Bascaramurty