The heads of Canada's police and spy agencies are backing the Trudeau government's plans to safely screen and bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.
A number of municipal and provincial politicians have called on the government to take longer to conduct security checks on the asylum seekers, but RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS director Michel Coulombe insist the government's plans are feasible.
As the pair spoke alongside Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale at a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday, giving assurances that it can be done in that time frame without compromising the country's safety, Ontario's Health Minister told reporters how Canada's most populous province can help meet the commitment.
Details so far are vague as to Ottawa's plans, but Eric Hoskins says that Ontario is looking at decommissioned hospitals as potential housing for refugees. He noted, for example, that Toronto's Humber River Hospital has moved from three sites to one.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who strongly supported Justin Trudeau during the recent election campaign, has promised to bring in as many as 10,000 refugees. Initially, she had said that the province could do this by the end of 2016, but Dr. Hoskins said Ontario is "obviously prepared to receive our fair share."
The minister said that a number of refugees could be in the province on an interim basis as they wait to move to other provinces.
Dr. Hoskins, who is co-chair of an ad hoc cabinet committee on the refugees with Immigration Minister Michael Chan, said Wednesday he is expecting to hear within days the federal government's plan, which will detail how many refugees are expected to arrive, the timing of the arrivals [how many each day, for example] and at which points of entry in the country.
The ad hoc committee met for the first time Tuesday – and is expected to meet every few days. In addition, provincial officials are in regular contact with their federal counterparts.
Meanwhile, RCMP Commissioner Paulson, whose agency will conduct database checks on all refugees, said that all necessary security work can be quickly accomplished.
"Yes," he answered in a direct question on the government's ability to meet its deadline. "We will play a role in making the security checks and confirm people's identity. In my view, the system is satisfactory."
Added Mr. Coulombe, the director of CSIS: "I am confident that the measures in place are robust and … appropriate."
Mr. Goodale said that the first objective of the government's promise to take in 25,000 refugees is humanitarian, in order to "rescue people who are in terrible conditions and fleeing from the scourge that is [the Islamic State]," However, he added the government would meet its objective "without any diminution or reduction in our security work."
The Public Safety Minister said federal officials would conduct database checks and biometrics tests to verify the ID of all refugees, in addition to submitting them to interviews. To do the task quickly, some officials from other agencies are being seconded to the operation, including border guards.
The government will bring in many refugees who have been stuck in camps for years, Mr. Goodale added, giving a priority to those who are the most vulnerable and pose the least potential security risk.
For her part, B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she is confident the federal government will deliver a rigorous security screening process. "I accept their assurances," she said.
"The federal government has asked us to welcome 3,500 refugees as part of this and we have said, 'Yes we think we can do that,'" she told reporters. "We have set $1-million aside and the federal government has also said they are going to restore the settlement funding that was cut …."
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has committed her province to bringing in as many as 3,000 Syrian refugees over the next few months.
Ms. Notley met Wednesday with the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton to discuss how both cities could help accept refugees. While the province is crafting a program to help arrivals, it won't disclose the details of that program until the federal government announces its strategy.
With reports from Justine Hunter in Victoria and Justin Giovannetti in Edmonton