The Liberal government's election promise to sponsor and bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year is a noble and important goal, but let's make two things clear: It will be next to impossible to pull it off, and that's okay.
John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced Monday the formation of a cabinet subcommittee chaired by Health Minister Jane Philpott to co-ordinate this massive undertaking. This could be seen as buying time, but the truth is that bringing in that many refugees in less than eight weeks will require all hands on deck and an excruciating level of organization.
Foreign Affairs officials will have to work with government officials in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to gain access to candidates and begin the process. The Armed Forces may be involved in transporting people and then housing them on bases when they first arrive in Canada. Some overseas transportation could be handled by commercial aviation or shipping. Provincial governments and cities have expressed in interest in helping out, which will require further co-ordination.
And so on. Colouring all this is Mr. McCallum's promise to ensure the security and health of Canadians, which means screening must be a priority. But the union representing border guards says the government doesn't have the manpower to process 25,000 people in less than eight weeks.
A sensible solution is to drop the Liberals' arbitrary deadline of Jan. 1. It was a tactical response to the Harper government's reluctance to respond to the refugee crisis, and also a real reflection of the urgency of the situation. Mr. McCallum and co. should do as much as possible to respect that promised timeline, but not at the expense of Canadians' safety.
What Canadians want to see by the end of the year is proof that the process is fully under way, with refugees arriving on a regular schedule that will see all 25,000 safely here before spring. The focus this fall should be on refugees most vulnerable to the oncoming winter. If the government has to take heat over missing its deadline by a few months, so be it. What will be remembered in the long run is that Canada showed its humanitarian heart by offering shelter to 25,000 desperate refugees in an amount of time any reasonable person would consider appropriate.