People took to the streets at Yonge-Dundas square in Toronto on Sunday with banners and signs rejecting Islamophobia and welcoming refugees. Photograph: NurPhoto/Rex Shutterstock
Canada will accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away.
Since the Paris attacks launched by Syria-linked jihadis, a plan by the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to fast-track the intake of 25,000 refugees by year’s end has faced growing criticism in Canada.
Details of the plan will be announced Tuesday but Canada’s ambassador to Jordan confirmed that refugees from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey will be flown to Canada from Jordan starting 1 December.
Speaking in Jordan on Monday, ambassador Bruno Saccomani said the operation would cost an estimated C$1.2bn (US$900m), the official Petra news agency reported.
According to Canadian public broadcaster CBC, the resettlement plan will not extend to unaccompanied men.
Quebec premier Philippe Couillard seemed to corroborate that report ahead of a meeting with Trudeau and Canada’s provincial leaders where the refugee plan was high on the agenda.
“All these refugees are vulnerable but some are more vulnerable than others – for example, women, families and also members of religious minorities who are oppressed,” he said, although he rejected the notion of “exclusion” of single men.
Faisal Alazem, of the Syrian Canadian Council, a non-profit group in talks with the government to sponsor refugees, told Radio-Canada of the plans: “It’s a compromise.
“This is not the ideal scenario to protect vulnerable people – women and children and men too. But I think what happened in Paris has really changed the dynamic and public opinion,” he said.
Trudeau broadly outlined his intention to take in the Syrian refugees during the campaign that swept his Liberals into office last month, and has mobilized several government ministries to get the job done since being sworn in three weeks ago.
But the Paris attacks that killed 130, claimed by the Islamic State group, stirred fears in both Europe and North America that jihadis could seek to blend in with refugee masses in order to strike later.
A recent poll suggests that 54% of Canadians now oppose the accelerated timeline.
Trudeau’s government has sought to reassure the White House over its plans, as Barack Obama faces a barrage of opposition to his own scheme to resettle 10,000 refugees in the coming year.
Public safety minister Ralph Goodale said he spoke to US homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson over the weekend and assured him that “safety and security ... remain our highest priority”.
“Canada is integrating security throughout the [resettlement] process, and is committed to making sure everything related to security is done without compromise,” he said.
The minister said he also provided to Johnson “assurances that our timeline will not affect Canada’s ability to appropriately select and screen refugees”.
Opposition New Democratic party leader Thomas Mulcair, however, warned against casting too large a safety net.
“Will a young man who lost both parents be excluded from the refugee program?” he said. “Will a gay man who is escaping persecution be excluded? Will a widower who is fleeing Daesh after having seen his family killed be excluded?” he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Leaks to Canadian media have pointed to a massive endeavor to fly in 900 Syrian refugees daily to Montreal and Toronto.
Health minister Jane Philpott said the leaked information was “outdated” but declined to correct the record.
According to CBC, Canadian officials have screened more than 4,000 asylum seekers in the past six weeks, on top of the UN refugee agency’s registration process. At this pace, Ottawa would fall far short of its resettlement goal.
Once in Canada, the refugees would reportedly be housed at two military bases in Ontario and Quebec, until more suitable accommodations are found.
Canadian colleges also announced 200 scholarships to help Syrian asylum seekers sharpen their skills and find work in Canada.
“It is important that we as a society collectively help them to rebuild their lives,” said National Association of Career Colleges chief executive Serge Buy.
The UN refugee agency estimates that more than 4 million Syrians have fled the civil war that has ravaged their country and killed more than 250,000 people.