How has Canada fared on resettling Syrian refugees?

Where does Canada stand on its 10,000-refugee promise? The answer will cost you

Canada's Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 3, 2014. Chris Wattie/Reuters.

Canada’s Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 3, 2014. Chris Wattie/Reuters.

UPDATE: In mid-August Stephen Harper released updated numbers on the number of Syrian refugees settled in Canada since the January commitment. That number was 1,002, as of late July. On Thursday, Sept. 3, Chris Alexander said the number had risen to 2,300.


This January, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Canada will resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2017. It’s been six months. How’s Canada doing?

The short answer is: Don’t bother asking. But first, some background.

In July 2013, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney promised Canada would welcome 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. Canada missed the deadline, and the Conservative government absorbed quite a bit of public criticism as a result.

It was clear, though, that the government had details about the number of arrivals on hand throughout the process. In December 2014, Alexander tabled in the House of Commons a written response to a question by NDP MP Paul Dewar indicating, as of three weeks previous, how many Syrian refugees had arrived and, of those, how many were privately sponsored and how many came with government assistance.

Alexander or his spokesman also made public statements in December and January updating these figures.

It stands to reason, then, that the government knows how many of the 10,000 promised spaces for Syrian refugees have so far been filled. They just won’t say.


Why Canada should take in 20 times more refugees

Inside the Syrian refugee crisis

Earlier this month, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) told me the information was “not available publicly.” The email from CIC went on to provide a link to make a request under the Access to Information Act.

This act is one of those creatively named pieces of legislation that don’t mean what their titles suggest they should. You file a request; weeks, months or sometimes years pass. What you finally receive is heavily redacted. Eventually, you stop asking. If it didn’t suggest such boggling cynicism on the part of the government, I’d swear that was the point.

I decided to play along and filed a request asking how many Syrian and Iraqi refugees have arrived in Canada since January, how many are privately sponsored, and how many came with government assistance.

Today I received a letter from CIC’s Access to Information and Privacy Division, informing me that the information I sought is excluded from the act because it concerned “published material or material available for purchase by the public.”

The letter continued: “Regulation 314 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (attached) allows for the production of customized reports for immigration statistical data that have not been published by the Department.”

That’s right: I could buy my answer. The attached regulation informed me that the cost of processing my application for data would be $100 for the first 10 minutes or less of access to the department’s database, plus $30 for each additional minute or less of access.

Or maybe Chris Alexander could publicize that information, because he made a promise, and Canadians have a right to know what progress he’s made toward keeping it.


How has Canada fared on resettling Syrian refugees?

  1. Given the hassle involved, you should be charged a fee. After all, why should the rest of us pay for your work-related efforts? Get your employer to foot the bill…it’s not like you are paying out of pocket.

    It most likely takes a lot more than $100 in wages being paid to the public servants who have to go through multiple files to dig out and collate this info. (it could potentially cost 10’s of thousands of dollars to find this info when you consider the number of high paying folks doing the digging, and foregoing their other duties to do your work for you.

    You want the story…get your boss to pay the bills.

    If however, you were searching for info about bad / dangerous drugs, etc……….that is a different story. If you are just digging for something to make the Government look bad……..cough up your own dough. I shouldn’t have to foot the bill.

    • How, exactly, do you decide what information is “a different story” and worth providing for free, vs. not worthy of a public servant’s time? Honestly, what a ridiculous idea.

      The government works for us. That information belongs to us, and the cost of transparency is part of the cost of democracy. If you want to save money, let’s convert to a dictatorship. We don’t have far to go from here.

      • TJ,

        I’m all for open-ness and transparency, but when a journalist is looking for info for a story, he or she should pay the costs if it involves using hours of public servants on our dime. particularly, if the story is motivated by a biased organization or individual. I’m not referring particularly about the author of this column, but groups who are simply looking for something to make the Government (whatever stripe) look bad.

        Ie. Opposition MP’s putting in silly/frivolous requests to get 15 second soundbites during question period, or Left wing (or right wing for that matter) biased groups such as the Council of Canadians, Greenies….etc..etc..

        If you want to dig up the dirt…….get out your own wallet.

        • “I’m all for open-ness and transparency”

          Clearly you’re not. What you describe as dirt is more commonly known as data. Often the civil service is the only source of data related to government business.

          If your boss asked you to report on how much time you’ve spent on a certain project, would you refuse to tell him? Of course not. Because that’s not your information to withhold.

          Access to Information has been in a well-documented decline for 10 years and has precipitated major scandals for this government (F-35 costing, torture of Afghan prisoners, etc). And you really believe that further limiting Access to Information will be worth the money it saves?

          Heck, courts are expensive. Let’s limit due process to the cases where the judge *really* think somebody deserves it. Parliament is expensive too – let’s have the government table a single annual omnibus bill, immediately invoke closure on debate and prorogue Parliament for the year. This whole democracy thing is expensive, we could save a ton of money by getting rid of it altogether.

          • TJ,

            I’m not talking about the information; I’m talking about the costs of digging it out.

            and you are gravely mistaken if you think Access to Information is not used in a partisan manner. Just watch question period, or some activist groups looking for the soundbites.

            Let people ask for whatever they want to ask for…the government should provide it. But pay for it yourself.

          • About the Courts

            They too are expensive. Far more expensive that it should be. Even some judges have mentioned this. No one is worth $1000 per hour….unless they are removing a tumour from your brain stem.

            Lawyers have a bad reputation for a reason….they have earned it. Some of the sleaziest people I have ever had to work with were lawyers. some are good….but too many are simply dirtbags.

    • You will defend anything, won’t you James. Are you familiar with the term ‘useful idiot’?

  2. My church entered into one of the government’s cost-sharing refugee sponsorship programs. For the first year, we pay 6 months, government pays 6 months. Guess what? There weren’t ANY Syrian refugees in the system. We expected to find, oh I don’t know, 10,000?!? We’ve since sponsored and resettled a family of 3 from Burma.

    Smoke and mirrors. And lies. So many lies.

    • Quite apart from the freedom of information issue (in which i think the requester should pay) I don’t agree that we should be so generous with the “refugee” bit. There are plenty of wealthy Arab, Muslim countries who are better equipped culturally to absorb these people.

      • Blacktop,

        Many of these refugees are Christians, and many of the Muslim countries to which you refer have been trying to rid themselves of this group for quite some time now. If I were a Syrian Christian…….I would rather go anywhere other than a Muslim country.

  3. This government seems really out of touch with the sheer amount of refugees there are. While the government seems content to often label them migrants, there haven’t been numbers of refugees this high since the end of WWII. And for them to say that defeating ISIS or solving civil conflicts (as seems to be Harper’s talking points these days) is going to aid this problem, makes them look woefully misinformed . Displacement as a result of climate change is going to number in the tens of millions and the places that are going to be most affected are not going to have the resources to alter themselves economically nor residentially to accommodate this.

    What we’re calling a crisis now is going to seem like nothing sooner or later. I don’t understand why we’re fussing about when we could be implementing programs and incentives and improving them over the years as the need for them grows. Test what works now and streamline them when it counts.

    Why should this be our problem? The first world is directly responsible for the majority of human-caused climate change, but we’ll be the ones best able to adapt, leaving the developing world to clamour at our arbitrary borders.

    To think that this government was patting itself on the back for taking in a supposed 20,000 refugees is mind-boggling. I’m reading numbers saying there are ~60 million worldwide as of today and the best projections of displacement from climate change alone are an additional 50 million by 2100, with numbers going as high as 1 billion people in the next 150 years. I don’t see this situation improving with the conservatives in a fundamental state of denial.

  4. If you have a new program, you would normally want to track how its doing – assuming you care about it, of course.

  5. boy, brother, son, grandson, friend, neighbour . . . refugee

    His rights were obscured by a powerful curtain of relabeling; faction, terrorist, sectarian, jihadist, collateral, militia, migrant, casualty.

    When we finally see him we recognize him as one of us.

    Aylan Kurdi had the right to life, liberty and security and to seek asylum in other countries. UDHR Articles 3 & 14.1

    • bad politicians operate where the rules are weak
    • there are simple, proven rules to stop them
    • we need to make sure those rules are present as basic standards in all levels of government, all the time

    Help us build a lasting deterant to Chris Alexanders’ behaviour with Standards of Democracy.

  6. We made our mess in Afghanistan. But that ‘only’ produced a couple of million internally-displaced people, nor many refugees.

    The US screwed-up Iraq and produced a couple of million refugees, many of whom went to Syria. The US had now helped screw Syria and we’ve pitched in to help …. just in time to help clean-up the original mess and whatever has happened on ‘our watch’.

    Call it ‘coming to the aid of a NATO ally’.

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