Transcript: Marquee Moments in Public Service History: The Syrian Refugee Resettlement Initiative
[The CSPS logo appears.]
[00:00:03 Taki Sarantakis and Marta Morgan stand behind a podium.]
Taki Sarantakis (Moderator): Alright. So, we're going to start.
So welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for braving the elements and the nighttime, and thank you to those of you who are skipping standing committees in the House, in the Senate, which we're competing with tonight, and I wish I had known that at an earlier date.
So, my name is Taki Sarantakis. I'm the President of the Canada School of Public Service, and with me tonight, Marta Morgan who is the Deputy Minister of IRCC, and together we are...
...and together, we are hosting the first of a new series that the Canada School is putting on, and it is called Marquee Moments.
And the reason why we're doing this is all of us in the Government of Canada do important jobs, whether that's at the very entry level or as the clerk of the Privy Council at the very top. We all have roles and functions and responsibilities for Canadians, and every day, we do very important things. We keep our borders safe, we keep Canada's coastlines safe, we inspect food, we provide pensions, we give child tax credits.
But sometimes the Government of Canada and public servants do tremendous things above and beyond typical everyday matters.
We have SARS, we have 9/11, we have a financial crisis, and at those moments, the people in this room and the people who hold institutional positions across the Government of Canada do more than what they do every day. They go above and beyond to help Canadians cope with crisis.
And today, tonight, we're going to look at how the Government of Canada dealt with one of our crises.
So, in terms of tonight, our goal is to kind of look back a little bit, to reflect on some of the things that happened, to learn from some of the things that worked, and also, equally important, to learn from some of the things that didn't work.
So, with that, I turn it over to Marta to give a detailed introduction to tonight's topic.
Marta Morgan (Deputy Minister, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada): Thank you, Taki, and good evening, and thanks to the Canada School of Public Service for organizing this event.
It is truly a pleasure to be here with you this evening.
It's a real honour for the Syrian Refugee Initiative to be selected to kick off this series of events that's being hosted by the Canada School of Public Service.
When Taki first called me and explained the concept, that they were going to really look at some of these extraordinary moments in Canadian public service, and they wanted to start with this, I was very, very happy to support it.
Public servants across many departments worked night and day with passion and commitment to make this happen.
Just to set the scene a little bit, many of you will remember the fall of 2015. The tragic death of Alan Kurdi and the heartbreaking photo that was broadcast around the world truly opened the eyes of the global community to the war in Syria and the plight of many refugees seeking safety.
This event became a major electoral issue that year, and, after coming into power, the new government was committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees in just a few months.
The Government of Canada not only met but exceeded its initial commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of February 2016, and to date, we have resettled more than 40,000 Syrian refugees.
The number kept getting kind of ramped up and I'm sure Anita will talk about that.
Over the months that followed, it was a national effort that required tremendous coordination and support from all levels of government and from our fellow citizens.
The timeline for the project was unprecedented and successful delivery called for engagement of a diverse group of players and a broad set of relationships. It included operations involving Global Affairs and their missions, transportation links, the full involvement of all security partners, the Public Health Agency, and a significant contribution from the Canadian Forces both abroad and here in Canada.
So, during our first panel this evening, we'll hear about exactly what it took for the public service to meet this commitment and share in the challenges and their experiences.
I was fortunate to join IRCC in 2016 after most of the heavy lifting was done and I was immediately impressed by the amazing work that Anita and the department had done to resettle these refugees.
In fact, when I arrived at the department, I did my individual one-on-one meetings with all of my senior managers, and the first thing that they told me was, we're really tired, and I don't blame them. They had been working flat out for almost nine months.
Of course, as important as it was to make sure the refugees arrived in Canada, that's not where the process ended, and we'll also have an opportunity with our second panel today to talk about, first of all, the role that they played in getting these refugees such a large number of people all at the same time settled in Canada, getting them organized into language classes and learning how to access the transit system, and just getting them settled in housing.
But those relationships that we have continue now with service provider organizations who are playing a really important role in helping refugees receive the supports that they need and integrate for the long term. So, we'll have a chance to talk about that in our second panel today.
So, without further ado, I'd like to get this evening started and I'll turn it back to Taki.
Taki Sarantakis: So, one of the things we want to do with this series is we want to bring you back in time a little bit, because it's one thing to talk about things but it's quite another thing to kind of imagine it and put yourself back in the moment.
So, with that, we're going to watch a short video.
[A slideshow of images and videos from the Syrian Civil War is shown.]
[Text is shown that reads:
SYRIAN CIVIL WAR ERUPTS.
MARCH 5, 2012
THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT CLOSES ITS EMBASSY IN DAMASCUS.
SYRIAN CANADIANS CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO RESETTLE REFUGEES TO CANADA.
THE UN CALLS ON MEMBER STATES TO RESETTLE REFUGEES.
GOVERNMENT PROMISES TO ADMIT 1,300 REFUGEES BY THE END OF 2014.
BY DECEMBER 2014
JUST OVER 1,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES HAD ARRIVED IN CANADA.
GOVERNMENT COMMITS TO RESETTLING 10,000 MORE REFUGEES BY 2018.
SEPTEMBER 2 2015
ALAN KURDI'S DEATH BRINGS HUMAN CONNECTION TO THE SYRIAN CRISIS."]
Stephen Harper (Former Prime Minister of Canada): It's heart wrenching. It brings you right to your own family.
Our view has been that on refugees, we should do what what we're doing and we need to do more.
How many Canadian permanent resident visas have actually been issued to Syrian refugees?
[A newspaper article is shown with the headline: "John Ivison: Migrant crisis suddenly the biggest issue in the election campaign – and Harper's on the high wire" beside text that reads "September 3 2015"]
[Text is shown that reads:
GOVERNMENT ADDS STAFF AT VISA PROCESSING POINTS TO REDUCE WAIT TIMES."]
[A Government of Canada webpage is shown with the headline: "#WelcomeRefugees: The road ahead".]
[Text is shown that reads "IRCC IS TASKED WITH SYRIAN REFUGEE HORIZONTAL INITIATIVE".]
[Text is shown that reads "DECEMBER 2015".]
Unidentified Speaker: How many Canadian permanent residence visas have actually been issued to Syrian refugees.
Unidentified Speaker: Those people are not here yet.
[Text is shown that reads "GOVERNMENT REDUCES RESETTLEMENT TARGET FROM 25,000 TO 10,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES BY YEAR END."]
Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister of Canada): Welcome to your new home.
[Text appears that says:
"THE NEW TARGET IS NOT REACHED.
BUT THE GOVERNMENT IS MAINTAINING ITS COMMITMENT TO WELCOME 25,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES BY THE END OF FEBRUARY."]
Rosemary Barton (CBC News): The Liberal government says they've reached a milestone in the Syrian refugee resettlement program, the 25,000 milestone. That number, though, is a mix of government and privately sponsored refugees.
John McCallum (Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship): We're pleased that we hit our stage one target of 25,000 by the end of the month.
[Text is shown that reads:
"PRIVATE SPONSORSHIP ACCOUNTS FOR ONE THIRD OF THE 25,000 RESETTLED SYRIAN REFUGEES
BUT NOT ALL CANADIANS AGREED WITH THE GOVERNMENT'S INITIATIVES".]
Unidentified Speaker: What there was, a bunch of hateful slogans. Among them, the words, "Syrians go home and die."
[An article headline is shown that reads "More than 70% of Canadians think Liberals' new refugee target is too high: poll".]
[Text is shown that reads:
"DESPITE CHALLENGES AND SHIFTS IN PUBLIC OPINION, CANADA HAS SETTLED TO DATE 58,650 SYRIAN REFUGEES
THIS ENORMOUS INITIATIVE INVOLVES MANY GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND PARTNERS
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
Global Affairs Canada
Canada Border Services Agency
Public Health Agency of Canada
Shared Services Canada
Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces
Public Safety Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Public Services and Procurement Canada
Other state governments, in particular those of Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/UN Refugee Agency
International Organization for Migration
Canadian Red Cross
Provincial and territorial governments
Community of settlement/resettlement service provider organizations
Community of private sponsor organizations and private sponsors, including the Sponsorship Agreement Holder Council
Corporate private sector donors
CANADA'S SYRIAN REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROJECT IS AN INSPIRING MODEL FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD."]
[00:10:42 The Government of Canada logo appears.]
[00:10:45 Taki Sarantakis and panelists Anita Biguzs, Malcolm Brown, and Jacques Cloutier are seated onstage.]
Taki Sarantakis: So, let's start with Anita.
Anita Biguzs (Retired and Former Deputy Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada): First of all, it's hard not to be emotional actually watching that. I feel a little bit like I'm reliving a very intense period of time of my career.
But I'm really very pleased to have this occasion to talk about this initiative to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada in that fall/winter of 2015/16 and the role of my department at the time.
And I think as the as the presentation showed, while my department played a very important role in delivering on this commitment of the new Liberal government, this is really a shared narrative of extraordinary national solidarity which would not have been possible without the unprecedented cooperation of 14 federal departments, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, settlement organizations, so many people, and Canadians from all walks of life.
And it's very hard to summarize in a few moments, I think I've been given five minutes, in terms of what was required to achieve, really what at the time felt like a Herculean task, and I think my colleagues might agree with me.
And maybe just for some context, for those of you who are not aware, and I'm sure there are people who are involved in this, but for those who are not aware, our normal process for refugee resettlement took anywhere from a minimum of about two to five years, and there were reasons for that.
I mean, it meant we had to get referrals from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. We had to do security and health screening and interview individuals on site. We had to get exit permits from host countries, normally a process that takes six to nine months. We had to make travel arrangements once we worked with sponsorship groups and settlement organizations to ensure people had a place to come to in Canada.
And so, in the year and a half up to September 2015, we had resettled about 2400 Syrian refugees to Canada, just to give you a sense of perspective.
So, in this case, we were faced in early November 2015 with the initial commitment of the new government of the day to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by December the 30th, in about six or seven weeks, which seemed pretty daunting, I can assure you, at the time.
And the first transition briefing, that early November, which I had to deliver along with my colleagues, and Malcolm was, I think, there next to me and I think maybe Michael was there too, before we even had ministers sworn in, so this was to the transition team, it was a pretty challenging briefing. I thought we were really well-prepared. We laid out all of the challenges and the risks and what was involved in the process that normally took a very long time.
And anyway, so it was a pretty tough briefing, but fortunately, on November the 24th, the government announced that the date would be extended to the end of February 2016, 10,000 to arrive by the end of December, the rest by February.
And so, this extended timeframe would allow all appropriate screening processes, health, security, everything else to be completed overseas to ensure overall integrity.
And so, while this additional runway was helpful, it was nonetheless very challenging and it meant that we had to undertake a massive deployment of staff, about 500 in total, and also equipment overseas virtually overnight.
And it was not just immigration staff, as you know, it was also a military, medical, and other personnel to help manage our ops centers, processing units overseas, but of course, CBSA, Global Affairs staff, I mean, anyway, it was just a massive deployment that had to be orchestrated and organized.
It meant that we had to take people out of some of our other posts to go to Lebanon and Jordan because we needed experienced, seasoned staff on the ground. You couldn't just hire people off the street to do this and so it had implications in other parts of our processing in other parts of the country.
We had to engage very closely with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, on whom we depended for refugee referrals, for government-assisted refugees, and also the governments of Lebanon and Jordan to ask them to accelerate their normal processes and also to ask them to do things they had not done previously.
So, just as we were being asked to actually take on something and do things and look at our processes differently and whether we could make them more efficient, certainly we were asking these other parties to do likewise.
We had to arrange travel arrangements for commercial flights, literally for hundreds of people on the fly as planes were taking off. I mean, we were having to orchestrate flights to get people here as soon as possible. Facilities had to be stood up at Pearson and Montreal airports to receive arriving refugees. We had the Red Cross on site where basically food was provided, winter clothing was provided, and all sorts of services.
We, of course, had to engage intensively with provinces and territories and settlement organizations across Canada to ensure people would have a place to stay on arrival, and hotels had to be booked and longer-term housing needs lined up which was incredibly challenging. We were dealing in some cases with families of six, eight, and ten people, and it's not easy in our country to find that kind of a combination.
We needed to make sure we had health and social services ready to address issues and basically also to equip all of our settlement organizations across the country with the resources they needed to be able to provide services.
And as you know, I mean, the whole process of getting funding through estimates and getting contribution agreements out the door to do that can be very challenging.
So, Marta said this, staff worked day and night, seven days a week, and that included Christmas and that included New Year's, and we set up elaborate and detailed trackers on every step of the process so we would know on a daily basis how things were progressing and whether there were any pinch points that needed to be addressed or course, corrections.
We talked every morning, I think, at 8:00 across the federal family, basically to go over all of this in terms of where there were any issues and how things were actually coming together.
So, we did achieve our objectives by the end of February but just thanks to the remarkable hard work and dedication of so many people, and I think it was an example of real teamwork at its finest, I mean, just across the system.
I think political leadership and engagement were absolutely critical to achieving success and the government was 150%, of course, behind the initiative. I always felt like we were on the side of the angels in that regard because certainly, as I say, in fact, if anything, we were under considerable pressure from the government to be able to deliver.
There were weekly and sometimes more frequent meetings of the ad hoc committee of Cabinet, communications to the media and public were regular and open and transparent, which included ministers, press briefings, and we had weekly technical briefings by officials, which I think were very helpful to the process.
And I think it goes almost without saying that we had to secure significant new funds to be able to implement the plan, and we set up strong accountability mechanisms on how we were using funds since I knew the Auditor General was going to audit what we were doing because it was significant resources that were injected into the system.
So, I saw this initiative as my number one priority and so I devoted my full attention, 24/7 on its implementation, perhaps not normal for a deputy to be so engaged on every detail, but then nothing about this was normal.
That being said, this was one of the most gratifying initiatives I've ever had the opportunity to work on in the public service and all the more so because my parents were refugees to Canada.
And so, being at the airport to greet these exhausted and brave families actually brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. It was a very, very moving experience and I think, in many respects, some of these people, they could have been coming to the moon. They really just didn't know what they had to be prepared for. So, it was incredibly moving.
But I think in the overall scheme of things, I mean, it really was the best of all worlds, and while there was certainly some concern, I think more about the pace of this initiative, I think there was such support, broad support across the country from every corner of Canadian society, and the Minister said he was the only minister around the world, of immigration, who basically was under pressure to do more and to bring in more people.
So, the challenge was implementing an ambitious plan in the timeframe that we were given which required looking at our processes to make them more efficient, but I think that was really the easy part as challenging as it was. It was really the easy part because I think we all knew that the real challenges were ahead in terms of how well these Syrian families and individuals would do in settling in Canada over time, learning the language, going to school, accessing health care and other services, getting jobs and being able to get jobs, and fully participate in Canadian society, and that would be the real test of how well we have done.
And that journey continues, and I know you will be hearing about that certainly in the second panel.
Malcom Brown (Deputy Minister, Public Safety Canada): Thanks. Anita's covered a lot of territory.
I have some questions concerning the actions of the Privy Council and the Privy Council Office during the initiative. In fact, it will be an explanation of the things that the Privy Council Office (PCO) has done and the things that the PCO has not done.
And that's actually part of the story, I think, in terms of the role of the senior advisor in PCO.
I've got seven points, in reality, each one of them, I could elaborate. Some people will know I take 15 minutes to inhale. So, a five-minute time limit is extraordinarily frustrating, but there we go. Tonight, we all work for Taki.
The first point is when the clerk, Janice Charette, called me to say, you've been part of these briefings, this is, if not the top priority of the government, one of the top priorities. She'd come to the conclusion that because of the cross-cutting nature of it that Anita described, it was not possible, particularly when a government was just transitioning in, for one deputy to do the normal role which was try to coordinate everyone else and at the same time onboard a new minister who had a variety of other things on his mind as well.
And so, she made the decision to appoint a special adviser. I gave her a list of names. She was polite and said, no, it's you.
So, that's the first point, is that this was done quite consciously but done in a way to ensure that the roles and authorities of deputies in all the departments that were implicated are not going to be undermined or circumscribed in any way.
And we worked really hard together. Linda Lizotte-MacPherson at CBSA, colleagues at DND, GAC, we worked really hard to make sure that wasn't the case.
Some of the ways we accomplished that was by ensuring that the unit in PCO was tiny. It was myself and three officers and my long-suffering executive assistant and one other support person. That was it. That sent a signal to the system that PCO is too small to do this. So, there's no delegating to PCO and PCO can't get into the nitty gritty.
We also were clear that we weren't creating another layer of approvals. As I said before, the authorities of deputies were intact, Cabinet. This was just simply about providing a sort of niche role in places where the challenges for deputies were going to take them off the top priority and find places where we could actually provide value.
So, what are the kinds of things we focused on? One was on not broad-based public outreach because much of it, Deborah, who is going to talk later, did a lot of it and worked with all the stakeholders.
But in terms of the long list of people who were corporate entities and others who were calling with well-intentioned contributions, most of which amounted to nothing between us, rather than distracting people who were actually engaged in serious work in terms of developing the local networks to support the influx of refugees, I spent a lot of time talking to stakeholders who wanted to make a contribution. Sometimes they actually transformed it into something real, other times they didn't. CN is an example where they made a very large public donation in support of housing.
Another element was, I sometimes call it, running interference, but it's, in reality, managing and working with the political level, particularly the Prime Minister's office. They assigned Cyrus Porter, a senior adviser in the Prime Minister's office. Cyrus played a key role, but rather than having Cyrus engage with other ministers or offices and through them into deputies, we created a conduit. So, they tended to flow through me, and from time to time, well, I'd like to think I helped playing a role in terms of curbing ministerial enthusiasm about some things.
There were some really interesting ideas about certain choreography of aircraft on certain days and I would get a phone call from a colleague or two and say, well, this really is going to be a challenge. So, I would be thrown into battle to explain how, and I had nothing to lose. I didn't have an ongoing relationship to run a department or with a minister. So, I could play a role that, in essence, provided some insulation or inoculation for deputies while they did the hard work of actually trying to make this happen.
The last point I'll talk about is, and Anita talked about it, we tracked progress ruthlessly, and I mean ruthlessly, and one of the requirements of the three people who worked with me, they all had to have worked in the departments in advance. So, they had their own networks, and all the deputies knew I was doing this but I was plugging in, finding out as they were, in real time, what was happening.
And so, from time to time on these daily meetings at 8:00, I'd ask what was, in essence, a planted question about X happening, and that would trigger, because of the very thorough performance measurement systems that Anita had developed along with CBSA, very quick reaction on, was there an issue, if not, let's move on, if there was, okay, we'll come back to it two days later, and you'd know almost immediately, and we were really tracking bums in seats.
A plane load had half as many people as we expected, where are we finding not just those other 150 bums but where are we finding the 150 seats to put them in because it was all tracked so carefully in real time, exactly.
So, we were very un-PCO like, and I say that with love, having worked there many times, but part of it was to actually design something that could disappear very quickly afterwards. No one's lamenting the absence of the senior adviser role. We still talk to each other.
But it was about, at its core, providing a facilitating and supporting role to deputies and not supplanting. I'll stop there.
Jacques Cloutier (Vice President, Operations Branch, Canada Border Services Agency): I'm going to anticipate, a little bit, some of the conversations that we were going to have a little bit later on because there isn't much that's been said so far that I can add to.
So, I think I want to focus on a couple of the elements that that were raised earlier. We said thank God we don't have these types of events all the time because of the tone and because of what they demand and what they exert on us.
I had the privilege of being in Jordan and being in Lebanon and watching people work, and work over the Christmas break and the New Year's break, and I know what the toll was on their families and the people we left behind and the people who didn't get the awards that ultimately crown everything that's been done at the end, and the people who I think are very deserving of those awards.
But the toll and the difficulty, I think, was measured by this ability that we had as an entity, as an enterprise, to bring people together. You have never seen the government operation center behave and operate the way that it did during OSR. You never saw the level of coordination that we had between [inaudible] in the way that these meetings were managed.
We at CBSA were operating in an environment where we replicated what we saw, and I know other departments did the same thing, but when you can build a brand new terminal at Pearson Airport in 24 hours, when you can take a terminal at Trudeau Airport and totally renovate it and get it ready, when you can deploy, in 48 hours, 60 people from your organization to Lebanon and equip them with the computers and the radios, part of me wants to say we should have more events like this because the real loss is so disappointing and it's such a letdown compared to everything that we're able to do when we're forced to think beyond ourselves and be the real public servants that we can be.
It stops being about IRCC, the CIC at that time. It stops being public safety or CBSA or the role that everybody has to play, and it really becomes a question of what is it we are being asked to do as civil servants? What is the commitment expected of us? This was the first time that mandate letters for ministers were actually published and you got to see what was expected of them.
And what I knew in myself is when it came to CBSA, when it came to Minister Goodale, there was not a single reference to CBSA in any of the mandate letters but there were references to CBSA's mandate in all of the mandate letters. That tells us something about what we were expected to do and what we did and what we accomplished.
It was hard and it was difficult and frustrating but watching the video now, that pales in comparison to the plight the people were enduring and what they were fleeing and what they sought to obtain by coming to Canada as refugees.
Those are the incredible lessons that we've taken from that which I hope we can now take and apply to the other things we're doing. It wasn't the first lesson.
You talked about 9/11 and how it profoundly transformed the way that we do and think of government security within government, but I can talk about the support to military operations in Afghanistan and the profound impact that that had on us. I can also talk about the earthquake in Haiti and the response the government brought to bear in that particular instance.
So, for me, this entire experience and the fact that we were part of this is really an example of how much better we can be when we're really focused on what needs to happen.
And I'll just I'll just conclude by highlighting, on this point, a few people whose names are familiar to some of you and some of them might actually be here tonight, but people who played such a key role in the way that this unfolded.
Michelle Cameron, who was the Head of Mission in Lebanon, was willing, game, and able to do anything anytime of day in support of the mission, if it meant waking up a general, and I'm guessing if Michelle that had to wake up the president, she would have.
People over there like [inaudible], people from across each of our organizations have mentioned Don already, but the several people from IRCC, including [inaudible] and others who played such a critical role in helping people keep their eyes on what it was we were trying to do.
Kimberly Saunders, and Kimberly, I'm not just mentioning you because I know you're here, but the dark, complex world of doing the security clearance and doing it 24/7, and keeping an eye on the fact that the people that we were screening and the commitment that we were making, our people one day will be sitting in panels like that and explaining how, now that they've become the Clerk of the Privy Council, they started their experience as a refugee.
It's all of those different elements that I think continue to make it important to find that ability to behave differently.
Taki Sarantakis: Thank you, Jacques.
So, you have anticipated one of the themes that we're going to talk about tonight.
Jacques Cloutier: Well, you shared that in advance.
Taki Sarantakis: Actually, I didn't because I'd like to have it more spontaneous, but government working in crisis. So, that will be a theme that we talk about.
And you've already mentioned what I think is something that is intriguing because a lot of people have noticed this, government seems to work best when there is crisis. Government mobilizes around an idea. Government mobilizes around a mandate. Departments become the Government of Canada, and then, when the crisis is over, we go back to becoming departments as opposed to the government of Canada.
But that'll be interwoven throughout our discussion.
So, I want to start with Anita. So, it is September 2nd. We see the tragic photo of Alan Kurdi. Two days after that, then Liberal leader and now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau goes on TV and he says the Government of Canada, if we are elected, the government will bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of this calendar year.
And as you talked about a little bit in your remarks, that's about ten times, maybe even more than ten times what we do, and you talked a little bit about the security screening, you talked about the logistics.
What's it like in the middle of an election campaign to have one of the two people that's going to be Prime Minister, one of the three people that's going to be Prime Minister, say something that is fundamentally irrational, if you think about it. It's fundamentally not possible for you to scale up times 10 to do in less than three months what it takes you to do 1/10 of that in one year?
Anita Biguzs: Well, it's somewhat daunting. I mean, it was a very unusual period, I'd have to say as well. It was, I think, the longest election campaign ever. We had a number of issues already that had been playing out and leaks and one thing or another in terms of issues.
And at that point, it wasn't even entirely clear. You can never really predict what the outcome of an election is going to be in a very long charged election campaign, and certainly, I recall as well that the previous minister was, in fact, called back from the campaign trail.
I mean, when that picture appeared, no one could help but be affected by it. I was with the head of CBSA, Linda. We were in London for the Five Country Conference. I spent almost the entire time in my hotel room on the phone and flew back to Ottawa because at that point, of course, the government of the day was actually looking at what it would do in terms of trying to respond to that, in terms of increasing its commitment, in terms of how many Syrian refugees it was prepared to resettle.
And they did announce, certainly, that they would increase the numbers.
So, it's very difficult, I think, when you're actually going through an election campaign, to really know in terms of you try to prepare as best you can in terms of your transition advice, and we certainly did.
We spent a lot of time, certainly once the election was over, certainly in terms of looking at the options, and certainly talking to the centre and everyone, in terms of what would it take to actually do this?
And I already referred to our first transition briefing, and Michael probably talked to this as well. I felt we were very well-prepared. We laid it all out in terms of what's required. There are things you control, there are things you don't control. Exit permits take six to nine months. I mean, that's the reality. In fact, sometimes longer.
So, I think we tried to lay all of this out very, very clearly and therefore also laid out the options, but clearly, the government was very determined in terms of what it wanted to achieve.
And I think one lesson learned that I would take away from that after all of my years in government, but particularly, when you're in a transition period, is to think very carefully about how you build trust and relationships of a government, because we serve the government, at the same time that you have to speak truth to power, and how you do that is very important, and the how is as important as the what in terms of how you present something.
And as I say, I think we were very, very, I think, clear, I think in terms of how we briefed on this, but it was clear, if you want to achieve this, here are the things that would be required, and here's where you would have to engage at the highest of levels, engaging the heads of Lebanon and Jordan. I mean, these are all of the things that it would take, and even then, there are risks.
And so, you do the best you can in terms of at least trying to put forward the best advice you can based on the evidence.
Taki Sarantakis: So Malcolm, it's October [inaudible].
Malcolm Brown: Well, I was drawn in. The clerk wanted, in the transition briefings, a full spectrum of the refugee response. So, there was the resettlement piece, so IRCC and CBSA, but then there's the support in situ through development aid, and I was the Deputy Minister of International Development at that point. So, I sat in and worked with Anita and Linda to prepare for these transition briefings, and then got tagged, I guess.
The music stopped and I was still standing when she, with advice from her associate Michael and others, decided that this really did kind of need to reflect the- if this was a top priority for the government, it needed to be a top priority for the public service, and ways to reflect that, both symbolically and also practically. So, about nine days after the government was sworn in, I was appointed the special adviser.
But what struck me, Anita's being very polite as she always is, there was real tension because any of us, and I include myself in that group, who know anything about immigration policy and refugee policy knows this is a really big machine and it's a supertanker and it doesn't pivot on a dime. It takes some time to shift.
They had sought expertise from outside government, former public servants who all quite helpfully signed a letter saying we should do 50,000, not 25. I spoke to some of them afterwards and they all quite cheerfully said, we didn't have a clue, you did 50,000 Vietnamese way back when.
And we said, yeah, but that was over 12 or 18 or 36 months, depending on how you count. Like, eight weeks? Are you out of your minds? They said you guys will figure it out.
And embedded in that kind of nonchalance is actually, I think, a truism. If you're prepared to do things differently, you can do virtually the impossible.
10,000, the video accurately describes it as missing the target of 25, but 10,000 is an extraordinary accomplishment in the short number of weeks between the swearing in of the government and the end of the year, and then another 15. Thank goodness it was a leap year and we had an extra day.
I said that in Cabinet to a senior person in the Prime Minister's office. He said it's funny. I said, no, no, I'm serious, an extra day might be the difference between 500 and being 500 short and 500 over, because it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that a lot would be coming at the end and you might be landing five or six or eight or 900 a day, which is exactly what happened.
So, it's important to underline just how extraordinary the challenge was. It had never been done before but the public service responded. Yeah, there were a couple of rocky briefings at the beginning where we're kind of saying this is complicated and hard, and they acknowledged then and afterwards that they hadn't thought through all the intricacies, but they were making a challenge both for the public service and, frankly, to Canadians as a whole.
I heard this phrase used a lot about it being a national project, and was it fair to everybody? No. Was it stressing the stakeholders, the settlement organizations? Absolutely. We'll hear about that later. Would we have all wanted more time? Absolutely, but there was a symbol at play and also real substance.
And so, it was fascinating in retrospect. It was hell going through it, not anything like some of my colleagues went through, but-
Anita Biguzs: Can I just add to that as well? There was even a lack of clarity on what the commitment was. It was 25,000 but in different parts of the mandate, it wasn't clear whether it was government-assisted refugees or privately-sponsored refugees, and that makes a difference in trying to get clarity, even on that in the early days as the clock is ticking and the days are turning over and you're not quite sure what we're talking about. So, even getting clarity on the objective was really challenging.
Jacques Cloutier: Even clarity on the locale, so is it Turkey or not Turkey? Are we going or are we not going, right?
Taki Sarantakis: So, Jacques, while we were all doing this in Canada, we had some friends to the south who were looking at us kind of funny and were saying, yeah, yeah, it's a really good idea to be humanitarian but I don't know if you're letting in some terrorists or some warlords.
Talk to us a little bit about the overlay of security on top of all of this, because it's not just about the mechanics of bringing people over but the importance of not bringing over certain people.
Jacques Cloutier: So, I think it was really important. The first commitment was that security will never be compromised and I think that's a fundamental piece because it wasn't just something that we said, it was something that we meant. It was also something that was shared across the enterprise. So, the commitment at Immigration was strong to this principle as it was with us or anybody else in a public safety portfolio.
So, to pick up on what Malcolm said and what Anita said, it was essentially doing what we would have taken weeks to do and crunching it in 72 hours.
And Malcolm talked about numbers, it really was down to the wire. It was really discussions day by day about how many people can you screen to the CBSA, and how many people can we book, and what's ION saying, and when's that plane coming, and it literally was about when the plane would land in GTA and what it would do in that space.
Our colleagues down south had, I think, legitimate questions, legitimate concerns. They wanted to understand what we were doing and we said to them what we told Canadians all along very openly in all of our briefings, this is what the security process is.
But what people forget too is you were not talking about unknowns, you were talking about people who had been selected by UNHCR in some cases, the vast majority and certainly the first 10,000. So, these are people who were known to the system. These were people who had been identified already as people who were in need of resettlement.
So, it was more about making sure that we went through our processes again, checked all of the databases, squared all the circles, made sure that we knew exactly what we were doing.
And the beauty of having CBSA offices overseas was that our ability to map the person to the documents, ensure that we were always dealing with the same family units, the single journey document, which is essentially the access pass for the individual to make their way to Canada, was matched to the right person.
I never, not once, had any concern in our ability to do this or any concern in the ability of our staff at CBSA and elsewhere in the portfolio to do what needed to be done.
And so, we're going to be honest here. It does not mean that we did not have hard conversations with the colleagues at IRCC, because we did, and that's the nature of the business, is being able to be honest and candid about the risks as you perceive them, and then make the decisions.
Now, having said this, is there any system that's 100% proof? I would never be able to make that commitment, but I can tell you, hand on my heart, that nobody cut corners. The work was done brilliantly to perfection.
It was a science, done respectfully, the way it should be done.
Taki Sarantakis: I would like to speak a little bit about the concept of time.
As you mentioned, you had two deadlines. The first was December 31st, 2015, and then you had an extension to the leap year of end of February 2016. This is the second time that I can remember that we had a big initiative that was kind of time-limited, and the first one, Anita and I lived a little bit of it, which was the economic stimulus where the government of the day said stimulus ends on March 31, 2011, full stop, no extension.
Tell me a little bit about working under a clock. Is it helpful? Does it create pressures that are unnecessary or does it stimulate lazy civil servants to focus on what's important by a time? Because this is something we're also going to talk about in the EAP in January.
But this time, the government really kind of created a bit of an artificial crisis, right? Because Syria wasn't new, this had been happening since 2012. We closed our embassy in Damascus, body after body of the United Nations says there's effectively civil war going on here, people are being slaughtered, but there was a political clock put on it. Tell me a little bit about working under that.
Jacques Cloutier: Personally, I think that the advantage is that it is clear. So, we know exactly what the expectations are and what the framework is in which we can do these things.
I never for one moment felt that if we had any compelling arguments that would have shown that in any way, shape, or form the approach that was taken was introducing risks in the systems that were greater than the supposed benefits, I never at one moment felt that there wouldn't be an appetite to listen to that and think about how that would be medicated.
I'm not suggesting the pressure was let up, because it wasn't, but I think that it was a reasonable environment where the right conversations could take place, right?
My biggest concern is not so much our ability to respond in a context like that, but it's more about what are the policy concerns that you're introducing by being so focused on delivering results in a very finite, constrained environment that's so many people by this date.
My question is, well, what then? So, does it all stop the next day or are we done with this? What's the next piece? So, how does it become then part of your normal programmatic and sustained effort and response?
Taki Sarantakis: Malcolm?
Malcolm Brown: So, you asked three questions and the answer to all of them is yes. Yes, it is a useful thing, yes, it creates transactional costs that are not all good, and yeah, it does motivate, I wouldn't say lazy public servants but yeah, it is motivating.
But it's an issue and there are lots of examples. I think this one's an acute one that's worth examining in terms of, overall, the net impact, and I think I have a pretty good sense of the collateral impact of this whole initiative.
But on balance, it didn't stop at 25,000. That number continued to climb over the screams and anguish of many of us saying, time out, can we take a pause?
But that's actually one of the challenges of working in the public service. It doesn't stop, and I think the democratically-elected government of the day challenged us. We responded in ways that I don't even think we thought we could, and yes, it was artificial but remember how all this started. You had the hothouse of an election campaign and they were bidding each other up.
We're just lucky it wasn't 50,000 because I have it on fairly good authority that that was a real possibility, that 50,000 would be the target, and that they thought, well, we'll back it off to 25, and I think that might have had something to do with the public servants who said you can do 50,000 in a short time. There were lots of people were talking about this.
So, I think this is kind of what we live for in terms of being challenged.
Taki Sarantakis: Anita, talk to us a little bit about the role of central agencies. We know you had all kinds of support from the operational departments, from GAC, from CBSA. Tell us a little bit about Finance and TBS and PCO.
Anita Biguzs: Again, I think this is a great example though of, really, the system pulling together. I mean, I think the role that Malcolm played was invaluable. Certainly, I think in terms of across the federal family but also certainly in terms of with PMO.
I think standing up the ops center, I don't know that I would have necessarily thought of standing up the ops center. I don't know if you did, Malcolm, but someone did and that was brilliant.
Malcolm Brown: Don, I think.
Anita Biguzs: Was it Don?
Jacques Cloutier: It was Don.
Malcolm Brown: I think it was Don.
Anita Biguzs: Anyway, because normally, you stand up the ops center when there are major fires and whatever. I don't know that I would have thought of why we would do that but it was a brilliant move in terms of coordination. We brought people in from the provinces as officials who sat in the ops center. So, it was real time that people knew what was going on and what had to happen and when people were arriving.
And I think that as well, certainly PCO, I mean Finance and Treasury Board, again, were very helpful. We had to go to the board with the Treasury Board submission in two weeks or something, absolutely insane, for a lot of money. It was a lot of money and our finance people were incredible, Dan Mills and others, I mean, certainly in terms of doing this incredible costing.
Do you know, that we came in almost right on in terms of our costing? We had to go in committee of the whole on the floor of the House which was an excruciatingly painful experience, I have to tell you, for four hours.
But I have to say, everyone pulled together and as I say, Finance was very supportive. I think Treasury Board was very supportive. We worked so well together and I think it's all about relationships but as well when you know that you have a common objective that you know that have to move on. It was very helpful, and as I say, I go back to the fact that I think everybody realized the imperative that we actually just had to make it happen. So, everyone pulled together.
Taki Sarantakis: Thank you. So, we're going to have to move in a moment to our next panel. Before we do, I'd like each of you just to give a little bit of advice to the young future DGs or ADMs or deputies in the room.
What makes things happen and why was this successful? What can they replicate from this as they go forward and face their own challenges in the future?
Maybe we'll start with Jacques.
Jacques Cloutier: I would say look at what Kevin is doing with the renovation on Parliament. Look at Alex at Treasury Board. Look at all the different initiatives. Look at ISED. Believe that it does not need to be exactly what you found and just visualize what it can be because it's all within reach.
Taki Sarantakis: Malcolm?
Malcolm Brown: Teamwork. None of this would have been possible if we had operated the way we did a generation ago when I started in the public service.
So, we had a bunch of people. We would have full and frank and tough conversations but we also spent a lot of time privately working issues out and then we just kind of, okay, we're in this and if one of us sinks, all of us sinks. So, teamwork.
Taki Sarantakis: And Anita.
Anita Biguzs: I guess a couple of things. So, I thought about this a lot, governance. It's really important how you're organized within your own sector but also across government. We've already talked about that in terms of Malcolm's role but also internally in your department, really important to think about roles and responsibilities so that everybody understands.
I think communications are so important as well and I think that was certainly, I think to the government's credit, the extent to which it was open and transparent but also I think honest in terms of things. Housing was really tough and it was a challenge, and I mean, the Minister was out there saying, yeah, this is really tough, we're doing the best we can, and so I think that really helped, I think certainly in terms of open and transparent communications.
And information, this whole issue of having the best tracking system in the world. At first, it was many pages. The department's amazing but it was so technical. It was like 20 pages long and whatever, and it was great for them but we needed something as well that we could roll up at a higher level to brief ministers with and that we could actually review in our daily morning calls. So, tracking systems, information is absolutely vital in terms of being able to move on something like this.
And accountability, I always say don't forget accountability because the Auditor General's going to audit you. So, set it up upfront, and I know that people were- the last thing they wanted to think about was documentation and we brought in our audit people, but I said, we're going to be audited so let's figure it out.
Taki Sarantakis: So, on behalf of the people that are in the room, I'd like to thank all three of you for sharing some thoughts and wisdoms with us tonight.
And on behalf of the 50 some thousand Syrian refugees who are making new lives in Canada, who are doctoral students and grad school and elementary students, and making chocolate in different provinces, in New Brunswick, I'd like to thank you for your big, big role in that.
[Taki, Anita, Malcolm, and Jacques get up from their seats.]
[Marta Morgan and panelists Deborah Tunis, Naomi Alboim, and Mario J. Calla take their seats.]
Marta Morgan: So, on Anita's point about the Auditor General, I had the pleasure of appearing in front of the Public Accounts Committee when the Auditor General audited the Syria initiative, and I actually called Anita that day to say thank you. The opposition members of the Public Accounts Committee actually said to me, you guys did a really good job, and I have to tell you that has never happened before and I doubt that it'll ever happen again. So, I think Anita's foresight in terms of audit evaluation and thinking about all of what was going to happen down the road was amazing.
But bringing people here is only the beginning. We rely on a network of non-profit organizations across the country and Canadians across the country to help people get settled when they arrived, right when they arrived, and then once they're settled to support their integration.
So, Deborah, Naomi and Mario's ongoing involvement in this effort began at its inception.
So, now let's turn our minds to what happened when people actually got here.
And I'm going to start with Deborah because she played a very interesting role in this initiative.
Deborah Tunis (Former Special Coordinator for Syrian Refugee Resettlement): Thank you.
It was interesting in the panel just before when they were asking about advice to public servants.
I joined the federal government in 1973, a long, long time ago, and my very second assignment was at the National Gallery of Canada, and I worked here for 14 years. So, it's really lovely to be back here. I worked on the new building project and I can tell you exactly how many seats there are in this auditorium.
And when Marta called about this panel, Malcolm and Naomi were really responsible for my decision to go to Citizenship and Immigration back in 2000. We were at a Queens social policy conference, and they said, that's where you need to go and be DG of integration.
So, I retired from Citizenship and Immigration and was busily planning trips and doing things with grandkids and making a quilt for my father-in-law for his 90th birthday when I got this call, after Alan Kurdi's death.
And it was to support the previous administration because during the election campaign, part of the advice to the department was that they needed to create a position as a special coordinator to do outreach with provinces, territories, municipalities.
One of the differences between the approaches of the previous government and the current government was that balance of privately-sponsored versus government-assisted refugees, and one of the things that the previous government really wanted to do was to encourage that private sponsorship movement that I think Naomi's going to talk a fair bit about.
So, when this government got elected with that 25,000 commitment and the worries that the settlement agencies had about trying to land all those people by the end of December, I think my role was really to work with provinces, territories, municipalities, the resettlement agencies, to try to align our efforts, get information.
There was a lot of confusion about the different dates and the different priorities, the different numbers, and we convened a meeting in Toronto on November 28th, 29th that was a very important meeting to bring together representatives of all of those areas so that everybody could understand the plan, could move forward.
And this was a time, I don't know if all of you remember exactly where we were in November 2015 but there weren't a lot of people that were used to doing a lot of consultation and engagement things during that era, and so it was sort of a foreign concept that we would actually sit down and talk to people.
And Mario was running out and giving interviews to The Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star, and Naomi was shaping the agenda. It was a real collective effort.
One of the things that I wanted to mention was we were very, very grateful that the Governor General hosted a major event at Government House on December 1st, immediately after that meeting at the end of November, and that really engaged the private sector. It really signaled, this is a bipartisan event, it's a collective effort. There were representatives from all different parties and provinces and municipalities and these folks. It really did signal, we're all going to be working on this together, and so over to you.
Naomi Alboim (Senior Policy Fellow, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University): Okay. It's very special to be here tonight with the previous panel and this panel because we all worked together really hard and really well during that that period of time.
I came to the Syrian movement a little bit differently, I guess. In 1979 to '81, I was working for the federal government at CIC. It was then CEIC or maybe ENI, maybe. Anyway, lots of different initials at the time, but I was the Federal Government Coordinator for the Indochinese Refugee Movement that brought in the 60,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and I did that for the region of Ontario which brought in about half of that number.
So, is this working? Yeah, okay.
Anyway, I had that experience from long ago with the boat people movement, and in the fall of 2013, a group of us organized a conference with the key players that had been involved in the Vietnamese refugee movement, and we brought people, including the former minister of the day and visa officers who had been abroad and sponsors and refugees and representatives from the federal, provincial, municipal governments that had been involved and the voluntary sector that had been involved.
And we did it for two reasons. One was to document what had happened, but equally importantly, it was to learn from that experience and see what could potentially be applied to future refugee movements. Some of us already had in mind, well, Syria would be a good one, but that hadn't yet reached the public mind or the mind of governments in in 2013.
But a group of us continued to meet very frequently after that conference and we wrote papers and we gave interviews and we wrote op-eds and we met with civil servants and we met with elected officials, and we really wanted to have people think about how what we learned then could be applied to the Syrian refugee situation.
And we met with people from all political parties at that point in time because we didn't know what would be coming down the pipe.
One of the recommendations that came out of those meetings was to create an organization modeled on the lines of a previous organization that had existed during the Indochinese movement, which was then called Operation Lifeline, and we thought it would be useful to establish an organization like that to promote the whole issue of private sponsorship and to recruit people and train people and support people who were interested in doing sponsorship.
So, that was from 2013 to 2015. We were doing lots of public work but we were a small little ad hoc group.
In the winter of 2015, the former Mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, contacted Ratna Omidvar, who was then not a Senator, she was at Ryerson University, and asked her, who should we bring together to talk about this? And Ratna put together a group of about ten people, and Mario was at that little group of ten people, and that was the beginning of an organization called Lifeline Syria.
And we saw as our mandate to promote private sponsorship, to advocate government, to increase the numbers, to recruit and train and support sponsors and in the very difficult paper process that was necessary at that time to submit sponsorships for Syrian refugees.
We officially launched that organization in June, and we had people interested. We had people interested, coming to meetings, but if it was a room this size, it was probably the number of people that are in this room at some of those public meetings.
I decided to reach out to my own community at that point in time. The Jewish community had been very actively involved in the Vietnamese movement and I thought this would be a really important initiative for the Jewish community to become involved in, specifically because it was Syrian and primarily Muslim but to show that this was a national project and that we were all working on this together.
And I approached the Jewish Immigrant Aid Services that had a sponsorship agreement with the federal government and went to board meetings and cajoled and convinced, and they agreed that they would be the umbrella organization for a number of Jewish organizations.
I met with the Council of Jewish Rabbis. All rabbis are Jewish, the Council of Rabbis, and they agreed this was just before the high holidays and they agreed that they would make this a pulpit [inaudible]. We ended up with about 38 synagogues in the city of Toronto, sponsoring Syrian refugees, and my synagogue was the first to sign up for sponsorship.
The election was called in August. Syrian refugees became a very major campaign issue. [inaudible] picture changed everything.
Our public meetings now, instead of a group like this, had lineups out the door, standing room. Our website was crashing. Telephones could not be answered quickly enough with people who wanted to sponsor and people who wanted to help in any way possible. We had people calling in saying, if I knit hats, will you distribute them, to people offering rooms in their homes to, I mean, just incredible offers to assist.
The election came on October 19th. Everything went into overdrive as you have heard, but it also went into overdrive in terms of sponsor groups and we worked with the sponsorship agreement holders with lawyers.
Ultimately, Lifeline Syria, that organization, assisted close to 300 sponsor groups to sponsor over a thousand refugees to come into the city of Toronto.
I'm only going to talk about the family that I sponsored as an indication because it'll tell you about how many, many, many of the Syrian refugees are doing.
The family that we sponsored was a family of five. They arrived in February. They've been here almost three years now. We subsequently also sponsor the mother of the woman, the sister of the woman, and the sisters' two sons, teenage sons, and another daughter and her husband. The daughter was pregnant. So, we, in our little group, really contributed significantly to the family unification of that particular family.
Fast forward today, they are working. They are totally self-sufficient. They came with English language zero and they are now levels three and four. The boys are doing absolutely brilliantly in school. The family lives several blocks away from each other and support each other in everything that they do. The head of the family has one and a half jobs. All the adult women in the family are working and the teenage boys are all working part-time. The boys are taking swimming lessons. They go to camp. They go drive their bikes to the library every day after school to do their homework, and the parents are setting aside money every month for their kids' university education.
This is a family where no one graduated from high school, let alone went to university.
Our relationship is still strong. It's changed. They're no longer dependent in any way and our sponsorship has become a friendship.
Marta Morgan: Thanks, Naomi. We'll turn it over to Mario. Mario's organization, COSTI was involved in the front end in terms of resettling and continues to be involved to this day, not just for Syrians but many other immigrants who come to Canada.
Mario J. Calla (Executive Director, COSTI Immigrant Services): Thank you for the opportunity to speak about this important initiative tonight.
My organization is one of about 40, I guess, that were contracted to resettle the Syrian refugees across the country, and of course, there were hundreds of settlement agencies that worked with these resettlement agencies to basically help the Syrian refugees settle.
You know, whenever I'm asked to speak about the Syrian refugee initiative, I have to say I feel alternating waves of post-traumatic stress and elation. My liaison at IRCC at the time of this initiative, Richard Lecours, captured it well when he observed that it always felt that we were just one step ahead of a disaster, such was the enormity of this task, but we pulled it off and I want to talk about how that happened.
I'm going to follow my notes closely because five minutes, I could speak for an hour. So, this way I'll stay focused.
Of the government's 25,000 refugee target, COSTI was responsible for resettling the largest single cohort in the country of close to 2,000 refugees in Toronto in the span of three months.
The arrivals were fast and numerous, 300 arrivals in two days. Within three weeks, we had 1100 refugees in five hotels and our own reception center. It quickly became clear that we were not ready for what we were experiencing.
Firstly, the families were much larger than anticipated, averaging three to five children per family. Some families had 10, 11 children. At one point at the Plaza Hotel, we had 240 children under the age of 14.
Secondly, the medical issues were constant and often serious. Even though we had established medical clinics in the hotels, every evening and weekend meant regular and time-consuming visits to hospitals.
Thirdly, the spontaneous generosity of the community was a blessing and a challenge at the same time. When an individual shows up at the hotel with an SUV full of garbage bags of clothes, who's going to sort through them and distribute them equitably?
We decided to adapt to this new reality and set our initial plans aside. We asked the volunteers to organize the volunteers, and we decided to work with established groups such as faith groups who could manage their own volunteers.
And so, all donations were channeled through a group that organized itself as the Clothing Drive. All interpreters were managed through a group that became the Syrian Active Volunteers. Another group founded itself, again, a group of volunteers that organized themselves with our support. They became the Syrian Canadian Foundation and we're trusteeing them this day in helping the Syrian refugees, and they provided housing and children's programing.
The faith communities got organized, including many mosques, taking responsibility for helping to set up the refugees in their new homes and providing friendship.
But key to all of this was the unprecedented cooperation and coordination by all three orders of government, and we heard a little bit of that with the first panel.
Deborah, here, established weekly IRCC conference calls of all the service provider organizations, IRCC personnel, including provincial and municipal representatives. This provided us with new intel from the government, real-time feedback to decisionmakers, and critically, the opportunity for service providers to compare experiences and share solutions.
With a rapidly evolving situation, we all learned to improvise. A key decision by IRCC was to forgo its usual requirements for budget approval, not saying there wasn't accountability with the first panel but we had to do it differently.
And so, they agreed in a process where we would consult on budget revisions, provide rationale to them, and then they would quickly confirm their decision by e-mail. The contribution agreements would be amended subsequently. This allowed us to quickly contract for extra accommodations at the hotels and hire additional staff as required. That first year, our contribution agreement was amended ten times.
The Province of Ontario made this initiative a priority and established a special advisory table on refugees, co-chaired by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the Minister of Health. At this table, sat senior decisionmakers from relevant ministries. As an example of their responsiveness, they heard from me that it was too inefficient to send busloads of newcomers to Service Ontario for their health cards. They quickly found a solution, schedule regular visits by a Service Ontario representative at each hotel.
Sometimes, the side conversations were just as important. Joan Andrew, the provincial lead for the Syrian refugee project, asked me after one meeting what I needed, and I told her it wasn't money I needed. I needed experienced manager-level people that could step right in into key functions. She approached the Ontario Public Service and we borrowed two excellent managers who took responsibility for managing the volunteers and overseeing the operations of our biggest hotel.
The City of Toronto also pitched in. Toronto Public Health conducted mass on-site vaccinations at all the hotels and provided mobile dental services. This mobile clinic provided over 500 procedures. Toronto Children's Services and the Toronto Public and Catholic District school boards literally saved the hotels from getting destroyed.
Each hotel had hundreds of kids, and the Syrian child-rearing practice is that the community collectively takes responsibility for children. In a hotel, nobody seemed to respond to the children riding up and down the elevators, ripping the wallpaper off the wall, creating artistic murals on the walls.
The school boards responded without question by bussing the kids to local schools, even though they were there temporarily. Children's services provided play equipment and volunteers set up very engaging programs for evenings and weekends. Kids would line up two hours before a program so that they could participate in face painting, storytelling, and arts and crafts.
On reflection, I realized that all of this worked because all three orders of government, public institutions, and civil society had a clear sense of purpose and were all aligned on the same objective.
The impact of all of these efforts is that all of these newcomers were safely resettled into their first homes in Canada.
You need to know that our collective efforts have been noted and felt deeply. One of our volunteers told me that she and her husband were invited by one of the Syrian newcomer families to their new home. The volunteer asked the newcomers what had impressed them most about Canada. The response was spontaneous, the generosity of Canadians.
There are many reasons we managed to stay one step ahead of a disaster but to me, the key ones were the public services and service provider organizations' ability to adapt to changing conditions and a collective sense of purpose manifested by government, institutions, and community.
We as Canadians have all provided a very special service to these newcomers at a very stressful times in their lives. We should all be proud. Thank you for your contribution.
Marta Morgan: So, thank you to our panelists.
I'm going to ask one question. I was going to ask two, but in the interest of time, I'm going to ask one, and I'm going to let you in the audience think about what your questions are because then we'll turn to you and give you an opportunity to ask our panelists questions of your choice.
So, my question is this, we're three years in now. It's over three years since we saw the refugees begin to arrive in Canada. What are we seeing now in terms of how they're doing, Naomi talked about this a little bit, and what should we be thinking about over the next three years as this project, this societal project, continues?
Mario J. Calla: So, we at COST just last week completed a survey of the Syrian refugees we've been working with and managed to reach just over 1700 of these Syrian refugees, and what I can say the context, I think, is important terms of how we judge success, because it's really dependent on the human capital they bring with them, and these are specifically the government-assisted refugees and not the privately-sponsored.
The government-assisted refugees, basically, only one in ten spoke any English when they arrived. 12% had any post-secondary education, some even had literacy issues. So, that's the context that we're working with.
Currently, 63% are attending English classes about 50%, have had or are currently employed. Mostly, 71% are in construction and trades jobs, 21% in the food industry.
What's really interesting is in asking them about their aspirations and their say here in Canada, 100% said they want to apply for Canadian citizenship. 99% are glad that they came to Canada. What's really interesting is that 83% reported that their family feel happy about being here. 75% reported that their family's emotional health has improved since coming to Canada. So, these are the kinds of questions we've been asking them.
The key to me is always the kids because we know, in our work, that it's always sacrifice for the first generation. They basically trade away a career and the kids are the promise.
And 91% of the kids, parents are reporting, are doing good to excellent in school, and what's interesting is that 92% of these kids are participating in after school activities. So, they are getting engaged.
And also, one of the concerns we had was in housing them, we ended up with clusters in Mississauga and Scarborough because that's where the affordable housing was.
It was also a way to keep them together because as was described at the beginning, they arrived and, really, there was very little preparation, and so they were a deer in the headlights.
And so, we were concerned that then they would become only dependent on each other, but in fact, 73% report having made Canadian friends, non-Syrian friends.
So, it's happening, it's moving, and it's good news.
Marta Morgan: Naomi?
Naomi Alboim: A few things. I mean, I think the Syrian crisis is not over. For every Syrian refugee that came, the first day, they said, thank you very much, and the second day, they said, can you help bring my mother, my sister, my father, my friend, my cousin? We have to think and plan much better in terms of not just the first group that comes but what about family unification when a crisis continues?
We now are using the private sponsorship movement as a family unification program, which I don't think is the best use of that program nor the best use to contribute to family unification.
And I'm talking about family unification not just because it is only human for people to want to be with their loved ones, but they can't get on with their lives if they're worrying about people who were left behind.
And I think, from a policy perspective, we have to think about building a refugee family unification system that is different than the regular family unification system, but that really allows people to get on with their lives and to be whole again. So, that's one thing.
The other thing that I think we really have to think of from a policy perspective is, does it make sense to continue to have these different groupings of government-assisted refugees, privately-sponsored refugees, blended visa office referral cases?
We know that people, all people, need the expert advice and support of settlement counsellors who really have been doing this and know what they're doing. They all benefit from the wrap-around support and friendship of Jane and Joe. Q Public, who is the best way for them to learn the language and the best way to integrate.
And I think we really have to think about new models that provide both those elements to every refugee that comes to Canada rather than the government-assisted stream where, really, only in an ad hoc way do they get the kind of wrap-around support, and not all privately-sponsored refugees get the expert advice and support of the settlement agency. So, I think we have to rethink the model.
But more importantly or equally importantly, refugee situations in the world are just going to increase. They're not going to get any better. With climate change, we're going to see a whole new category of refugees who have to leave their homes because of climate change. Whether or not they meet the definition is another issue, but even for those who meet the definition of a convention refugee according to the Geneva Convention, there are far more people than Canada can ever accept and we have to figure out the combination of development, assistance, and resettlement in our role in the world to really make a dent in this for the long term.
But I do think that we are missing the opportunity in terms of that private sponsorship movement to get the public involved on an ongoing basis, not just in an extraordinary situation like when Alan Kurdi's picture appears, because every refugee situation, the extraordinary has become ordinary and we are not dealing with the Jane and Joe Q. Public who really want to contribute. We deal with the organized institutional network that we fund through the wraps and the settlement agencies.
But how do we get this to be a Canadian national project going forward on an ongoing basis where everybody sees assisting refugees as part of their contribution as citizens of this country?
Marta Morgan: Thank you. Deborah?
Deborah Tunis: I'll be really quick. I think what was challenging in my role, and what I think about three years on, is that distributed leadership model, because for the previous panel, in those first phases of the Syrian project, it was really government working together, and then for the resettlement activities, integration, it was community groups.
And I really feel strongly that Naomi's point about creating a national project and ensuring that we are all working together is the key piece, and how do you build those networks? How do you align messaging? How do you create a shared vision? How do you create that freedom for innovation? And then, how do you celebrate the successes and take stock and do the kind of lessons learned stuff that we did?
Marta Morgan: Thanks. Yeah, one of the things that strikes me in the whole process is just the role of leadership and vision that allowed everyone to align in their own respective roles and pulled people into it that hadn't been pulled into it before.
Are there questions? We have people with microphones. If you put up your hands, you can be the first person to ask a question. Don't be shy.
And we'll keep our answers brief so that we can get a few questions in.
[Marta points to an audience member]
Question: So, thank you for the presentation and discussions, and really interesting to hear about the success elements of this operation but I'm really curious about what's one thing you really feel that, oh, we didn't do that and we wish we did that differently, for the next time, I would do it differently? What would it be for you?
Naomi Alboim: I can say what you can't say.
Deborah Tunis: Okay, you say it.
Naomi Alboim: I think the Government of Canada spent a huge amount of time on all the work that the first panel talked about. The planning for phases one to four, this is lingo for people that were involved in the exercise. The logistics, which were huge and really significant to get people over here was what the Government of Canada spent most of its time on, and the settlement and integration, phase five, came after the fact.
And people like Mario and the private sponsors rose to the occasion, made some mistakes in the way, but I don't think that enough planning was done on phase five as was done in phases one to four.
Marta Morgan: Deborah?
Deborah Tunis: We had huge amounts of corporate donations and goodwill efforts, and we didn't anticipate them and we were always scrambling. So, whether it was Dollarama wanting to give out gift cards or whether it was Johnson & Johnson wanting to give out parcels, or the President of Sears calling me to say, we'll give you snowsuits, and we'd just put out a big call for proposals for snowsuits.
That whole piece about aligning corporate donations, and Stephanie Beck, who was working with Don Edlund, tried to wrestle this piece to the ground, but we were late on doing that and we didn't do an amazing job on it.
Marta Morgan: And we still have the rebound from that with, not to the extent that you're talking about but I think this is actually a policy issue across government-wide that when we get these requests, we actually don't really have good mechanisms to deal with them.
Mario J. Calla: I would pick up on what Naomi was saying. What I found really interesting was in terms of the planning for us, and this is hindsight of course, you don't realize how programmed you are in terms of how you're going to do things when, in fact, the situation really calls for a whole different paradigm, right?
And so, we found that we were doing planning based on the way we understood budgets and so on, and when things started to change, we're asking our IRCC contacts about these kinds of things, and you could see the hesitation because they were stuck on existing procedures, and this called for a different way of doing things.
We lost time, it became really difficult, and in fact, it was, I guess, week two, week three. It was the second week of January. The three largest centers in Canada, Vancouver, Ottawa, and us in Toronto, asked for a one-week pause to catch our breath and figure out how to do things differently. It created a lot of bad publicity but it did help us to rethink and work things out.
So, the planning is important but you can't always anticipate what you need to do. You need someone who has almost an emergency service mentality to come in.
Great, thank you.
Other questions, we got one down here.
Question: Hi, thank you very much for the work. All the time, you commit to these kinds of efforts.
The survey in particular mentioned a number of very successful statistics, but I'm curious about what families have reported on as being the biggest challenge for integration, particularly what kinds of services can you offer for social and psychological distress as it may be felt upon integration?
Mario J. Calla: So, we asked that question. So, we asked, what else can we and the Government of Canada do? The number one issue for them was what Naomi said, family reunification. The majority of them have family overseas that they're trying to bring over. So, that's one area we're helping them in, putting in the applications.
Number two issue is affordable housing. The CN grant was mentioned in the first panel and we gave them subsidies for their housing to move, but that subsidy through that grant was only good for a year, right? So, some of them have had to move. So, affordable housing in Toronto region is a big problem.
And the third was finding a job, we're working with them on that part.
There are issues around mental health and clarity. We've got Arabic-speaking mental health workers that we have had to hire specifically to work with them. That's another one.
Marta Morgan: I've got the two-minute sign here. So, does anyone want to make one last comment?
Naomi Alboim: The one thing that I think is really important to just talk about is language. Language is the biggest barrier for the refugees that came in. I don't think we were prepared in terms of knowing the profile of the people coming forward, how many people would have been illiterate in their own languages and therefore how much more difficult it is to learn a new language when you're illiterate in your own.
Our current language training system does not work for people who are illiterate. They would have to be sitting in a classroom for months and months on end to meet some of the criteria necessary for job training programs or whatever.
I think we have to rethink our language training program so it's much more integrated with employment opportunities, so the people learn the language on the job. They can't sit in a classroom for months and months without getting some exposure to the workforce. So, we have to rethink that.
Marta Morgan: Deborah, do you have anything to add?
Deborah Tunis: No, I think you're getting the hook here.
Marta Morgan: Okay, so thank you so much to our panel. I think that this could not have been done without the efforts of Canadians in organizations across the country and individual Canadians, and just the ability to be nimble and to innovate on the fly.
And I've heard about some of the same stories from the inside and what it looked like. It was really an amazing effort and it continues today, and in some ways, the really important part continues today. So, thank you very much to our panel.
[A man speaks from behind a podium]
Unidentified Speaker: Thanks, Marta! Thank you for the opportunity to make a few remarks and perhaps to provide some context from PCO's perspective as well as just a few personal comments.
We're running late. I'm sure you all want to run home and watch midterm results till 2:00 in the morning, or not, as the case may be.
So, just a couple of remarks.
First message: I will start with a thank-you.
I'll start with Taki and the School.
I think this is a brilliant idea, Taki, to come back to some of these marquee events and draw the lessons learned from it. It is an excellent use of retired public servants compared to some of the other uses that Malcolm referred to. I think that this is well worth doing and I look forward to future events.
I want to make sure that we do a shout out for all of the other members of the teams that were involved here. You saw some extraordinary leaders in all of these panels but every one of them was supported by all kinds of people that came in and did work. Those dashboards didn't create themselves. The solutions to all kinds of problems, small, big, and large, were team efforts, and every leader stands on the shoulders of all kinds of people that support them in that.
And so, they're anonymous this evening but I do want to do a little bit of a shout out to all the other people that came together.
I guess there a couple of things that strike me listening to the conversation. There are elements of this that are not reproducible. There are such things as crises and moments of political momentum, and things come together and it's important to learn from them.
The most important thing about them is what former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, said, never waste a crisis. When these moments come together and doors open and things become possible, be ready to step through them, and that's some deliberation and some policy research and some conversations and thinking about things that you might have to give advice on in the future.
These moments of opportunity do come up to be in the right place in the right room at the right time, and being ready for that is part of what we have to do.
But there are elements that we might be able to reproduce.
And that's probably the other thing that we can all reflect on, if some of these practices and behaviours were a good idea in a time of crisis, why can't we reproduce good parts of them, if they rethink our attitude to the risk of money being wasted or how to use technology or any number of issues?
Things were applied to this situation, were applied to other things that I can think of, and you should be able to go back and say, well, if it was a good idea to instinctively call colleagues in other departments, maybe that's what I'll do on my regular kind of business, if it's important to challenge assumptions about what can and can't be done.
Anyway, I won't go through all the list but I think a lot of these things are reproducible and challenge our comfort with rules and process and predictability and stability. It's not easy. Public service is built for continuity, it's built for stability, it's built for accountability in so many different ways but we should all continue to reflect on what it is that the crisis brings out in us that we can reproduce in the other ways that we serve Canadians.
There were things that others referred to kind of sideways but let me just take them on a little more directly.
This was not the only thing going on in the government at the time. This is a zoom-close focus on a particular exercise and it was really interesting to go through that as well.
The way it felt at PCO at the time was it was one of about 30 things going on. You have to you have to imagine a new government coming off a campaign trail. Most of them were new to being ministers, many were new to being MPs and ministers. Many of them had hardly spent any time in Ottawa.
It was not an accident that among their team, the experienced people who knew a little bit about being a minister were given the jobs at Public Safety and Immigration, because they knew they were going to have to rely on those ministers very heavily for this particular initiative.
And you were dealing with a team, which now you see three years in hindsight, that was new to all kinds of aspects of the governing, and they were also pulling off. People forget this. It's all hindsight. That's the way the world works.
The Prime Minister went to four international summits in his first six weeks, as a new Prime Minister. He was off to Paris to reverse a decade of policy on climate change. I can go through the list, but it felt like multi-tasking times ten at the time, and it continued. In fact, I don't think it ever stopped.
But it always feels, and certain key people, the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's office, people around senior positions, even the deputies and these line departments had other things, and they're taking parcels of time and energy and commitment to this particular file while multi-tasking on others, and that's this kind of nimble, agile ability to move people, dollars all kind of logistics around files.
You also have to be able to move your mind and your attention and your focus to new things and multiple things through the course of the period, and again, going through crises helps us do that during what passes for peacetime in our business.
And the other thing is just watching the imagery, of course.
When you look at the images we presented, you must be very proud to be Canadian.
Maybe it's a bit of a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's built on our history.
So, somebody mentioned it, maybe someday some kid in that group will be clerk of the Privy Council. Guess what? We already had a clerk of the Privy Council born in a refugee camp. My predecessor, Alex Himelfarb, was born in a refugee camp. A kid that he grew up with in a Toronto neighborhood now sits on the Supreme Court of Canada. Rosie Abella, born in a refugee camp.
This country has a history, not all of it good. The Prime Minister had to apologize for turning away boats of refugees. The St. Louis Incident, look it up on the news tonight. We haven't always treated people well. We put Japanese-Canadians in camps because we didn't trust them to be loyal to the country.
Our history is a troubled, a zig-zaggy one but it's an arc of history towards tolerance and inclusion. Canadian public servants are not working on the procurement and engineering of building a wall. They're working on building bridges and lifelines, and I'm really proud of that. Thank you.
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