Canadians are expected to learn by month’s end where some 25,000 Syrian refugees will settle, but some are already taking issue with a suggestion by B.C.’s Premier that some should head to the province’s smaller, northeastern communities.
Premier Christy Clark made her comments over the weekend, telling CTV’s Question Period that refugees should settle in communities where they will have the best chance of succeeding.
“That means not all of them, whatever the number is, would be best settled in the city of Vancouver, where housing is really expensive, where jobs may not be as plentiful,” Ms. Clark said. “Some should be up in the northeast, where they’ve got almost zero unemployment and the cost of housing is a lot lower.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Historically, British Columbia accepts between 10 per cent and 12 per cent of government-assisted refugees, meaning the province can expect between 2,500 and 3,000 this time around, said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services at the Immigration Services Society of B.C.
Typically, 85 per cent of settlement in B.C. is in five municipalities: Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby, New Westminster and Vancouver.
Mr. Friesen said most refugees usually first settle in urban centres because of the scarcity of specialized resources – language skills, trauma counselling, medical resources – in rural areas.
In Fort St. John, resident Bailie Hambrook started an online petition calling for a referendum in northeast B.C. on the matter, citing concerns over insufficient resources and possible security lapses.
“People in the northeast are uncomfortable with the idea of losing more jobs and welcoming refugees that have not gone through a screening process into our small communities,” the petition states. “Worries about the medical crisis currently in the communities. And lack of employment show that refugees located in the area may not get their best start here.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Hambrook said that an economic downtown in the oil and gas boom town means the unemployment rate is currently rising. She also questioned the government’s ability to thoroughly screen all incoming refugees by the year’s end.
Immigration process sparks debate in a ‘defining moment for Canadians’
This statement of policy by Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada at the time, was made before the House of Commons:
"The policy of the government is to foster the growth of the population of Canada by the encouragement of immigration. The government will seek by legislation, regulation and vigorous administration, to ensure the careful selection and permanent settlement of such numbers of immigrants as can be advantageously absorbed in our national economy. It is a matter of domestic policy [...] The people of Canada do not wish as a result of mass immigration to make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population. Large scale immigration from the Orient would change the fundamental composition of the Canadian population".