TORONTO — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is urging the federal government to "speed up the process" for Syrian refugees to settle in Canada.
Wynne said Ontario has the capacity to welcome more refugees, but unlike Quebec, cannot simply state exactly how many more it could take in.
"One of my concerns is the speed with which refugees are getting their documentation," Wynne said Tuesday. "My hope would be that we will see the federal government work with the provinces to speed up the process whereby refugees can come into the country and into our province."
Wynne also promised Ontario would set up a fund to help individuals, church groups and organizations who are working to bring refugees into the province, but her staff could provide no dollar figure and called it a "potential" fund.
Wynne and her spouse Jane Rounthwaite are members of a church group that has been trying since January to sponsor a refugee family from war-torn Syria.
"We have not been able to move that forward," Wynne said. "The bottom line for me is that all of us across the country need to be doing everything we can to help in this humanitarian crisis."
Historically, just under 50 per cent of refugee claimants settle in Ontario, said Health Minister Eric Hoskins, a physician who co-founded War Child Canada and spent most of his career working with refugee groups.
"One of the challenges is the inordinate amount of time that it's taking to resettle these individuals," he said.
Hoskins was a senior policy adviser for then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, when Canada welcomed 5,000 refugees in just 21 days.
"So we've proven that we can do it," he said. "The weight of public opinion is solidly in favour of doing more."
Hoskins wants the federal government to drop a requirement that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or a host country has to declare an individual a refugee before they can come to Canada.
"That's just completely impractical in a situation like this when you have four million refugees, another six or seven million internally displaced, and the sort of migration we're seeing in Europe, the volume of people," he said. "Let's speed up the process responsibly. It has been woefully slow to date."
Canada needs to do more and do it quickly, added Hoskins.
"There's tremendous interest and willingness on the part of private citizens and church and other faith groups to receive refugees," he said. "I also believe — and this is one of the recommendations from Lifeline Syria — that the federal government should do more in terms of government-sponsored refugees."
He wants the federal government to work with the provinces to better respond to the Syrian crisis.
"This can't be a partisan issue, shouldn't be a partisan issue, but the federal government has probably the most important role to play in terms of speeding up the process whereby individuals are accepted and resettled," said Hoskins.
On the campaign trail Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada is willing to take more refugees but each has to be screened for security reasons.
"We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process," he said.
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