WINNIPEG, Manitoba/MONTREAL (Reuters) - A plan by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year appeared in jeopardy on Monday as some provincial and municipal leaders said the timeline does not allow for enough security checks and is logistically impossible.
Canadian misgivings echoed those expressed in the United States by more than a dozen state governors who said they would not allow Syrian refugees to be settled in their states, contending it was too dangerous after Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris.
The immigration minister in the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec, Kathleen Weil, said she does not believe Trudeau’s goal is realistic.
“I‘m going to be frank,” Weil told reporters. “I don’t think it is possible by the end of the year.”
The premier of the Western province of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, asked Trudeau to suspend the plan in light of the Paris attacks and the chance of admitting operatives trained by Islamic State.
“If even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating,” Wall said in a letter to the prime minister.
Wall’s objection and Weil’s skepticism about the timetable added to mounting pressure on Trudeau to adjust his election campaign promise. Trudeau reiterated on Sunday that Canada will admit 25,000 Syrian refugees before Jan. 1.
Quebec City’s Mayor Regis Labeaume said the government was acting hastily and even refugee advocates warned that it would be hard to meet the pledge made by Trudeau, who is out of the country on his first global trip since taking office Nov. 4.
Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority in Parliament in October, unseating the nine-year-old government of Conservative Stephen Harper, who had emphasized national security and wanted to accept fewer refugees at a slower pace.
Wall, who is close with the Conservatives, commended Trudeau’s goal to help refugees, most of whom “pose no threat to anyone.” But he said it should not come at the cost of Canadian safety.
News that at least one of the Paris assailants may have been among refugees who passed through Greece has heightened apprehension.
One concern of those waiting to resettle refugees in Canadian cities or on military bases is that there is little information about how it would be done, in part because Trudeau was elected less than a month ago and is still hiring people to deliver on his election promise.
Canada’s immigration minister was scheduled to meet with representatives from cities on Tuesday to provide more details on issues such as costs and security.
“Everybody is waiting for the same information, which is how many (refugees) and when and what the route is to get them here, but there’s certainly preparatory work that’s being done,” said Michael Savage, the mayor of the Atlantic Canadian city of Halifax.
Asked to comment on petitions against accepting the refugees, Quebec’s immigration minister said people “want to be reassured” that precautions were being taken to verify the identities of refugees accepted by Canada.
“I think there is of course, it’s obvious, a heightened sensitivity to these issues,” Weil said.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Sunday that the first round of checks are done by the United Nations’ refugee agency, then Canada conducts its own checks.
Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Toni Reinhold