OTTAWA: Syrians enrolled in language classes in Toronto are being told school is out for summer, thanks to federal funding shortages that are also seeing Syrians turned away from classes in Vancouver.
Settlement agencies told a House of Commons committee Thursday that while the federal government did top up their budgets to deal with the influx of over 25,000 Syrians in a matter of three months, the money isn’t going far enough.
So a difficult decision had to be made, said Mario Calla, the executive director of Costi, which settles government-assisted refugees in Toronto.
Rather than scale back the number of classes altogether, they decided to just stop offering their 27 federally-funded courses over the summer.
“Our hands are tied,” Calla said. “It’s a compromise situation.”
Federal funding for language classes is tied to the number of immigrants agencies served the year before. The base funding for 2016-2017 did not take into account the surge in Syrian refugees, who proved eager to access programs.
While Costi is trying to link Syrians up with provincial courses and other programs, that doesn’t cover all the bases, Calla said.
“Usually the women get cheated in that process because child minding isn’t available.”
In Vancouver, there are over 800 new immigrants on wait lists for language classes, said Karen Shortt, the president of the Vancouver Community College Faculty Association. They’ve cut 200 spots from their program because they lost federal funding.
The committee heard the budget for B.C. went from $4.6 million last year to $4.2 million this year.
“Canada has well-intentioned policies and programs to assist refugees and immigrants,” Shortt said. “We do not want that intent to fail in the last stages after giving people so much hope and promise.”
About $341 million was spent on the Syrian program across all federal departments in 2015-2016. A precise breakdown of that spending has yet to be released.
The Immigration Department earlier promised it by the end of May but is now saying they continue to work with other departments to tally up the final figures.
This year, settlement agencies will get $38 million in additional funds specifically for Syrian refugees.
As of May 29, there were 27,580 Syrian refugees who have come to Canada since the Liberals took power in November.