Tonight's public information forum on Syrian refugee resettlement is just getting underway at Ottawa City Hall.
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson is expected to unveil a Syrian refugee strategy, following weeks of discussions with faith leaders, community groups and concerned residents.
Mayor Watson is now opening the panel presentation, recognizing several council members in attendance, faith leaders and representatives of community organizations.
"The proof is right here this evening in this council chamber" that Ottawa wants to do more to help refugees, says Watson, referring to the capacity crowd gathered in Andrew S. Haydon Hall.
After leaving the podium, Mayor Watson returns to the microphone, visibly shaken, to announce the death of Max Keeping.
Watson says Keeping would have been "very proud" of everyone gathered at tonight's event and asks the audience to observe a moment of silence.
The next speaker, Husam Abbas, is a recent refugee from Iraq, sponsored by the Anglican Church.
Abbas was targeted by al-Qaeda for his work in 2005 with the American army in Baghdad.
Abbas says he is here today to repay the favour to Syrians, who welcomed him with open arms when he fled there from Iraq.
Abbas is followed by Don Smith of the Coalition in Ottawa for Refugees.
Smith has been involved in refugee sponsorship since the 1979 Indochinese refugee crisis and helped bring Abbas to Canada.
Smith provides an overview of the different types of private sponsorship.
Sponsorships referred by Citizenship and Immigration Canada are much easier to process than those where sponsors identify the refugee(s) they wish to resettle, says Smith.
He urges those interested in sponsoring a refugee to consider both forms of sponsorship.
Picking up on Bond's remarks, Nasir explains that the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program exists to help people navigate the sponsorship process.
Sponsors must typically support refugees for a period of one year, says Nasir.
This support includes proving basic income assistance, helping refugees to find a home, helping them to register their children in school, providing support to find employment and ensuring that new refugees are connected to local settlement organizations.
An audience member asks whether the city plans to resettle a specific number of refugees, as former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar did in 1979 by committing to take 4,000 Indochinese boat people through Project 4000. Incidentally, Ottawa came very close to meeting that goal, resettling close to 3,800 Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees.
Watson responds that there is no set number for now; rather, he is aiming to support the many grassroots efforts already underway. He has also had productive conversations with the provincial government regarding potential funding for the Refugee 613 initiative.
Louisa Taylor adds that the settlement sector was not nearly as established back in 1979 as it now.
Taylor argues that these organizations have real expertise and are best placed to play a leadership role, though the mayor's support in facilitating resettlement efforts is invaluable.
Another audience member asks about processing timelines.
Nasir responds that Syrians are being processed more quickly than other refugees, typically in a matter of several months. Some cases can arrive in Canada within one to four months, she says.
Lucila Spigelblatt, deputy executive director at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, says that community organizations can expedite the process by ensuring they are actually ready to welcome refugees.
The panel presentation is now winding down after questions on several topics, including on resources available for those interested in sponsorship, settlement services available to refugees and concerns regarding the availability of health services and affordable housing.
There are still dozens of people in the council chambers and a much larger crowd in Jean Pigott Hall, where community organizations have setup booths to inform the public of the services they offer.