December 16, 2015 - 1:00 PM
OTTAWA - The next planeload of Syrian refugees is set to arrive on Friday and the pace is then expected to pick up to an average of two planes a day between now and the end of the year.
The Friday plane will mainly carry government-sponsored refugees.
The government will be able to provide an updated arrival schedule next week, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.
So far, just over 1100 Syrians have landed in Canada of the 10,000 the Liberals have promised to bring over by year's end.
But the pace of screening and other efforts has dramatically picked up in recent days, and the immigration minister says the Dec. 31 target date is still in their sights.
"There will be a large number of flights averaging perhaps two per day," he told a news conference. "Some days might have three, some days might have zero, but on average, some two flights per day in the next couple of weeks."
McCallum described what the coming arrivals will look like as a "wave," saying as the program got off the ground only three weeks ago it was only natural that mass arrivals would begin spooling up now.
"That's the way it is, that's the way waves go," he said.
Meanwhile, the government has also ended a controversial court battle over refugee health.
The Liberals have formally dropped the previous government's appeal of a Federal Court decision that found the Conservatives' cuts to health coverage for some refugees and refugee claimants were unconstitutional.
The 2014 decision had said the Tories' move to curtail coverage was cruel and put lives at risk.
The case stemmed from the 2012 overhaul of a program which covers the health costs for refugees and refugee claimants.
The Tories had argued the benefits were too generous and some people were making fake refugee claims just to access them.
The Conservatives were forced to reinstate some benefits after the Federal Court decision, but they were still appealing.
While the Liberals say they won't pursue the appeal, they still have not reversed the cuts themselves, except for carving out an exemption for the 25,000 Syrians currently being resettled to Canada.
McCallum said the government has bolstered its capacity to process refugees.
"We have really stepped up our processing capacity," he said. "We have at least 500 public servants on the ground, we have 15,000 people in the process."
Medical exams had been a time-consuming bottleneck but that has also improved.
"We have increased our capacity to do medical exams," McCallum said. "Within two weeks we have increased from 600 per week to 800 per day, so that is an example of the massive increase in capacity that we have achieved in the field."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015