Mental Health Programs for Refugees & Backlog of Privately Sponsored Refugees

Hon. Jim Munson: Minister, welcome. We don’t walk on water; we skate on ice. Sometimes it can be thin ice.

I do want to praise the government for the refugee program. You heard us at the Human Rights Committee and the issues we brought up. You saw our observations, and we’re hoping to see very soon some responses from your government. We’ll have more coming up, by the way.

Most of my questions about the Syrian refugees have been asked, but I put it to you about those with mental health issues and those with post-traumatic stress disorders. Dr. Morton Beiser, a psychiatrist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, has some statistics, which we can back up, that 12 to 15 per cent of adult refugees have post-traumatic stress disorder — the children in particular. In response to another question, you talked on a personal level. We have found here in Ottawa with the family that we have sponsored, and with other families, that there are some really serious issues with children.

We have the Mental Health Commission of Canada and we praise ourselves for always trying to make people aware of mental health and what we’re doing about it, specifically hospitals doing their own thing. But what is your government doing specifically to help those refugees who have mental health issues or who are suffering from post-traumatic stress order? Does your government have programs in place, or would you encourage the government to spend a wee bit more money to have more specialists to deal specifically with the issues of Syrian refugees?

Hon. John McCallum, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Senator, that is also a very good question. We are spending some $600 million a year on settlement in general. We are spending many hundreds of millions on refugees. We have spent additional money on language training.

All Canadians face inadequate funding for mental health. This is what our Minister of Health says repeatedly. I think former leader Bob Rae was eloquent in his work and words on the issue of mental health and the deficiencies in our system across the country, not just for Syrian refugees but for all Canadians.

This is a national challenge that goes well beyond just the refugees. This is a part of the work of Jane Philpott, our health minister, who is working very much on this question of health care funding and health care in general.

So, yes, I cannot say that the federal government has a special stream of money for mental health issues of Syrian refugees. That is largely provincial, anyway. But I do say we are funding refugees generously. Perhaps in some areas we could do more. My more general point is that as a country we have not done enough. We have not spent enough. We have not invested enough. We have not treated seriously enough the whole question of mental health.

That is an issue that has to be addressed at a macro level for Canadians as a whole.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Munson: Minister, I agree with you, but these are really specific issues to those who have lived in pretty rough parts of the world and are suffering deeply.

I have a brief supplementary. This was alluded to: What would you say today, minister, to families in Toronto and other parts of the country who have been waiting seven or eight months? I know we’ve set up this as a model, and I applaud the government for that, but we still have to acknowledge the growing pains going on with this program. Sponsoring families who know the names of the refugees who are sitting in Lebanon for seven, eight or ten months, and know a family is supposed to be coming, are then they’re told, “Whoops, sorry; there are a lot of things going on that just won’t make that happen and it may take two or three months or maybe one or two years.” What do you say to these private sponsors regarding families who are just an airplane ride away to live in this great country? The public servants of this country —

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senator, if you want the minister to answer the question, the time has expired so you’d better sit down now and let him answer it.

Hon. John McCallum, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Perhaps the time has expired for me as well. I will be very brief.

I referred to this before when I said I’m probably the only immigration minister in the world whose challenge is that I can’t let refugees in fast enough to satisfy all the generous Canadians who want to take them in. Those people to whom you refer are some of those people.

We made accommodations as best we could. Those who applied by the end of March, we’ll get them in. But as I mentioned earlier, if we let in even more Syrian refugees, we have to let in less of someone else. Is it going to be less African refugees, fewer spouses — less of something? We went as far as we could this year on Syrian refugees.

There’s still another year, but there are many other competing demands — people with equally legitimate and good reasons to come to our country, and you have to ration it when your total is limited to a given number.

If this is the end, I just want to take this opportunity to say what a pleasure it has been to have the opportunity to speak in the Senate for the first time ever.

Mr. Speaker, you referred to me as a senator. That might be an aspiration for the future, but it is not the case today. But I do thank you all for the opportunity.