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Whistler setting stage for its part in Syrian refugee crisis

Staff report to come to council at next meeting



Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is still very interested in the idea of bringing some Syrian refugee families to Whistler though, she admits, it may be challenging.

She wants to hear from you — the community.

At Tuesday's council meeting on Nov. 17, council will consider a report from municipal staff outlining some recommendations on how Whistler can do its part.

"There's going to be a recommendation that the municipality convene a public information session with community members, local groups, and immigrant and refugee organizations to discuss how best to coordinate a local response," said the mayor, who reviewed the draft report this week.

The answer, she said, could lie in coming together as the Sea to Sky corridor to bring enough families to the area that there is a critical mass for support and help. Many refugees may need access to mental health services to deal with post-traumatic stress and will also need access to social services and cultural services. These things are easier to find in urban centres as opposed to small towns.

Canada is aiming to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in its efforts to help in the ongoing massive humanitarian crisis playing out across the world.

Whistler's report has been roughly three months in the making, ever since the mayor put out a call to action for Canada, and Whistler, to do more in the Syrian crisis.

It's slower than she would have liked but she attributes that to the pace of government and also because this has been a busy fall for council and staff with the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention and council's Colorado trip.

"I should have known it would have taken a little bit longer than what I wanted," she said.

It's also an ever-changing and fast-moving file, particularly in the wake of the federal election.

Just this week, Canada's minister of immigration announced that cabinet would form a subcommittee to coordinate government efforts in Canada to bring thousands of Syrian refugees here.

B.C. is expected to welcome 2,700 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Wilhelm-Morden said there are already initiatives underway in other communities.

Squamish has rallied some Groups of Five — five or more citizens who have arranged to sponsor a refugee.

"I'm a little concerned about the levels of support that we would be able to give families here in our town, but that said, Whistler has stepped up to the plate before on a lot of complicated issues that people would have thought that Whistler would never be able to do," said the mayor.

The challenges, she added determinedly, are not a deal-breaker.

Council retreat planned

Council is getting to work over a two-day retreat this month, as it prepares for the busy budget season ahead.

The group will have a retreat on Nov. 26 and 27 but will remain in Whistler.

Among other things, council and senior staff will take a detailed look at the corporate work plan and will see if there are any additions from the new councillors specifically.

Wilhelm-Morden added: "This is all leading, of course, to the completion of the budget."


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