Valemount Learning Centre
Valemount Learning Centre


A local non-profit organization is looking at sponsoring a refugee family in Valemount, and is planning a community meeting soon to connect everyone who wants to become involved.

The Valemount Learning Centre is exploring the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family in Valemount, says Riette Kenkel, the Centre’s executive director, though the group is unsure yet exactly what its role will be.

“We are still in the early stages of gathering information, but we believe this can only be done with community support,” said Kenkel in a released statement. “Once we have more information, and a clear understanding of the Valemount Learning Centre’s role, we would like to hold a meeting with any community members interested in getting involved.”

The Valemount Learning Centre (VLC) is a non-profit association that provides a number of services on contract from the provincial and federal governments, such as the Employment Program of British Columbia, English as a Second Language and Settlement Services. It also provides continuing education opportunities through a partnership with the College of New Caledonia, and has been administering the Youth Direct Funds from Columbia Basin Trust and V-Crew, Valemount’s new youth drop-in centre.

Jared Smith, the VLC’s ESL and Settlement Coordinator, is attending a meeting in Vancouver this week to learn more about how small communities in BC can sponsor refugees. He’ll be getting information from both the federal and provincial departments for immigration and settlement services. The VLC’s board will be meeting after he returns to decide what role the Centre will have in the effort.

“We anticipate working closely with other organizations, and hopefully some with charitable status,” says Kenkel. “If we decide that it’s not a good fit for VLC, at least we can say we tried.”

The Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Services Agencies in BC (AMSSA) says Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Since 2011, approximately 12 million – over 50 per cent – of the pre-war population have been killed or forced to flee their homes. Over 4.2 million Syrians have registered as refugees, most of them women and children. The 25,000 that Canada is talking about resettling is 0.006 per cent of those currently registered as refugees.

AMSSA says it is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor, because the refugee determination process involves security checks by CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. Refugees pose very little risk to Canada’s security because the path to enter a country as a refugee leaves a big track. It’s not likely someone intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to such detailed examinations, says AMSSA.

Syrians destined for Canada have been referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and are among the most vulnerable cases – families with children, single mothers and persecuted minorities who are in desperate situations, says AMSSA. They also have to want to come to Canada.

AMSSA says they will receive little if any government social assistance. Privately-sponsored refugees are not entitled to federal of provincial assistance during the period of their sponsorship, which is usually one year from their arrival in Canada. Government-assisted sponsors have access to financial support through the Resettlement Assistance Program for up to one year if they do not have their own financial resources and income. Both groups of refugees also have to pay back the federal government for their transportation to Canada.

Groups interested in sponsoring refugees have to consider all sorts of things, including providing a choice of accommodations, help with accessing services and financial support for up to a year, or until the refugee or family becomes self-sufficient, whichever is less.

Smith points out that there are some ways that Valemount is a good choice for newcomers to Canada, including the relatively low cost of living, readily available “survival” jobs (minimum or lower wage jobs that are easy to step into), our schools have the capacity to take more students, and community services like ESL support, settlement assistance, employment advisor services and the clinic are not overwhelmed.

He notes there are also some challenges like limited opportunities for employment and education, geographic isolation, isolation from ethnic groups, language barriers, and access to some services.

About two dozen residents attended a recent meeting in McBride intended to see if that community has the capacity to host Syrian refugees. Communities like Clearwater, Jasper and Smithers have already launched efforts to sponsor a family, as well as many other smaller communities across the country.

The Canadian government is still aiming to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada within about the next three months, a mix of private sponsorship and those supported solely by the federal government. Proponents of private sponsorship say it can aid a family’s integration into a community, as the family has a built-in support network.

Since the federal election in October, the new Liberal government has scaled back its timeline on accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees to the end of February, but planeloads of refugees are expected to begin landing in Canada this week.

If you are interested in providing input or getting involved in other ways, contact Jared Smith, Settlement Coordinator, at the Valemount Learning Centre, 250-566-4601.