I thank the committee members here. We distributed copies of motions to all committee members.
What I noticed, Mr. Chair and committee colleagues, is that there were two items from the previous health committee's routine motions that had not been replicated. I think they are pretty standard, so I thought I would move both of those. Then the third one has to do with in camera meetings.
The very first one I will move is an item from the previous routine motions. It was on requests to appear before the committee. It was an order that read:
That all requests to appear before the Committee be distributed to the Committee members.
Basically, when we have a study that's going on and people are writing to the clerk and requesting to appear, it's that the clerk be authorized to distribute those requests to all committee members so that we have an idea of who is requesting to appear. That helps us when we're putting our names in, because we know who has indicated a concern.
I would move that motion, Mr. Chair.
I am conscious of the fact that the committee wants to talk to witnesses about the coronavirus, so if the next motion does require there to be more debate, I'm happy to defer it to another meeting. However, I'll introduce it now.
It has to do with in camera proceedings. The basic thought behind the motion is that the business of the committee should presumptively be done in public. We are a standing committee answerable to not only the House of Commons but also the people of Canada, and whenever possible we should be doing our business for the public to see. However, the motion also recognizes that there are occasions when committees do and ought to go in camera.
This is a motion that I moved four years ago to the previous committee. We didn't pass it because we came to an understanding, as a matter of committee practice, that we would follow that general concept, but I thought I would introduce it again this year. This is how the motion would read:
That the committee may meet in camera only for the following purposes:
a) to consider a draft report;
b) to attend briefings concerning national security;
c) for any other reason, with the unanimous consent of the committee;
That all votes taken in camera, with the exception of votes regarding the consideration of draft reports, be recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings, including how each member voted when recorded votes are requested;
That any motion to sit in camera is debatable and amendable.
I would also add a friendly amendment to my own motion. I thought another reason to go in camera should be added to this. It is when witnesses are being discussed or considered. That's to ensure everybody has the ability to have a free flow of exchanges and ideas, but besides that, those are the main reasons why a committee ought to go in camera. However, it also leaves open a possibility, if we haven't described every conceivable situation, where we could go in camera with the unanimous consent of committee members.
If I can add a friendly amendment to my own motion, it is to add a (d) to include the consideration of witnesses.
Welcome to our witnesses before us today.
We have, from the Canada Border Services Agency, Mr. Paul MacKinnon, executive vice-president; and Mr. Denis Vinette, vice-president, travellers branch. From the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, we have Ms. Heather Jeffrey. From the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have Mr. Patrick Tanguy, who is not present at the moment. From the Department of Transport, we have Mr. Aaron McCrorie.
Each organization will have 10 minutes to make a presentation, following which there will be a couple of rounds of questions.
Let us start with the Canada Border Services Agency, please.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here with you today. I'm pleased to have my colleague Mr. Denis Vinette, the agency's vice-president of our travellers branch, here with me.
As this committee is aware, the CBSA is the first point of contact for inbound international travellers and therefore plays an important front-line role in preliminary health screening at the border. Under the Quarantine Act, border services officers are designated as screening officers, and as part of its normal day-to-day operations the CBSA has standard border measures in place to screen travellers for signs of communicable diseases subject to quarantine.
From the outset of reports of the 2019 novel coronavirus, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have worked closely with the CBSA to provide advice and guidance on additional border measures to prevent its spread, including specific instructions on the processing of travellers suspected of being ill and on ensuring the health and safety of our front-line officers.
I'll just take a few moments, Mr. Chair, to walk through those enhanced border measures.
First, I would emphasize that specific signage has been placed in the Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto international airports to advise travellers that if they were in the province of Hubei, China, they may have come in contact with the novel coronavirus. The signs outline the symptoms of the virus and instruct travellers that if they feel sick upon their arrival they are to advise a CBSA officer, who will refer them at the airport to a Public Health Agency of Canada officer. In addition, the signage states that if they become ill after leaving the airport, they should contact a local health care provider. The signs are posted in English, French and simplified Chinese.
Another measure, implemented on January 22, was that international travellers arriving at the Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto international airports were asked an additional health screening question to identify individuals who had travelled from Wuhan, China. On January 29, this screening question was expanded to identify any travellers who may have been in the province of Hubei, China.
Between January 22 and February 2, a total of 791 travellers responded that they had been to Hubei province, and they were subject to additional questioning and screening by the CBSA. Out of those 791 travellers, the CBSA has referred 18 individuals, who indicated that they felt ill or who were visibly ill, to a PHAC officer for further screening.
When an officer identifies an ill traveller, the individual will be provided with a mask to wear and will be asked to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The health referral to a PHAC quarantine officer takes precedence over immigration, customs, or food, plant and animal processing. It is only once that traveller is cleared by PHAC that the individual would be processed for immigration and customs concerns, in accordance with existing procedures.
Just last Saturday, two days ago, the CBSA expanded these enhanced screening procedures and is in the process of ensuring that all the signs are posted to the following airports: Edmonton; Winnipeg; Calgary; Ottawa; Billy Bishop in Toronto; Quebec City; and Halifax. Over the weekend, at the additional locations, 37 individuals responded positively to the health screening question, that they had come from Hubei province. All travellers who have been in the province of Hubei but do not feel ill are being provided an information sheet advising them what to do if they become ill following their arrival in Canada.
In addition to being focused on processing all arriving passengers, we are also focused, Mr. Chair, on the health and safety of our officers on the front lines. The CBSA is working with Health Canada and PHAC, as well as the Customs and Immigration Union and airport authorities, to provide the latest information to our officers.
At this time, Health Canada has recommended that CBSA officers handling documents and baggage of potentially ill persons wear gloves, as is already part of CBSA's best practices. Should a situation arise where an officer must be in close proximity to a potentially infected traveller for a prolonged period of time, such as escorting the traveller or remaining with them, the officer is to wear gloves, a mask, and eye and face protection.
Various airport authorities have added their own additional measures to ensure that the airport environment and equipment remain clean. They are increasing the frequency of disinfecting the electronic kiosks and common spaces and surfaces, in addition to increasing the installation of hand sanitizers. The CBSA is also using a specialized cleaning solution to sanitize frequently touched areas in the CBSA hall and the arrival areas.
We continue to work closely with Health Canada experts to apply the appropriate measures, including the examination of standard operating procedures for dealing with travellers who may exhibit symptoms of illness. Health screening on entry to Canada is an important public health tool and a key component of this multi-layered government response strategy.
For these reasons, Mr. Chair, as you can expect, the CBSA is working closely with PHAC, Global Affairs Canada and others on the assisted departure of Canadians from Wuhan, China. Our role will be to have officers on the ground to verify the identities and documents of those eligible to depart. Once cleared, they will be logged onto a flight manifest. Upon their arrival in Canada, health screening by PHAC will take precedence, prior to CBSA examination and clearance.
Our officers, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, stand ready, equipped with the tools they need to assist the government in this overall approach to the novel coronavirus.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to the discussion and questions.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
My name is Heather Jeffrey. I am the assistant deputy minister for consular, security and emergency management at Global Affairs Canada. I want to thank you for the opportunity to appear in front of the committee, alongside my colleagues from the CBSA, Public Safety and Transport Canada, in order to discuss the work we do together as part of Canada's response to the recent outbreak of coronavirus.
The Government of Canada's preparedness and response are being led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, in close co-operation with Health Canada and the government operations centre of Public Safety.
Global Affairs Canada has a specific mandate in regard to the international dimensions of the response under the federal emergency response plan, in particular in regard to the provision of consular services to Canadians overseas and the provision of travel advice. Global Affairs also works with international partners to ensure that we fulfill our duty of care for Canadian diplomatic personnel, their dependants and our locally engaged staff abroad.
Timely and effective interdepartmental co-operation and coordination are critical to delivering an effective whole-of-government response in emergencies. This is particularly true in health emergencies, which engage an extremely wide range of actors in responses that cross traditional lines.
In the case of the coronavirus outbreak, Global Affairs Canada has established a task force to facilitate and direct consular service for Canadians and their families and timely communication and coordination with Canadian diplomatic missions across greater China and the region, as part of an effective whole-of-government response.
Our officials continue to work with our Chinese counterparts to address the situation and support the interests of Canadians. We also work in close contact and coordination with our international partners, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France and Japan.
The primary responsibility of Global Affairs in this response is the provision of consular services. On January 29, Global Affairs Canada updated the travel advice for China to “avoid all non-essential travel” to China, with a regional advisory to “avoid all travel” to Hubei province due to the imposition of heavy travel restrictions by the Government of China in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to a high volume of requests for information, particularly in regard to our travel advice, the quarantine and transportation restrictions imposed by the Government of China in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak have created specific challenges for Canadians who are seeking to depart Hubei province in particular.
We currently have requests for consular assistance related to the outbreak from 312 Canadians in Hubei province. All of these Canadians are requesting assistance to depart the quarantine zone. At the current time, we have not received any reports of confirmed cases of coronavirus-related illness amongst Canadians in China.
Given the lack of commercial departure options in Hubei province, Canada has secured a chartered flight to transport Canadians from Wuhan, China, to Canada. We have been reaching out to the registered Canadians over the last several days to provide updates and information to them on this process, to gather the information we require to assist in their departure, and to confirm their specific needs in order to inform the logistical planning for this operation.
It's important to note the complexity inherent in any assisted departure, which in this case is compounded by the particular challenges faced in accessing a quarantine zone, including airspace closures and the need for special authorizations, visas, flight clearances and other special permits.
In conducting this operation, the health and safety of all Canadians is our top priority. Canadian passengers will have their health assessed by Chinese medical officers before boarding the flight, and those with symptoms of illness will not be permitted to access the airport. This is part of the efforts of the Government of China to halt the spread of this outbreak. On arrival at the aircraft, they will also be checked by a Department of National Defence medical team, and their health will be reassessed during the flight and at the final destination in Canada.
We are also working with our health partners in the Government of Canada to confirm that all the necessary procedures and protocols are in place to ensure the safety of our consular staff deployed to Wuhan so they can provide assistance to the on-board medical team and the whole-of-government arrival and reception team.
Since the situation began, our consular officers in Ottawa have been working around the clock to answer questions and provide services and information to Canadians looking for assistance. Our call centre and emergency response team in Ottawa are working non-stop. They receive and answer a high number of calls and emails, communicating directly with those Canadians seeking assistance.
Finally, I would like to add that the safety and security of our own Government of Canada staff abroad, their dependants and our locally engaged staff are our top priority. Staff in China are receiving specific guidance and briefings from health experts at Global Affairs Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada partners, which outline recommended health precautions. In addition, screening measures based on guidance from the Canada Border Services Agency for airports and hospitals have been developed for implementation in the public-facing areas of Canada's diplomatic missions in China.
As part of China's public safety measures, heavy domestic travel restrictions were implemented in China during the holiday period. These have had a direct impact on the ability of some staff in affected areas to return to the embassy and consulate offices after the holiday period was over. As a result, some of our missions in China have been operating with reduced staff.
On January 29, due to extended school closures, a lack of access to English-speaking medical services and disruptions to local transportation, Global Affairs Canada authorized the temporary departure from China of dependants and staff with particular vulnerabilities, including school-aged and preschool children, the elderly and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.
On February 3, this authorization was extended to include all dependants and non-essential diplomatic staff. This is consistent with our travel advice to all Canadians, which is to avoid non-essential travel to China. These departures are all taking place via commercial means.
Despite this situation, all essential services continue to be offered at our missions, including in particular full consular and emergency services on the ground to support Canadians. We have also deployed additional staff.
In closing, I'd like to add that Global Affairs Canada officials will continue to work closely with health experts and our like-minded partners, and that we will continue to pursue all avenues that might be required to assist Canadians in Hubei province, China. Taking into account the need to respect the privacy of the individual Canadians who are at the heart of every consular case, we will also work hard to keep all Canadians apprised of our work and our services during this critical event.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me to brief you on Public Safety Canada's role in the federal response to the novel coronavirus event.
My name is Patrick Tanguy, and I am the assistant deputy minister of the emergency management and programs branch at Public Safety Canada. Before I speak specifically about the response to the coronavirus, I will take a few moments to situate the role of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness when it comes to emergency management.
Enacted in 2007, the Emergency Management Act provides federal ministers with the responsibility to be prepared for emergencies in their respective departments and agencies. It also provides a coordination role for the Minister of Public Safety.
As you have probably heard, the Public Health Agency of Canada is leading the Government of Canada's response and working with federal, provincial and territorial governments to detect and respond to the spread of infectious diseases in Canada. My colleague in Global Affairs has set out the current situation in China; how GAC is helping Canadians on the ground, such as with consular services and call centres; and GAC's lead for the assisted return of Canadians.
Public Safety Canada has been engaged with these partners in other departments and agencies since the outbreak was first reported. Under the federal emergency response plan, the government operations centre, which is a Government of Canada asset housed in Public Safety Canada, supports response capacity and coordination during events of national interest.
On a day-to-day basis, the Government Operations Centre maintains an event team on standby 24-7. The centre also coordinates interdepartmental and multijurisdictional planning efforts to support coordination of the government response.
It also reinforces the principles of emergency management through planning, exercising and continuous improvement.
The government operations centre also facilitates the coordination of official requests for assistance that could come from federal departments and agencies and also from provinces and territories.
More recently, the Government Operations Centre coordinated the response to a request for assistance from the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to deal with the snowstorm that hit the city of St. John's and surrounding areas.
How do we fulfill this support and coordination function? The government operations centre brings all partners into a common environment to harmonize collective actions and ensure consistent analysis and information fusion and sharing.
However, the Government Operations Centre does not make decisions for federal departments and agencies that are involved in responding to an event such as the one we are talking about.
Each ministry is responsible for emergency management in its area of competence.
In the case of the response to the coronavirus, a group of ADMs and those at other levels get together on a daily basis to ensure coordination in terms of planning and responses. The government operations centre is constantly receiving information, vetting it, determining its credibility and deciding if further reporting is required. The government operations centre will immediately report on an event that has the potential to require an integrated response by the federal government, as we've done in the past in the case of hurricane Dorian in Nova Scotia, last year's floods and other events.
Quite quickly, in the span of a few days, in fact, the Government Operations Centre elevated its response level significantly.
We have moved from level one, enhanced monitoring and reporting, to level two, risk assessment and planning, and now are at level three, which means that the government operations centre is leading the coordination of the federal response while working with the lead departments in the event: in this case, the Public Health Agency for the national response, and Global Affairs Canada in the case of the assisted return of Canadians from Wuhan.
We work with partners to ensure that plans are escalated and resources are readied for an interdepartmental response, including the use of the contact network with the various departmental operation centres and subject matter experts. Material is also prepared by the government operations centre to allow for informed decision-making by senior and elected officials.
Currently, the government operations centre is fully engaged in both planning and executing aspects of the assisted return of Canadians. This includes mapping out the repatriation process to ensure a cohesive response from all partners; confirming each organization's roles, authorities and responsibilities in the repatriation and addressing any gray areas of overlap; hosting all planning and senior-level calls and facilitating when appropriate the conversations between the relevant provinces and NGOs; coordinating federal activities consistent with the agreed-upon plan while ensuring that departmental policy, accountabilities and authorities are maintained by hosting the integrated interdepartmental response team at the GOC, as was done during Operation Syrian Refugees; and maintaining event updates on a regular basis on federal posture activities, providing consolidated situation awareness and senior-level briefing products, and disseminating them to key decision-makers and partners.
In addition to the role of the government operations centre, Public Safety communications has the leadership in the whole-of-government communications on the event, coordinating with our partners, the Public Health Agency, Global Affairs Canada, the Privy Council Office and other federal departments, to develop key effective messages from the Government of Canada to ensure calm and instill confidence in Canadians.
Again, Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to provide some initial remarks. My colleague and I look forward to answering your questions to the best of our ability.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to speak with the committee today.
I'm Aaron McCrorie. I'm the associate assistant deputy minister for safety and security at Transport Canada.
I can assure you that everybody at Transport Canada is committed to Canadians' safety and well-being. Transport Canada has been heavily involved in the response to the coronavirus situation. We have officials across Canada who are working to respond, as well as to support our partners and stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. In this situation, our primary objective is to protect the health and safety of Canadians, domestically and abroad.
For example, the Government of Canada is working collaboratively with domestic and Chinese-based airlines to raise awareness of the novel coronavirus outbreak that was first identified in Wuhan, China. As already mentioned, enhanced entry screening measures have been implemented at a number of Canadian airports.
On Tuesday, January 28, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the deputy minister of Transport Canada communicated with air carriers to inform them of measures the Government of Canada was implementing as part of the government's efforts to identify and control the spread of novel coronavirus.
In our communication with the airlines, we reminded them that they play a key role in efforts to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable disease in Canada. We provided them with a script for an in-flight message that should be delivered to passengers when landing in Canada. The message is intended to help passengers understand what to expect upon their arrival in Canada, as enhanced measures are now in place to help identify and control the spread of the novel coronavirus. In short, the message tells travellers that they must provide information about their travel history and about their health to border officials.
We are indeed in a period of heightened monitoring. In accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization's standards and recommended practices, we requested that pilots promptly report to air traffic control any travellers who may have an illness, especially travellers from a high-risk area who are experiencing a fever, coughing or having difficulty breathing.
Just for your awareness, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, is a specialized UN agency established to manage the administration, safety and governance of international civil aviation.
I can tell you there are no direct flights from Wuhan to Canada.
Of course, air travel is not the only mode of transportation that arrives in Canada from abroad.
With respect to maritime activity, Transport Canada continues to be aware of all vessels that intend to arrive at a Canadian port, and continues to work with marine safety and security partners—both domestic and international—to ensure that we are maintaining a strong awareness of all vessels.
We have communicated with ports regarding this public health event. On January 29, Transport Canada issued a special marine security notification. This notification was distributed broadly to the Canadian marine community, including, among others, port authorities, the Canadian Association of Port Authorities, company ship officers, regional pilotage authorities, port terminals, and employee associations or unions. Ports have been directed to implement protocols that were created during the SARS outbreak of 2003.
Similar to the message conveyed to airlines for their passengers, the message to vessel owners and operators is to communicate with Transport Canada. If the vessel is from a high-risk area, they will be asked if they have crew members on board who are ill. If there are any, they will be asked if the crew members are exhibiting symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, or breathing difficulties.
As per the marine transportation security regulations, all foreign vessels visiting Canada must report to Transport Canada 96 hours prior to arriving in Canadian waters. Communication is paramount as we work to protect Canadians from the dangers of this public health event.
At Transport Canada, we are working to support our key government departments. To this end, we have activated our national emergency coordination centre, a focal point to coordinate our efforts in working with our colleagues in the GOC.
We have a civil aviation contingency plan, which addresses pandemics and communicable disease events. This plan provides a framework and procedures for monitoring and maintaining the safety of the national civil aviation transport system, as well as our support for other departments during a pandemic or communicable disease event.
We are working with our colleagues at Global Affairs Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Public Safety Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and others. In the federal emergency response plan, which is the Government of Canada's all-hazards response plan that outlines processes for an integrated Government of Canada response to an emergency, Transport Canada is responsible for providing federal transportation support to provinces, territories or other federal government departments and institutions during an emergency.
We will also continue to collaborate with all industry partners and stakeholders. I will reiterate—Canadians' safety and well-being is our top priority at Transport Canada. We are taking this public health emergency very seriously, and we are focused on taking measured and appropriate action based on risk.
Again, Mr. Chair, I thank you for the opportunity to provide this update to this committee, along with my colleagues.
I look forward to any questions you may have.
No, they do not at all.
From our perspective at the border, if somebody comes in, the first question we ask is, “Have you been to Hubei province?” That's really the first tranche that's important to us. If they say yes to that, with our front-line border officers there is more questioning. What we're really focused on at that point is, are they ill or do we see signs of their being physically ill? If the answer to that is yes, we will refer them to a PHAC quarantine officer at that point. They make the determination whether or not the person should go for a medical examination, or if the person is so ill, from their perspective, they should immediately go to a health care provider.
I should say also, Mr. Chair, that if our officers notice, upon arrival, that someone is so ill that it's obvious and there's no need for extra questioning, they too will send that person immediately to the local health care provider.
We have a network of consulates, along with our embassy in China, that provide consular service. They have teams of consular experts who are available to solve problems, work with local authorities, refer to medical services and deal with the issues that come up, in this case related to the quarantine and the health crisis. We also have, on a 24-7 basis, an emergency watch and response centre based here in Ottawa, with consular officers responding to requests at night. It's open to our missions around the world. Since the beginning of this outbreak, it has been staffed by a very large number of officers who are there to respond to questions, exchange information, and determine what the needs of Canadians are.
Our response to consular cases is really done on an individual basis. Every family has a different structure, a different need, different concerns, and so we try to address those.
You referenced the case of Canadian minors. Obviously, any vulnerable population, in particular young children, is a top priority for us. In any prioritization, they're at the top of our list. We understand that those children need and require their guardians and caregivers to be with them. We understand that, in China, there are a number of families with very complex structures—Canadian citizens, Chinese citizens, permanent residents.
The Government of China has a particular approach to dual nationality. It does not recognize dual nationality. However, in this case we have been working very hard, in our interactions with the Government of China, to emphasize that in difficult humanitarian contexts like this one, it's very important to not separate family units and to keep people together. The Government of China has indicated, as our minister indicated earlier today, that where there are direct family linkages with Chinese citizens who are permanent residents of Canada—who are parents, for example, of a Canadian citizen child—they will work with us in our efforts to keep those families together.
Thank you for the question. This one has been in the media more recently.
First and foremost, our officers, from the time they're hired through their training in Rigaud, go through extensive sensitivity training with regard to cultures and how they will come into contact with people from all over the world.
This particular situation, notwithstanding all the training they undertake, is really a public health situation, so all individuals entering the country now at 10 airports are questioned. It is not discriminatory in terms of nationality. It is for all travellers arriving from abroad.
Our officers are very well trained. We have strong supervision. We have training that reinforces that at all times. In practice now, we are trying to determine whether someone has perhaps been in a zone that has had some exposure. Right now we are concentrating on Wuhan in Hubei province and identifying those individuals so we can do the health assessment that's expected of us at the border, and if it is deemed necessary, we can refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
It's something that our officers have been attuned to in practice, and it is certainly something that we have been reinforcing in light of the particular events of this day.
Now, in a Global Affairs Canada media release that went out yesterday, I think, this was stated:
The Government of Canada has chartered a plane that is standing by. It will land in Hanoi...and deploy to Wuhan, where the airspace is currently closed, once the Government of China has given authorization to land.
The release also said that “[w]ork is...underway to comply with other Chinese requirements, including providing manifest details in advance of the flight departure and further documentation on the Canadians wishing to depart”.
My research, unless I'm mistaken, is that right now, as we speak, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, France, Indonesia and Germany have already begun the process of actually evacuating their citizens. My question would be, why has the Government of Canada failed to secure those necessary requirements? Why is it taking us longer than our allies to comply with these requirements?
Thank you all for being here. I greatly appreciate that.
I'll actually follow a little bit more on what Mr. Davies was asking you, because the reality we were presented with was that initially you put policies in place for Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Now we hear that they are in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Ottawa, Billy Bishop, Quebec City and Halifax. One assumes that's because people are travelling from other countries and coming in.
That leads me to other airports that have international flights. For example, Regina and Saskatoon have international flights. Is there a process in place?
Then I'd like to take that even a step further. What about our land-based CBSA officers? What are you doing to train them, to educate them, to put up signs to show as people enter Canada in land-based areas?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank you folks for being here with us for a couple of hours today and imparting all this wisdom. I want to thank you for the work you have been doing.
The questions that were asked here today by the committee members were all really good questions. I have to say that I've been on committee for four years, and what I'm hearing from the committee members is concern for Canadians.
Mr. Paul-Hus and Mr. Davies touched on reaction time and preparedness for repatriation.
Ms. Jeffrey, you did an excellent job outlining the complexity of this situation. You made a comment that a week ago next to no one was registered as living in that region. It is fascinating that now we're at over 300 people. Had we sent a plane this time last week, there would have been nobody to get on that plane.
Ms. Jeffrey, could you maybe outline this a little bit? You talked about visas. You talked about the lack of a consulate. You talked about some of these things, and maybe just to get them on the record you could talk about how difficult it is to find those folks and find out if they want to come home.
Ms. Kwan was asking questions about family unification—important stuff that makes this so complicated. Then there is dealing with the Chinese government, which said at the outset that if people didn't come in with a Canadian passport, they were not going home.
I wonder if you could just touch on some of those complexities. We may run out of time, and if we do, I think there is another segment coming up that is mine, but could you, just for the record, touch on some of those complexities? I think we went from two to 20 to 25.
I would say that this is a common feature of a lot of our emergency responses. We have a registry of Canadians abroad. It's voluntary. People can let us know when they travel where they are going to be so that we can reach out to them in the case of a natural disaster or a sudden emergency.
We know that not all Canadians choose that service, for different reasons. They tend to choose to register when they go to places where they expect to have trouble—more difficult, more complex, more hostile environments—and not in places where they are very comfortable and feel safe. That particularly applies to people who are visiting family and relatives, etc. They tend not to think that anything is going to happen.
Part of our consular policy outreach is to encourage that, to bring more awareness to that, to understand where people are so that we can have a better initial picture of exactly what the environment is like when an emergency strikes.
In this particular case, having a presence on the ground is really critical, not just to understanding where Canadians might be but to engaging quickly with local authorities to start unblocking some of the things that get put in place particularly in a health crisis like this, in which there is a lot of anxiety and fear and you have a government that has taken quite extreme, unprecedented measures to lock down particular regions and cities.
That has created a lot of the issues we have, even in terms of the permissions we needed to get from the Government of China to move staff into the area. It's not just that people couldn't get out. Our staff was also not allowed in because the border around the province was sealed and closed. We had to move staff there by road. We had to make sure they had the right protections. We had to have all the right authorities, not just national but also provincial and municipal. That's one example.
It is really this very detailed consular work with families that is so important to determining what people's needs are, and then to figuring out, as the Government of Canada, how we can address them, because each family situation is very different.
In the case of the children, which we have discussed at length here today, there are particularly good examples of that with very different family configurations, including people with grandparents who aren't able to travel, and we're working case by case to figure out the best way for us to assist them.
It isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Even though it looks like sending a plane is the one-size-fits-all solution, when you unpack everything below that, there is a lot of information that has to go into it to allow us to do the work with local authorities in an environment where we don't control all the elements, to make sure that they are facilitated in getting to the airport. The plane is actually not the most complicated part. The most complicated part is getting Canadians from across this province to the place where we can reach them directly and help them to exit.
All of these are things we've been working on. Each response provides a lot of lessons learned. They are all different, and we'll be unpacking this as well. In this particular environment with a pandemic response of this nature, it's the first time we've had to assist such a large number of Canadians within a quarantine zone. Responses to SARS and Ebola were emergency responses as well, but they were of a very different nature.
We're working with our allies. In particular, I have daily calls with my counterparts from all of our like-minded countries, who are all mounting these operations. We are sharing lessons learned. We are working to facilitate the departure of each other's nationals on our planes, and to make sure that we are advocating jointly where possible to unblock some of the challenges that municipal or local governments have put in place. Those are in place for maybe very good reasons on the China side, but they pose challenges for us as we help our nationals to depart.
That international dimension of the work is very important, and we've had very good, close collaboration with our allies on that.
Thank you. That brings our third round to a close.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses for being here, for giving us such excellent information and for spending time with us today.
For our next meeting, which is Wednesday, we currently have a couple of confirmed witnesses. I was wondering if we want to ask the clerk to invite Dr. Tam to return for further questions.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you. We will extend that invitation as well.
I would also like the committee to consider, once we're done with these important briefings, what we're going to do as a committee going forward. We need to have a work plan. We need to consider what studies we want to do.
I've asked our analysts to prepare a précis of studies that have been done by this committee over the last two Parliaments. They will share that with the committee when it's available. That will give you some ideas of where we might want to go with our studies.