March 25, 2020
Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Chair, Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
OPEN LETTER RE: CONSULAR ASSISTANCE TO CANADIAND STRANDED ABROAD DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
I am very appreciative of the continued information updates and advice from Global Affairs Canada about their efforts in assisting Canadians who are stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been dealing with a large number of constituents and their loved ones who are making every good faith effort to heed the Prime Minister’s advice for Canadians to come home, and who require consular assistance and, in some cases, have made urgent requests for rescue flights or assistance in repatriating. As this work continues, I write to bring to your attention concerns that constituents with their direct experience abroad with during this difficult time.
1) Email from ROCA
I have heard from constituents who have been making every effort to communicate with officials, who are registered as advised with the Registry Of Canadians Abroad (ROCA) in order to receive updates about how to get home, and who have reported some worrying information about the communication that they receive. In one case, a constituent sent a screenshot of the communication that they received from ROCA about upcoming flights exiting Peru. The email they received thru ROCA said, in part:
“The purpose of this message is to inform you that the Embassy of Canada in Peru has coordinated with Air Canada the first three return flights to Canada:
- Tuesday March 24 (now sold out)
- Thursday March 25 (not available for purchase yet)
- Friday March 26 (not available for purchase yet)
The Embassy and its partners are currently working on arrangements for the Thursday and Friday flights. The flight details and the registration code will be shared by the Embassy through an email. Receiving this code does not guarantee you a seat on the flight.”
Constituents have reported that this kind of message is anything but reassuring. As one constituent said, “It seems really scary, like they know how many Canadians are there, but only sent a smaller amount of planes and are going to let them basically compete over buying [scarce] tickets and if they don’t get one tough luck!” He went on to write "I hope I am wrong about that."
Others have reported that they have not be able to get onto the system as it is overwhelmed as soon as the code is made available. And by the time they manage to get through, the tickets are sold out. I understand that officials are working hard to make arrangements for people stranded abroad. Given that people who have registered through the ROCA system, it follows that the government would be aware of approximately how many people are stranded in which country. Aside from need to address the technical aspect of the system, would it not make sense to, in the minimum, add a line to indicate that additional flights are being worked on beyond what is listed to assure the people who are not lucky enough to secure a ticket are not forgotten?