June 10, 2022 By Emilie Bergeron, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Ukrainians seeking a free commercial flight to Canada subsidized through donations of Aeroplan points will be able to register online as of Friday, but they may have to be quick as initially only 500 plane tickets will be available.
Details about this first round of registration appeared on the website of Miles4Migrants, the American non-profit organization that is providing the logistics for a partnership announced by the Trudeau government in April.
The program, which also involves Air Canada and Canadian charities such as the Shapiro Foundation, aims to provide free air travel to 10,000 people who have fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, only a small fraction of the goal will be eligible when registrations open Friday.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said he wasn’t worried about the slow rollout of the program when asked about it in the House of Commons on Thursday to attend question period.
“I think it’s going to be a very successful outcome,” Fraser said, adding the plan was to start with 500 to ensure the program works as planned.
Fraser said the non-profit has never operated on such a large scale, but the organization noted in an earlier interview it had worked with U.S. authorities on a plan to airlift 20,000 Afghan nationals.
Miles4Migrants says that only Ukrainian nationals who have a residence permit for Canada, such as those under an emergency program set up by the federal government, are eligible.
According to the most recent data released by the government, 127,153 applications have been approved. The program provides temporary three-year residency in Canada to Ukrainians and their immediate family members.
Miles4Migrants said another organization, its “co-ordinating charity partner” Mosaic, will verify the validity of each registration and contact those seeking a flight by June 17.
Initially, the program had been anticipated to start with first flights in May, but the non-profit said it was confirming logistics and the launch was pushed back to early June.
Last April, Canadians were asked to donate Aeroplan points and cash to help fund the free flights.
Air Canada donated 100 million points itself and according to the airline’s web page, 147 million points have been raised.
In addition to its partnership with Miles4Migrants, the federal government has also transported about 900 Ukrainians through three charter flights to Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax in recent weeks.
The Bloc Quebecois has called on the Liberals to organize more charter flights.
“Given the hour, I think that the government has failed in its desire to help Ukrainians set foot on Canadian soil,” said Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, the party’s immigration critic.
The federal government has not said if other charter flights are planned. Fraser didn’t close the door to more federal charter flights, but said the flexibility of commercial flights is preferable as Ukrainians are spread out across Europe such as in Poland and Germany.
“What we’re seeing right now from a federal point of view is it was helpful to arrange charters,” Fraser said. “It’s actually more effective if we can push towards commercial opportunities, particularly through the Miles4Migrants initiative.”
For its part, Miles4Migrants writes on its website that “additional tickets will be made available at a later date.”