Many lessons to learn: Officials
Response to crisis could’ve been better, minister says
The federal government wants to learn lessons from its efforts to evacuate Canadians from the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean but stopped short Tuesday of apologizing to complaining travellers over how it handled the disaster.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she personally greeted a flight of returning Canadian passengers at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Monday night, and spoke with several passengers there and by phone. She gave them a letter soliciting feedback on how the government handled the emergency.
“I said in the note — I think my words were — I was very sorry for their ordeal, which I am. It was a very, very difficult experience for people,” Freeland said Tuesday at the cabinet retreat in St. John’s, N.L., with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
She also noted: “as the prime minister likes to say: better is always possible.”
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said 691 Canadians had been flown out of the region, and that the majority of those stranded have now been able to return home.
Freeland said Monday night’s Canadian flights had extra seats that would have gone unfilled so they were offered to 53 travellers from other countries, including 40 Americans. No Canadian was denied a seat, she added.
Bibeau acknowledged that the federal government could have been more efficient at communicating with those affected and their families, but she suggested they could have been more helpful with notifying the government of their own whereabouts.
“We were in contact with the families, those who contacted us. Because once again, as travellers — and I include myself in that — we forget to consult the website of the government to get the advice concerning the countries where we are going.”
Bibeau said as far as she knows, all Canadians who wanted off the islands of Turks and Caicos and St. Maarten “have had the possibility” to get home as of Monday night. She urged any other Canadians who still need help, or their families, to contact federal officials.
“We should always register for the government to know where we are in case of emergency. If we don’t do that and we don’t do that enough, well, then we have to wait for Canadians to inform us where they are.”
Bibeau said federal officials are now on the ground in the Caribbean assessing how Canada might help with humanitarian aid and rebuilding after widespread destruction from hurricane Irma.
a woman walks on a street in marigot, on monday on the French caribbean island of Saint-martin after it was hit by Hurricane irma.