Syrian refugee families here will not receive free bus passes but they will have access to leisure services activities after council voted on the motions at its regular council meeting August 8.
Councillor Lynne Christiansen wasn’t present but everyone else voted unanimously against free bus passes for one year but unanimously voted in favour of extending city leisure services to the Syrian refugee families for up to one year.
The local group which has agreed to sponsor and support refugee families for a year had originally approached the city asking for free bus passes which, if used by four families for a year, would amount to $4,800.
At the moment there is just one Syrian family in the city.
During discussion, councillor Sean Bujtas asked if the family wanted the passes while councillor Michael Prevost said that studies show access to transportation is a crucial part of resettlement and that without it, it takes longer to settle in.
Equitable access to transportation is important to all members of a community as well, he said.
There is a difference between government sponsorship and private sponsorship of refugee families: private means a secure and stable support network for the family so they are well looked after by people who agreed to take them on, said Prevost.
He said he would like to see the resettlement plan that the sponsor group has for the entire year as it would include a transportation budget.
“For us to be fiscally responsible, we need to see the plans for these families,” said Prevost, adding that if the cost of a bus pass increases, that is something for council to think about.
“I don’t know if I am comfortable with an entire year, maybe for the school year where the weather may not be as great for access for pedestrians,” Prevost added.
Looking at how other northern B.C. communities have dealt with the same issue, Prevost said he found that Fort St. John only provided 10 tickets to each refugee family member and Dawson Creek decided against supporting a similar motion for free bus passes.
Councillor James Cordeiro agreed with the need to see a budget for transportation needs and was hesitant to give out money without something more concrete of what is being budgeted for.
Councillor Stacey Tyers said her issue was always fairness to the community.
“When you start giving special treatment, it creates animosity in the community,” she said, adding that Terrace has a very high population of low income earners. “I’m more in favour of everybody being taken care of.”
“The last thing we want is for the family to not ask for [bus passes] and be a target of that resentment when it’s not necessarily something they were looking for.”
There are 100 homeless people who are not getting bus passes, she added, saying she was more in favour of giving out bus tickets.
Councillor Brian Downie said extending the leisure access program to the refugee families would be an excellent way to hasten their integration into the community.