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Canadian businesses respond to fundraising appeals for Syrian refugees

Air Canada provided funds to help settle Syrian refugee families in Canada.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

The big banks, Air Canada and other Canadian companies are giving funds to help Syrian refugees, a week after the picture of a drowned Syrian toddler shocked the Western world.

Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal collectively gave $1-million to the Red Cross.

Air Canada, Sodexo and McCarthy Tétrault LLP provided funds to help settle Syrian refugee families in Canada.

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"We believe that Canada should open the doors and help out. We are a country of immigrants and we believe it is time to show we have a heart," said Priscille LeBlanc, chair of the Air Canada Foundation.

Last week, aid groups were inundated with contributions from individual Canadians who saw the photo of a lifeless Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy who drowned along with most of his family trying to flee war-torn Syria. Now, after grappling with how to respond, companies are starting to donate.

"We had employees asking us are we going to contribute, are we going to do something," said Scott Mullin, TD's vice-president of community relations.

TD traditionally gives to causes in communities where their customers live and work. But the lender, along with the other major Canadian banks, heeded the Red Cross request for funds to provide food, water and medical help to Syrian refugees.

"We typically have not responded to an appeal like this before," Mr. Mullin said. "We are not international experts. We rely quite heavily on the Red Cross's judgment call."

Millions have fled Syria and have mostly sought refuge in Europe. Stephen Harper's Conservative government is under pressure to allow more Syrian migrants to settle in Canada – a process that is estimated to cost about $27,000 for a family of four.

"One of the barriers I saw was the money. The average Canadian family can't afford $27,000," said Michael Bach, the chief executive of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, a charity that serves as a resource for Canadian companies.

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Mr. Bach, a former KPMG executive, said it was outside of his group's norm to get involved with global humanitarian crises. But he decided to use his corporate connections to help settle Syrian refugees in Canada.

"When I call Air Canada and call McCarthy's, they pick up the phone. A lot of charities don't have that relationship," he said.

Since Mr. Bach issued his plea to his corporate members, his group has raised $200,000. He also sent a similar request to the chief executives and general managers of other big Canadian corporations, but said he has not yet had a response.

Air Canada Foundation donated an initial $27,000 and will match its employees' contributions up to $54,000. The airline said it has not received a request for its planes, such as after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti where Air Canada transported Haitian orphans to Canada.

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Economics Reporter

Rachelle Younglai is The Globe and Mail's economics reporter. More

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