WATCH: Getting Canadians home is 'top priority' for government, Freeland says
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expressing sympathy and solidarity with those Canadians trapped by the devastation wrought by hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, as well as their worried family members at home.
Freeland tells a briefing today that the federal government is doing everything in its power to help and that she personally won't rest until everyone is brought home safely.
She says some 390 people have been brought home over the weekend, and commercial flights will be returning to Toronto with the rest of those who have registered with Global Affairs Canada.
Transport Minister Mark Garneau, who also took part in today's briefing, says 150 evacuees are to be on board a flight out of St. Maarten, while an additional 90 people will be brought home from Turks and Caicos.
The government has come in for stinging criticism for its response to calls for assistance from Canadians trapped in the Caribbean.
One key question has been why it took so long for the government to deploy any aircraft to the region, where hundreds of Canadians have been pleading for help. Garneau says airports are among the facilities most affected by the hurricanes, complicating relief and evacuation efforts.
One group of people in the Turks and Caicos got a call on Sunday night to head out from their hotel to the airport for a plane back home, but where they got there, they were turned away, because airport officials had told them their flights weren`t being allowed to leave.
Quebecer Richard Huard was supposed to be on that flight.
"We felt actually bad about leaving other Canadians and Quebecois behind and being the first to leave, and when they saw us come back they felt out despair and it added to theirs," Huard told CTV News. "As we left they were sayin 'all right it's begun, right? So here's a group, they're the first to leave, the system's going to work.' And instead of that happening they saw us come back and needing to be reassigned rooms and the whole thing started all over again. So you could see the mood in the evening was really, really, really bad."
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt had called out the federal Liberals for not using military aircraft to rescue Canadians, as the U.S., the Netherlands and the U.K. have done.