Canadians have started being evacuated from Israel—five days after the war began

The evacuation flights for Canadians in Israel have begun, after a round of criticism that the government response was too slow off the mark.

Defence Minister Bill Blair confirmed the first Canadian military plane from Israel took off from Tel Aviv on Thursday for Athens, Greece. From there, passengers can travel on commercial airlines.

Privately chartered flights, including one on Wednesday, have also been transporting Canadians.

Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks emphasized the need for families to ensure their loved ones are registered with Global Affairs Canada, as she is familiar with parents who currently have children spending a gap year in Israel, attending university there, or studying at a seminary or yeshivah.

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman has used social media to point out the number of Canadians were still waiting to get home. Many had initially not been able to reach the embassy after the Hamas attacks in Israel.

“It’s unacceptable when people are in fear,” Lantsman posted online. “The government has a primary responsibility to ensure citizens are safe.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly clarified on Sunday that the embassy was open, including on Thanksgiving, although “our diplomats have been following local advice to shelter in place, and there has been some disruption because of that.”

“When the government isn’t answering, people go to their MP, an accessible MP,” Lantsman said in a phone interview, noting that more than 100 people contacted her office to inquire about evacuations.

Lantsman later expressed appreciation for Joly’s office arranging the flights, along with the privately chartered flights.

Saks emphasized that Canadians on the ground in Israel need to provide their location, telephone number, passport information or birthdate via the Global Affairs website or by emailing [email protected].

As of Wednesday, she counted at least 1,280 consular inquiries since the beginning of the conflict on Oct. 7. But the evacuations involve additional challenges, since Ben Gurion Airport is currently in the rocket path, and some Canadians are in less accessible areas of Israel.

Flying out of Jordan is also being investigated as an option—while Air Canada will accept passengers transferring from other destinations in Europe, without additional fees.

“We are at surge capacity and we’ve set up for it,” said Saks. “It’s rarely even one degree of separation in terms of Canadian and Israeli families.”