As other countries pass legislation to restrict Syrian refugees, Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed the country’s commitment to welcoming 25,000 Syrians in the next three months.
“We know we are not just resettling refugees, we are welcoming new Canadians,” Trudeau said Thursday in a speech at the Canadian High Commission in London.
He held up Canada has an example to other countries of how diversity and cultural inclusion can thrive.
“What’s made it work so well in Canada is that diversity isn’t a challenge to overcome, or a difficulty to be tolerated,” he said. “Rather it’s a tremendous source of strength. We know Canada has succeeded culturally, politically, and economically because of our diversity, not in spite of it.”
Trudeau acknowledged that the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people and injured more than 300, created fear and division among some Canadians.
He cited the example of a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, which was set on fire in a suspected hate crime the day after the Paris attacks.1 In response, Trudeau said the community rallied together to raise more than $110,000 in two days to help the Muslim community rebuild. Members of local Christian and Jewish communities also opened their doors to give Muslims a place to pray.
“Those are Canadian values,” Trudeau said.
“While a few allow themselves to be overwhelmed with anger and outrage, as a society, cooler heads and warmer hearts ultimately prevail,” he said. “Whenever or wherever a few seem to threaten those who look, dress or pray differently, many others stand up and say, no, not here, not in our community, not to our Canadians.”
Trudeau said Canada faces a constant debate “between those who would have us restrict, close ranks and build walls and those who remind us that we are who we are precisely because we are open, diverse and inclusive.”
A sharp contrast to this open door approach can be seen in the U.S., where more than 25 governors are seeking to bar Syrian refugees from their states.2 The House of Representatives has passed legislation, put forward by the Republicans, to suspend President Barack Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.3 The legislation intensifies the already stringent, two-year screening process4 for Syrian refugees, and would require high-level officials — such as the FBI director, the directorof national intelligence and homeland security secretary — to verify that each refugee does not pose a security risk.5
Millions of Syrians have fled their country since the outbreak of civil war and millions more are internally displaced. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have been sheltering 2.1 million registered Syrian refugees6 and tens of thousands have made the dangerous boat journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
The rhetoric against admitting Syrian refugees intensified after news reports that two of the attackers behind the Paris attacks travelled from Syria to Europe via the human smugglers’ trail across the Mediterranean.
Obama denounced the “spasm of rhetoric” over refugees, saying refugees already faced the most vigorous vetting process for anyone admitted to the country. “The idea that somehow they pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn’t jibe with reality,” he said.7
Katie DeRosa, Staff Writer
Featured image photo credit: AFP