Forum on Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada – Governor General of Canada

Canada’s Governor General discusses Canada’s diversity and inclusion and the efforts of numerous volunteers preparing for the arrival of Syrian refugees to Canada. On December 1, 2015, at Rideau Hall, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, hosted a forum on welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada.

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Transcript: “Forum on Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada – Governor General of Canada”

Video length: 00:09:36 minutes

[light music intro]

A room full of seated people are shown.

Text displays: “Forum on Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada – December 1, 2015”.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

Text displays: “His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada”

David Johnston: I begin by acknowledging that this important event is taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation. My wife and I are delighted to welcome all of you to this forum on welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

This forum is about much more than that, in fact.

It’s about living up to who we are as Canadians.

Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born governor general, said:

“Nations achieve character in crises and it is of such moments in history that nations seem to say to themselves, ‘I live for something. For what? What do I value above all…?’”

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

Well, the Syrian crisis, the refugee crisis is one such moment for our nation today.

It compels us to ask:

What is our character?

What do we live for?

What do we revere above all?

The moment has once again come to answer those questions.

This is the moment to reaffirm our fundamental values as Canadians.

To test the depth of our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance.

To show our determination and ability to help children, women, men—whole families—with urgent needs.

So, this is a defining moment for Canada, a defining moment for all of us.

And it’s even more than that.

It’s an opportunity.

An opportunity to mobilize our communities from St. John’s to Winnipeg to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia—and so many points between.

To re-imagine how we take care of the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

To stand together as a smart and caring country that believes in and fights for equality of opportunity for every single one of us.

All of you participating in this forum today understand that welcoming Syrian refugees is both a challenge and an opportunity for Canada.

And you know this too:

Great nations are built on great challenges.

You, the participants at this forum, understand why the cause of Syrian refugees is both a challenge and an opportunity for Canada. You also know that big challenges make for great nations. You are all leaders, whether in the public or private sector or in civil society.

You are all dedicated to settling and integrating refugees.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

Each of you knows how important successfully welcoming Syrian refugees is, and that we must engage individual Canadians in the effort.

I know we’ll succeed because the cause and the company are very good.  

Let me tell you a story about the wonderful opportunity that lies before us.

Four years ago, I led a delegation of highly accomplished Canadians on State visits to Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.

And an extraordinary thing happened on that trip. It was a moment that reminds you what a special country Canada is.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

The story has two main actors: Perrin Beatty, who is with us today, [Perrin where are you? Right over there.]

A man in the audience raises his hand.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

and Kim Thúy, who unfortunately could not be here.

Perrin and Kim were part of that delegation in 2011 because of their impressive achievements and expertise:

  • Perrin, as head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce;
  • Kim, the Governor General’s Award-winning author of the novel Ru, as our cultural ambassador to her homeland, Vietnam.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

But what Perrin and Kim realized at the outset of our visits was that their paths had intersected years ago, in 1979, in very different circumstances.

As a child, Kim had fled from Vietnam to Malaysia as one of thousands of “boat people.” Every day, every day with her family members, she sat outside the Canadian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, hoping her dream would come true. Her dream of coming to Canada.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

At that time, Perrin was serving as a young, [should I say a very young Cabinet minister, Perrin,] minister in Prime Minister Joe Clark’s government that was working to bring large numbers of Vietnamese refugees to Canada.

Along with thousands of his fellow Canadians, Perrin and his government helped make Kim’s dream come true.

Today, she’s one of our finest authors, and there they were in 2011 on a State visit together, representing their country at the highest diplomatic level.

So this story highlights some basic, wonderful truths about Canada.

One, we’re stronger when we work together.

Two, diversity is one of our strengths.

Three, despite our many backgrounds and cultures of origin—more than 200 languages spoken, more than 200 ethnic origins—we all have a great deal in common.

We call that great deal, Canada.

“So how do we do it?”

Well, that was the question German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked me when she visited Rideau Hall, here, in the summer of 2012.

Chancellor Merkel wanted to know how Canada had built such a successful society out of people from all over the world.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

And as you may know, Germany is expecting to welcome one million refugees.

Just think about that: one million refugees.

So her question—“How does Canada do it?”—was anything but abstract.

Indeed, it’s fast becoming one of the most important questions of our time.

You are here today to help us find a truly Canadian answer.

No doubt in part because of our vast geography and challenging climate, the theme of interdependence has always been at the core of what it means to be Canadian.

Perhaps this is why we have answered the call for help so often and so readily—in welcoming more than 60,000 Vietnamese boat people in 1979 and 1980 for example. And why history has judged us so harshly when we have failed to heed that call.

Of course, our history of welcome predates the existence of Canada itself.

For example, the settlers at Port Royal, in what is now Nova Scotia, would never have survived their first winters in the early 1600s were it not for the generosity and guidance of Indigenous peoples.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

In fact, my understanding is that the Indigenous peoples provided them with fresh meat during those first two winters and taught them how to make tea from evergreen needles, which in fact had vitamin C that prevented scorbutic…two little examples of important interdependence in welcoming.

But our history is full of such diverse stories of diverse people helping each other through hard times.

Like those early settlers, many Syrian refugees will be arriving in winter.

We will give them a warm welcome in spite of the cold winter.

Canada’s diverse, tolerant, multicultural society is one of our great strengths and perhaps our greatest contribution to the world.

And so, that’s why it’s so important that we succeed in welcoming refugees. Again, what could be more fitting for Canada?

That, and simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Once again, we’ll meet the challenge, we’ll do what’s right.

Today, we must have an open and engaged discussion, and we must connect and form the networks that will allow us to maximize our effectiveness.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five empty chairs are on the stage to the speaker’s left with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A man speaks from a podium beside a Canadian flag and in front of a gold backdrop.

Let’s live up to who we are as Canadians by tackling this challenge and seizing this opportunity.

Let’s work together and meet this defining moment for our country head-on. Thank you.

The man speaking at the podium closes his book and walks off the stage.

Fade to black

Copyright message “Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2015” is displayed followed by the Canada wordmark.

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