Forum on Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada

John McCallum, former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, delivered a speech at Rideau Hall on December 1, 2015, at a forum on welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada. The Minister spoke about Canada's commitment to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, the importance of giving them a warm welcome, the efforts that Canadians are making to help facilitate the integration of Syrian refugees into Canada, and how the government will engage Canadians to contribute to the collective effort.

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Transcript: “Forum on Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada”

Video length: 00:10:03 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 seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

Text displays: “The Honourable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada”.

John McCallum: It’s a great pleasure for me to be at an event hosted by His Excellency because the two of us go back a bit to the time he was Principal of McGill. I was Dean of Arts. We had a certain fairly promising student by the name of Justin Trudeau.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

(Laughter)

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

About the Prime Minister, let me say that it is because of him that I am speaking to you this morning not as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, but as the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. By making this change, our Prime Minister sent a strong message that refugees are important, that refugees are always welcome in Canada. And so I know that this morning I’m on the same page as my boss, which is always comforting.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

(Laughter)

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

Now, having just returned yesterday from a trip to Jordan with my two colleagues Harjit Sajjan and Jane Philpott, I can tell you that I believe more strongly than ever that it is the right thing for Canada to bring 25,000 people hit by the horrors of war and terrorism over here to our wonderful welcoming country of Canada.

And my friends, I am not the only one to say this. A recent Washington Post editorial said and I quote, “Canada is showing the way on refugee settlement with compassion and sound judgment.” The head of the UNHCR said that if any country can do what we are doing, as quickly and as well as we are trying to do so, that country is Canada.

So we have to prove him right, that we are indeed capable of getting this done fast and more important getting this done right. I would like to start by thanking the opposition members of Parliament.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

They don’t say we’re doing this perfectly, they’re opposition members. I agree with them. We’re not doing this perfectly, but they have signed on to the principle of this project as has my predecessor Chris Alexander, and so I can tell you that this is not a partisan project as evidenced by the participation of the Governor General.

This is a Canadian project, and all parties in the past or the present have brought in thousands of refugees. It is our way. It is not in the slightest bit partisan. Neither my friends, and this is obvious looking around the room, is this a federal government project.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

I’ve spoken to each and every one of my provincial and territorial counterparts. I’ve spoken to more than 30 mayors. And all of them are on side.

We are working together and I thank them for their support. But it’s not even a governmental project. This project my friends is a national project. It is a national project that includes all of you who are not governmental and who are working very hard in other ways. And it includes all of the millions of Canadians across this country.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

And so I want to give you just a very few examples of support that has already come in from people across the country. The first example is in Quebec, where there was a massive clothing drive. According to the YMCA, they filled two rooms with clothing in 24 hours, so a massive effort.

In B.C.’s Lower Mainland, there’s a huge contribution by the Sikh community with large numbers of lodgings, even education and much else. Property developers Ian Gillespie in Vancouver, Boardwalk rental communities and Main Street Equity in Alberta are offering free or subsidized housing.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

In Toronto, Samantha Jackson and Farzin Yousefian decided to downsize their wedding plans and use the money they saved to sponsor a Syrian family.

The Seymour family of P.E.I. cancelled their holiday vacation plans to help Canada’s smallest province bring Syrian refugee families out of harm’s way. So my friends, I think this is the tip of the iceberg. This is only the beginning in terms of the support we shall see across this country, but I do ask all of you to give a round of applause to these Canadians who have helped us out in these early days.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage. They applaud. One of those on the stage speaks.

I want to end with four areas that are more practical in terms of developing a successful national plan. The first is communication. This is not everybody’s style, but my style is to keep Canadians abreast of everything along this path, to take the voice together, to tell Canadians about the good things like the Jordanian planes we are going to be able to get and the challenges like the exit permit issue in Lebanon.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

So we want Canadians to know every step of the way because it is a Canadian project. They have the right to know and we will inform them. And to that end, we will also be offering weekly briefings, or more frequently if necessary, given by a combination of Jane Philpott, myself and officials. The first of those will be tomorrow by officials, and we will also have on our website a summary of progress, which will change daily or more than daily.

Second, the federal government has already put on the table close to $700 million. It’s a lot of money but there remain some gaps.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

One of those gaps in certain provinces is housing. And I use this forum today and it has already happened, you’ve heard me mention it, to appeal to the private sector and to ordinary individual Canadians to come forth and help out in terms of providing lodging of one kind or another to all of these refugees who are coming to our country.

And the third point I’d like to make and it speaks to one of the questions—I may have not answered them all precisely, is that this, yes, is a short-term cost. It is a huge humanitarian venture, but it is also a long-term investment that will bring long-term gains for Canada because all of these refugees, like those who went before them, will after settling down go out and get work and become productive members of our country.

Camera pans to a crowd of people seated in the hall. Five people are seated on the stage with a large television screen at each end of the stage.

A seated man speaks from the stage while holding a microphone in front of a gold backdrop.

And this is important and I salute the Premier of New Brunswick who talks about not only receiving people but helping them find jobs in areas of labour shortage. So I call on the business community once again to help us find jobs for these people and perhaps to help us as well in the area of housing. And finally, it is important that Canadians know where to go if they want to help.

It’s very important that Canadians know what they can do if they want to help. Canadians can visit my department’s website for information on how they can help. We’re improving that but I don’t think that’s enough. In the course of the day, I would be very interested to hear from all of you how we can get this information out, perhaps differentiate it depending on the kind of assistance we are talking about.

So this is a work in progress, quick progress, but it goes without saying we don’t have all the answers. Those of you assembled in this room will have many of the answers. And so I am hoping throughout the day, we can progress together in this great project. So, in conclusion, let me put aside the details although the details are crucial and just say, my friends, let us show ourselves and let us show the world what Canadians are made of. And let us get this job done and let us get it done well. Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.

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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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