After just a few weeks in office, a whirlwind tour of world capitals, and the challenge posed by the deadly attacks in Paris this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with the CBC's Matt Galloway Tuesday afternoon in Ottawa.
In a wide-ranging interview they talked about the Liberal government's newly-announced timetable for resettling thousands of Syrian refugees in Canada, and the challenges Trudeau faces in trying to balance his new job with his responsibilities as a father and husband.
Matt Galloway: You committed during the campaign to 25,000 refugees here in Canada by the end of this year. You've pushed that back. Tell us why.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: We need to make sure it's done right. And the question that we always had at the front of our mind is that we were moving forward is ensuring that these 25,000 refugees have a as successful a path as possible to integrating and establishing strong communities to being a productive parts of their communities and of our country in the right way and we just know getting that right is more important than anything else.
Matt Galloway: It was a firm commitment, though. What was the moment in which you decided it needed to change?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I think we just looked at the logistics. We looked at what it would take to bring them in by January 1st, and we had options around that. And then we realized that we wanted to make sure that it was done absolutely right, so as to ensure that Canadians that have been incredibly open and enthusiastic about it remain as positive about welcoming these families as they possibly could be.
Matt Galloway: Why that number 25,000? I mean it could be 5,000, 10,000, 50,000. Why 25?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: What was the number we called for in the spring when we repeatedly saw this government — sorry, the previous government — just wasn't doing as much as Canadians wanted them to do. They had modest targets, they brought in a couple of thousand refugees. They were talking about maybe 10,000 more. And we said you know what, to make a real significant impact we can talk about 25,000. And it was a number that we felt suited that, what we knew would be a good initial push that would demonstrate to the world and to people looking for a better future everywhere that Canada was engaging, but it was also a manageable number that Canada would be able to integrate and demonstrate success with.
Matt Galloway: What happens, the horror in Syria is unfolding at an appalling pace. It's not getting any better for people who live there. If the outpouring of refugees continues would you look at bringing more in?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Oh, this is a beginning. This is something that we want to get done right and quickly to show Canada is engaging. And of course as we are able to welcome in more and give them pathways to success. I mean this not just about welcoming 25,000 refugees, it's welcoming in 25,000 new Canadians, and doing that the right way, and doing that on an ongoing basis is important for our country. But it's also important to show the world 'cause we know over the coming decades with climate change, with further conflicts and resource depletion, there are going to be more and more refugees around the world. And to demonstrate that there are ways of making refugees a positive for the country, as Canada has done historically, but we can do it in a positive, productive helpful way now is a really important message.
Matt Galloway: There were polls done at the end of last week suggestion that upwards of 60 per cent of Canadians who were asked don't support this plan. What do you think they are afraid of?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Oh I think, I think first of all the outpouring of support that I've seen from people I talk to, from community leaders, riding associations, mayors and the premiers I've talked with at our first ministers meeting, everyone is very, very positive about it. They just want to be reassured it's being done right and that has been our overarching goal on this. But people have to understand at the same time this is not about government sort of signing a paper and bringing over 25,000 refugees. This is going to have to be a whole-of-Canada effort. Communities, provinces, cities engaging in making sure that these people aren't just welcomed when they get here, but are given paths towards successful contributions.
Matt Galloway: But back to that question again. Sixty per cent of people polled say they don't support the plan. Why do you think they are fearful of helping those refugees?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: First of all we've seen polls do all sorts of things, and I don't put a lot of stock in polls. If I'd paid too much attention to polls I'd probably would have spent September golfing or canoeing instead of campaigning.
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Matt Galloway: So you don't believe then that there are a number of Canadians who have real concerns about this?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Oh, I believe Canadians have concerns and that's why we put security issues and doing this responsibility at the very forefront of our plan from the very beginning. But I also know that Canadians want to help, want to see Canada once again being a positive actor on the world stage. That's quite frankly a big part of the mandate that I got elected with.
Matt Galloway: How do you acknowledge and respect the concerns that Canadians may have about this without giving into, and we'll talk about security, without giving into fear?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Well, you make it clear that this is not about security. Security is an issue that we're dealing with, that we've dealt with, but this is about welcoming people that are fleeing terrorism, not bringing terrorism with them. This is about recognizing that Canada has done extraordinarily well, better than other countries, at bringing in people from vulnerable situations and giving them not just the capacity to build a better life for themselves, but build a better country for their kids.
Matt Galloway: The security is a huge issue in this, whether it's individuals, whether it's mayors, whether it's the premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, raising concerns about this. Are we at a point now that security trumps this issue, that security is one of the most important parts of this issue of welcoming refugees?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: When we welcomed in tens of thousands of Vietnamese boat people back in the early eighties security was an issue then. Security was a concern that Canadians had when we were welcoming impoverished east African refugees who then turned around in the Ismaili community and contributed untold success and growth to Canada. So, security is obviously something that always has to be top of mind when you are welcoming people from conflict zones, war zones. But it's never a reason not to do it, and it can always be handled responsibly.
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Matt Galloway: What guarantees have CSIS and the RCMP given you when it comes to those who are coming in and protecting the security of this country?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: One of the issues that we looked at more detailed is: Is there a big difference between security screening done here in Canada and the screening, screening that can be done overseas? And we made the determination recently that doing the security screening overseas would allow not for just slightly better security screening outcomes, but it would allow Canadians to be more reassured. Like I said, we want these families arriving to be welcomed, not feared, because that's the way to get the right start in terms in having them become valuable parts of our community and create success.
Matt Galloway: Did you make that determination after the attacks in Paris?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: The attacks in Paris certainly had an impact on public perceptions that was not negligible.
Matt Galloway: But was that decision, though, made after the attacks in Paris?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: The decision was made more recently, yes. So, yes it was after the attacks in Paris, but it wasn't because of attacks from Paris. There was a number of impacts, including the concern about the fact that if, when you're bringing over 25,000 people the law of large numbers says there will be a few people who will be surprisingly problematic. And the fact that we might be stuck with people in a sort of legal limbo that we could not then allow to be walking around the streets in Canada, but we could also not return to a war zone, meant that there was a real challenge around not doing the processing over there.
Matt Galloway: How long until they're able to walk around the streets in Canada? These are refugees but they're going to be new Canadians, as well. Will they be given freedom of movement as soon as they land?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Yup, pretty much. There's going to be proper processing by the CBSA when they land, but the security checks and health checks will be done from on the camp side rather than here in Canada.
Matt Galloway: And into the communities they go?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: To be welcomed by families and communities who have stepped up to support them right across the country.
Matt Galloway: You'd be following of course what's happening in the United States where the discussion is incredibly heated about this issue and people seem to be lining up to say in a louder voice that they're not going to let Syrian refugees come into the U.S. What conversations have you had with U.S. officials about the fact that we are bringing in Canada many more Syrian refugees than they are?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I was aware that there might be concerns when I sat down with President Obama last week. And on the contrary, he was effusive in his support of what we were doing. He, as I'm sure a number of people have heard pointed out, there is more security risk from tourists than there are from refugees. Canadian Border Services process upwards of 250,000 people every single day coming into this country. So, the fears and politics of division that are being played in I think a very cynical way during a U.S. election, election year is disappointing, not terribly surprising. The fact is all the more important for Canada to demonstrate that this is a positive thing, welcoming in families who are going to be extraordinarily rich contributors to not just the communities they're in but to the cohesion and fabric of Canada is a positive thing.
Matt Galloway: It's been reported that this policy is going to focus on families, women and children, but exclude single men. Why that approach?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Well I think one of the first things that this is an accelerated process right now that we are engaging in. We want to demonstrate both to Canadians and to the world that we can do this in an accelerated fashion. That we can make up for some lost years where Canada wasn't as helpful on the refugee front as I think many Canadians would have liked us to be. So what we've gone through is an accelerated process, looking at the most vulnerable, and obviously families with young children tend to be the most vulnerable in the camps. But anyone who comes up with a more complex profile or an issue you like that simply will get deferred to future consideration, because this is an important step but it's not the only thing Canada will be doing for refugees over the coming years.
Matt Galloway: What does it say about our screening service, though, and the screening procedure if we have to exclude an entire part of the population: single men?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Well, I think one of the things is when someone is, for example, an immigration case and they've served in a police department, for example, in a country that they come from. There is a more extensive security screening, there are steps that take longer than others. And what we've done on these 25,000 is an accelerated process where as soon as there is a case that is slightly more complex or of issue we simply put it aside, and we keep moving so that we can get those 25,000 right off to the right start as quickly as possible.
Matt Galloway: But you don't see an issue of excluding an entire part of the population from that? I mean the screening process is robust as it is, shouldn't that be able to determine whether a single man is acceptable or not?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Well, when you look at risk profiles there's a broad number of things to consider. Obviously we've committed to looking at the most vulnerable and a number of people mentioned the vulnerability of the LGBT communities over there, and that's certainly part of what will be folded into the most vulnerable. But when we look at the path of successful integration as well families are certainly easier to place and easier to draw in on an accelerated basis than some other categories, and that's what we're doing in a responsible way.
Matt Galloway: Past point on this, it's an individual story, the father of Alan Kurdi, Abdullah, he's now a single man because his wife and children drowned while he was trying to get free and get out of Syria. Does that give you pause that someone like him would be excluded from this?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Obviously this is a situation, was an event that was at the heart of so many Canadians' outpouring of support, but at the same time we have a process and we will of course allow individual and encourage our individual case examiners and screeners to make determinations in situations like this. But in general, we need to be able to demonstrate that we're going through this in a responsible way, in a rapid way, but reassure Canadians that the people that we're bringing over are going to be able to contribute in the best possible way in a short period of time.
Matt Galloway: We have seen in the last couple of weeks a series of attacks in Muslim communities. The Muslim mosque that was torched, there were attacks in Toronto, women on the subway, a woman walking to pick up her children, she was wearing a hijab and she was attacked. What do you think of those attacks and what sort of welcome do you think in the context of those attacks these new Canadians, these refugees, are going to get?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: You're going to have angry, marginalized individuals lashing out at any number of folks in society they don't approve of or disagree with. What I've noticed more from those incidents is, deplorable as they were, obviously, was the incredible public response following those. Whether it was reaching out and helping that mosque in Peterborough, whether it was support for the women who were attacked. Canadians are quick to point out that ISIS is wrong, that Islam is not incompatible with a western secular democracy, a free place like Canada. And I know that our confidence in Canadians understanding that diversity is at the heart of our success as a country, and will continue to be.
Matt Galloway: Is there anything the government can do to protect those refugees when they arrive to ensure they are not the victims of those sort of attacks?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: We'll continue to talk about how extraordinary it is to welcome in new Canadians who are going to shape and build stronger futures for themselves, their kids, and their communities.
Matt Galloway: This moment is incredible. You see people in my city and cities across the country, schools, community centres, in churches — people who don't know each other. They meet on social media, they happen to live in the same neighbourhood, coming together to try and sponsor a family. What does that tell you about what's going on?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: It tells me that this is not about the government trying to do something, this is about Canada knowing that we have to because we can do something. This is about Canadians' success at us being the country that we are. A country that has always welcomed people from around the world and given them opportunities to succeed, because we know that's what is at the heart of our success.
Matt Galloway: I had mentioned that the mayor of Calgary said that the way we manage ourselves over the next several months will be a defining moment for us as a nation. What sort of story do you think this will tell about us what happens in the next few months?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I had a discussion with a handful of my cabinet ministers a few days ago, in which one of them pointed to Maryam Monsef, who is our democratic institution minister, came here as a refugee from Afghanistan when she was 10. And said, 'Right now there is a 10-year-old girl in a Syrian camp somewhere and she can aspire to that in 30 years, or 20 years, she might be sitting around a cabinet table helping run an extraordinary country like Canada.' And I think this is the story of this country, that you get to come here and build a better future for yourself and for your neighbours then you could have anywhere else in the world. That's what's made Canada the extraordinary country that it is, and it's what it will continue to be. I've been out on the world stage talking over the past little while, talking with other leaders who've congratulated my government for moving forward on this ambitious refugee pledge, and I keep having to correct them and say this is not the government doing it, it's Canadians doing it. It's us showing the kind of country we are, and the kind of world we know we want our kids to grow up in.
Matt Galloway: Do you see a role, people have called this a nation-building exercise and yes, Canadians have been involved in it, the government has been involved in it. Do you see a role for the private sector to step up and say this is what we can do? We have resources, we have housing, we can get involved in this.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Absolutely, and the private sector has been stepping up. I heard stories of chambers of commerce that have set as a goal that they are going to find a good job for every single refugee who arrives in their city, in their communities. I mean there is an awful lot that can be done, and that kind of all-of-Canada effort that touches everything from community businesses, to big businesses, to small and medium enterprises, to family groups, to church groups, to neighbourhoods. I mean there is a broad level of enthusiasm to show the world what true inclusiveness and optimism about the future looks like.
Matt Galloway: At the same time we have wicked problems in this country already. I mean, there's an affordable-housing crisis across the country, there's one-in-seven children who live in poverty, there are many people who feel they are excluded from society and feel those issues deserve an equally robust response. What is your answer to those people who see what's happening with this issue and say, "What about what's happening over here?"
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I think all of it comes together — that helping out Syrian refugees is a way to encourage ourselves to help out here at home, as well. That it's not an either/or. And being the compassionate, optimistic country that we are, helping people out because we have the opportunity to -- of setting up ways to ensure that everyone has a real and fair chance to contribute, to succeed, is a goal that I've put at the heart of this government we're putting forward.
Matt Galloway: Isn't it either/or, though? I mean money is money, and there's only so much in the pie. So, when you divide the pie up in different ways ...
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: These are all investments in the future. Ensuring that First Nations kids have a real chance at an education and a job down the line. Ensuring that inner-city communities have the opportunities to get good schools and not have kids go to school with empty bellies. Ensuring that people who come over here from war-torn parts of the world have the opportunity to contribute and to succeed. All those things are part of the country we are. We need to be moving forward on all of them at once.
Matt Galloway: You've had an extraordinarily hectic start to life in this job. Does it feel like you've had a chance to settle in in the last few weeks?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I think the settling in has happened through the activity. It has really helped that I have an extraordinary team around me of ministers, of people who have stepped up, of all backgrounds and all sectors, to say, "You know what? We're doing something absolutely amazing as a country now with the goals we want." The inclusive approach to ... to governance, to respectful engagement with opposition parties and premiers. This approach we've had is something that has got Canadians excited about how we are going to govern ourselves, and how we are going to build a future in a really tangible way that, on one hand, puts more pressure on my shoulders, but on another hand, reminds me that I'm not in this alone. I can actually count on 35 million people who want to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.
Matt Galloway: What surprised you the most about the job now that you're in it?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: The pace. The limit of hours in the day, and the extent to which I need to be really ruthless about ensuring that I do have time with my family, and time with Sophie. Time to decompress, at the same time as I'm going full out. If I'm left to my own devices I'll work all the time, and I'll go home with briefing books and go through them all the time. And Sophie says, "No, no, no, no, no. You've got to spend time with the kids so you can make sense of everything else you do." And she, of course, is right and that's why I am the luckiest man in the world.
Matt Galloway: That was a question, I mean it was interesting we sat around the table last night and talked about this and I asked my two kids what would they ask the Prime Minister. And one was about the number of refugees. The other was, she said, "I wouldn't want that job because you'd never see your kids, you're out all the time." Do you feel like you have to sacrifice? People talk about work-life balance. Do you feel like you're seeing the other side of it enough as a young dad?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: It makes you very aware of the work-life balance, but I mean one of the bigger worries I have now for me, my kids now live in Ottawa and I get to go home to them just about every night, which I certainly wasn't able to do during the campaign and wasn't able to do when I was a simple MP. Knowing that some of my ministers, I mean we have a cabinet with over 50 young kids sitting represented by the parents at the cabinet table. The work-life balance for them is even tougher. And you know being very thoughtful how we remember collectively that we're not doing this job in spite of the fact that we have kids, we're doing it because we have kids is the, you know, the angle we have to keep in mind.