Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan today reaffirmed the government's commitment to bringing thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada while appearing in Halifax at his first major public event as defence minister. 

Sajjan and other international representatives are at the International Security Conference to discuss the refugee crisis and possible responses to attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

At a press conference Friday, Sajjan defended the government's plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year, despite opinion polls that show a significant number of Canadians question the safety of such a move. 

"We've always stated very clearly that we're going to make sure the security … considerations are at the forefront," Sajjan said. 

He stressed that the government is focused on bringing over the most vulnerable refugees, mostly families.

ISIL Cda Training Harjit Sajjan 20151118

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan says Syrian refugees are 'not fleeing poverty; they're fleeing war.' He says they will be contributing to Canada's economy. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

"They're not fleeing poverty; they're fleeing war," Sajjan said. "People who are settling are going to be contributing to our economy."

'We can work together'

Sajjan said delegates at the forum are focused on listening and learning from each other to develop better ways to deal with security threats. 

"Collectively, we can work together, move forward and bring some solutions to these challenges," Sajjan said.  

Sajjan said the recent attacks in Mali underscore the importance of preventing extremist attacks.

The Halifax conference is the first major international security conference since last week's attacks in Paris.

As defence minister, Sajjan is hosting nearly 300 delegates from at least 60 countries who will be discussing global security issues.

The annual conference usually covers a broad range of international conflicts. But this year, the topics are more focused.

"The agenda was written over the summer," said Peter Van Praagh, president of the Halifax International Security Forum.

"But last week, tragically, the events in Paris have focused us on the challenges posed by what's called the Islamic State. That really will be a priority conversation for everybody in the room."

Sajjan referred to his experiences in the military and police during his opening remarks. He said a coalition's best strategy in fighting ISIS is identifying warning signs early through "the right indicators and the right intelligence."

"We also need to understand the linkages across the various threat streams — how criminality, oppression and ideology can interact and feed off of each other," Sajjan said.

"We need to understand their critical points of convergence and the real targets of vulnerability. Not just vulnerability of failed and failing states, but vulnerability of young alienated by a lack of opportunity." 

Security tightened

With so many important figures in one location, security has been heightened.

"The security services are world class, and they are taking every measure to ensure the safety not only of our participants who are coming from around the world, but of the community," said Van Praagh.

While this annual conference offers an opportunity for leaders to meet and discuss defence strategies, there is rarely a plan announced at the conclusion of the Halifax forum.

"Getting leaders together to talk about the challenges and come up with solutions that make sense — that countries are actually capable of and feel comfortable with — is really an important part of the process," said Van Praagh.

This weekend's conference in Halifax is designed to offer attendees a chance to meet in a relatively safe venue, away from major city centres.

"It's really a cozy atmosphere and that really allows people to roll up their sleeves and have honest conversations," said Van Praagh.