Nova Scotia

Justin Trudeau thanks Syrian refugees behind Peace By Chocolate

Hours after inviting U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited a Syrian refugee family who have set up a small chocolate-making business in Nova Scotia.

Trudeau says accepting refugees one way Canada 'can make a positive difference to the world'

Tareq Hadhad, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Assam Hadhad and Liberal MP Sean Fraser pose for a photo during their meeting Thursday. (Courtesy Peace by Chocolate)

Hours after inviting U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited a Syrian refugee family bringing Peace by Chocolate to the world from Nova Scotia.

"Thank you for being such an extraordinary example of the kind of strength and leadership and engagement that comes with bringing new people to Canada," the prime minister said to Assam Hadhad and his son Tareq on Thursday in a video posted to the Peace by Chocolate Facebook page.

Trudeau embraced both men at the private meeting in Sydney, N.S. 

After fleeing the war in Syria, the Hadhad family arrived earlier this year in Antigonish, N.S., and set up a small chocolate-making business called Peace by Chocolate.

Assam Hadhad owned and operated a big chocolate factory in Damascus. But in 2013, he and his workers fled the building minutes before a missile destroyed it. 

Kindness begets kindness

A local group called the Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace helped the Hadhad's get to Canada.

"We really appreciate everything you have done for us — and for 25,000 Syrian refugees," Tareq Hadhad said to Trudeau. Trudeau said accepting refugees was one of the ways Canada "can make a positive difference to the world."

"If you offer kindness, you will receive kindness," Tareq Hadhad replied. His father is learning English and tested it out with a "thank you" to Trudeau.

Assam Hadhad is working on his English, but in the meantime he made his feelings clear with a big hug for the prime minister. (Courtesy Peace By Chocolate)

Tareq Hadhad was the first to arrive in Canada, followed by his father and mother, Shahenaz, and three of his younger siblings. Just this week, his sister and her two children landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

'The day of our lives'

Trudeau told their story at a UN summit on refugees, but they'd never met in person before today.

Reached by phone shortly after the embrace with the prime minister, Tareq Hadhad told CBC News the family was "super excited" to have a chance to shake his hand.

"Today was just the day of our lives," he said. "To be called and invited to meet him individually, and have time to discuss our business and the message of Peace by Chocolate, [which is] about bringing refugees who are contributing immediately to their new community, it was an unbelievable moment for us. I am still in shock. It's a great day for me and my family.

"It was like we were friends without knowing each other."

Growing business hopes to hire locals

Hadhad said his family's story is just one of the thousands of success stories of refugees arriving in Canada. Business is booming so much that they've started a GoFundMe campaign to help them scale-up the company so they can hire more locals. 

He hopes his family's journey from the road out of Damascus to Canada inspires "our friends" in the U.S.

"Bringing refugees and showing kindness to them, it will just reflect the kindness the refugees are going to show to others in the community," he said.

"We really hope our message, and the prime minister, can actually talk about that with our friends at the United States, and that can be a positive thing to think about."  

They gave Trudeau the perfect gift — boxes of their finest maple-leaf shaped chocolates.