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5 notable exchanges between Justin Trudeau and Syrian newcomers

A round table discussion occupied by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, several Syrian newcomers and sponsors provides a snapshot of the year-long Syrian refugee resettlement, its impact and its shortcomings as identified by those most deeply connected to it.
Syrian newcomers were concerned about the relatives they had to leave behind and sponsors were fed up with a lack of communication from the government. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A round table discussion occupied by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, several Syrian newcomers and sponsors provides a snapshot of the year-long Syrian refugee resettlement, its impact and its shortcomings as identified by those most deeply connected to it.

Metro Morning arranged for five Syrian newcomers and two sponsors to sit face-to-face with Trudeau to discuss an issue they experienced over the last year.

Here are five notable exchanges:

More Canadians should engage in politics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encourages new Canadians to align with political parties that share their values and views. 0:43

Matt Galloway: There are people who believe and understand that there is a benefit from people arriving here. There are others who, as you know, are suspicious when someone like a candidate for the Conservative leadership says we need to be screening for anti-Canadian values. What's your reaction to that?

Justin Trudeau: The other two political parties have leadership races on right now. I'd like to see more Canadians of diverse backgrounds engaging with parties that line up with their convictions and ideologies to make sure that no party gets to run against Muslim Canadians or any other group of Canadians and demonize them.

I think the way we do that is by getting involved in the whole breadth of the political spectrum in Canada. I mean I'm happy when people decide that they are more aligned with me and my party but they should also think about being active and aligned with the parties that disagree with me on certain issues.

Is 12 months adequate support for newcomers?

Metro Morning host Matt Galloway asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if 12 months of federal financial support is enough for Syrian newcomers. 0:45

Matt Galloway: Is 12 months enough, in terms of the [federal] support?

Justin Trudeau: Well, in a number of cases, it's more than enough. There's a lot of people who manage to get off it before the 12 months and actually manage or find at least a part-time job that they can supplement with that. 

But at the same time, I mean, the goal is to provide the support to them to be able to integrate. And that's where, yes, on the 13th month, they switch to provincial social assistance programs. But the language programs, the job search programs, the support programs, the community organization programs that are around them continue as long as they need them.

The relatives newcomers had to leave behind

New Canadian Nasim Misrabi explains to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the only missing piece for him living in Canada is being here without his family, who he left behind in Syria, Turkey and Germany. 4:39

Matt Galloway: Nasim, who did you leave behind to come to Canada?

Nasim Misrabi: I left my family actually in separate. My father in Damascus, my mother in Turkey, my brother in Germany. I was in Turkey. My question, Mr. Prime Minister, is I left my family there and I came alone here. And actually, I had a lot of challenges when I arrived here but now I'm working and I can now sponsor my families.

My question is, is there any plan like to kind of sponsor them as a government-assisted [refugee] or what is your plan for the families of the refugees who came to here?

Justin Trudeau: Well, as you said, there is a program whereby when you come here, you can then sponsor family members back home to come over and they go through the process. And obviously, what reinforces that is we were generous in our first year, you know, to a great degree.

We will continue to bring over families. We will continue to look at other parts of the world where people need to come over. But at the same time, as we see there are challenges in helping the people who are already here.

We will be bringing more over and certainly, I hope you're able to bring your family over as well. But we're always having to balance it.

And part of this that we don't talk about all that much, was, you know, Canada doing this as a way of pointing out to other countries around the world with equal or greater capacity to welcome in refugees that this is a net benefit to our country that they should be wanting to do what we're doing; that we should be bringing over more people as as a way to solve for the real challenges.

Will insufficient communication 'dishearten' sponsors?

Justin Trudeau describes the balance to keep sponsors well informed and ensure the secure integration of new Canadians. 0:47

Justin Trudeau: We need to make sure that, yes, we don't dishearten Canadians who have gone through difficult situations, waiting for months, not getting enough communications, dealing with very onerous, in some cases, paperwork.

While at the same time, we're reassuring Canadians that on the level of security, on integration, on all those sorts of things, we have the parameters in place to be able to say — and not just to Canadians so much — but to our neighbours to the south, 'No, there's no increased risk,' because we've brought over all these wonderful new people, which we know.

But we do have to demonstrate that there isn't a choice between speed and security; that we're doing them both robustly and deeply at the same time.

How word choices matter

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes the reaction people have to him when he refers to refugees as new Canadians. 0:38

Justin Trudeau: I'm constantly amazed when I talk with people in the international stage and I refer to immigrants or refugees as new Canadians. We don't even think about that. It's just what you are: you're new Canadians.

That language, people are like, 'What a nice way of putting it.' I mean they remark on that saying, 'That's incredibly generous of you to think of immigrants and foreigners as new Canadians' and the like. But that's what they are and you can see a little disconnect in the way we're lucky enough to have grown to think about it. And the work still to be done elsewhere.

Excerpts edited for length and clarity.