Canadian leaders welcomed the country's first planeload of Syrian refugees when 163 Syrians arrived near midnight Thursday in Toronto via a Canadian military plane. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the ministers of immigration, health and defense, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory all were on-hand at the airport to greet the group.
"We define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams, that not just Canadians, but people around the world share," Trudeau said.
Canadian government officials had asked the general public not to come to the airport, but that did not stop some well-wishers, reported VOA News. A handful of people gathered at the international arrivals gate at Pearson airport bearing signs and gifts.
Trudeau said, "This is a wonderful night. We get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations."
The first Syrian family, a couple with a 16-month-old daughter and the second, a young family of five, said they were pleased to have made it to Canada, CBC news reported.
Canada's commitment comes after a change in government after October's election. Formerly Conservative government officials had declined to resettle more Syrian refugees, despite when a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach. The boy had relatives in Canada, according to reports, and the refugee crisis became a major campaign issue during the fall.
All 10 of Canada's provincial premiers support taking in the refugees and members of the opposition, including the Conservative party, attended the welcoming late Thursday.
Approximately 800 refugees destined for Canada are being screened by security and health officers each day in Lebanon and Jordan.
"They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians," Trudeau said in an Associated Press article.