LONDON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attempted to make a virtue of the hottest domestic issue on his plate Wednesday, using the international stage to pitch the Liberal government's Syrian refugee settlement plan as a shining global example.
"We have a responsibility — to ourselves and to the world — to show that inclusive diversity is a strength and a force that can vanquish intolerance, radicalism and hate," Trudeau said in a speech to a well-heeled crowd at Canada House in central London.
Trudeau's politically charged appeal plumbed many of the themes of the October election that vaulted his Liberals to power and it came a day after his government revealed a revised timeline for accepting some 25,000 refugees fleeing civil war and Islamic terrorism in Syria.
Justin Trudeau shake hands with Queen Elizabeth II during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 25, 2015 in London, England. (Photo: Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Rather than rush in all 25,000 by year end — as the Liberals promised during the election — the new plan calls for refugees to be identified and brought to Canada over the next three months.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Trudeau said the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago raised public fears but he insisted security was "always at the heart" of the government's thoughts as it put together the settlement program.
Not only is security a primary government responsibility, said Trudeau, "we were aware that people were going to raise security as a reason not to welcome refugees at all."
"Getting this done right has always been what we are focused on."
The message provided a sobering counterpoint to his morning audience with the Queen, where Trudeau presented his two youngest children Ella-Grace and Hadrien just as his own prime minister father, Pierre, had once introduced a young Justin to the monarch.
The Queen greeted Trudeau with recognition, saying it was nice to see him again, "but under different circumstances."
"I will say, you were much taller than me the last time we met," Trudeau replied, prompting a laugh from the 89-year-old monarch.
"Well, this is extraordinary to think of, isn't it?" she said.
The Buckingham Palace visit leavened what is proving to be another heavy week of international diplomacy for the freshly minted Canadian leader.
With the Syrian refugee file on the boil, events in the Middle East continue to spiral following the downing of a Russian fighter jet this week by Turkish forces.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. (Photo: Justin Tallis/Pool via AP)
The British parliament votes Thursday on extending its aerial bombing campaign into Syria, while Trudeau campaigned on a promise to end the bombing runs of Canada's CF-18s.
Trudeau's sweeping speech to a crowd that included Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, a number of captains of industry and members of the House of Lords, attempted to wrap all his government's themes under a single banner: Diversity.
He argued that a thriving middle class is the key to making Canada's diversity work.
"Economic disaster manifests itself in many ways," said Trudeau. "Fear and mistrust of others who are different is one of the most common, dangerous expressions."
He said Canada faces a constant debate between those "who would have us retrench, close ranks, build walls" and those who recognize that the country's strength lies in its multicultural, polyglot nature.
Trudeau also attempted to smooth the waters between Russia and Turkey, stating it's still not "entirely clear" what transpired in the airspace over the Turkish and Syrian borders.
"You were much taller than me the last time we met." — Trudeau to Queen Elizabeth
"I certainly don't think that it's helpful to start off by me choosing to point fingers to one side or another," Trudeau said before heading to 10 Downing Street for an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron.
As he sat down with the Conservative U.K. leader, Trudeau noted they'd be discussing the "very real security concerns that we're all faced with around the world and at home."
Trudeau is on his second whirlwind tour on the international summit circuit in as many weeks.
He leaves the United Kingdom on Thursday for Valetta, Malta, where the 54-country Commonwealth is holding its leaders' summit.
He said he's been encouraged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama to push some of the Commonwealth members to step up their ambition on fighting climate change.Also On HuffPost:
In 2011, internal conflict erupted in Syria that would later escalate into a full-blown civil war that rages on to this day, now complicated by the arrival of Islamic militants from neighbouring Iraq. Since the start, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on countries to help resettle some of the most vulnerable Syrians who can never return home, a call that grew louder as the crisis has escalated. Here's a look at how Canada responded over time. (Information by The Canadian Press) Syrians hold a large poster depicting Syria's President Bashar Assad during a rally in Damascus, Syria in 2011.
- Canada closes its embassy in Damascus, a move that would come to have major repercussions for refugee resettlement out of the Middle East as that visa post was handling the majority of the files for refugees from other countries who had sought temporary safety in Syria. Those files were then transferred to nearby countries, leaving visa officers scrambling to handle them and the start of a surge in Syrian refugee applications. - By the end of 2012, the UNHCR had registered close to half a million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. - Syrian Canadians call on Canada to do more to support the refugees, including speeding up family reunification programs and opening the doors to more refugees, but the government said without an official request from the UN for resettlement, it would not act. Syrian refugee girls wash their clothes at a camp in Idlib, Syria, in October of 2015.
The number of people registered as refugees from Syria or being assisted by the UN hits one million. A Syrian refugee boy at a camp in Turkey in October 2015.
The UN makes its first formal request to member countries to assist in refugee resettlement, asking for 30,000 spaces by the end of 2014. Syrian Kurdish refugees walk in the United Nations Refugee Agency refugee camp in Suruc, Sanliurfa province, in January 2015.
The Harper Conservatives promise to admit 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, with the majority sponsored by private groups. The 200 spots available to government-assisted refugees are not new refugee spaces — the Conservatives choose to allocate the 200 they set aside each year for the Syrian program. Stephen Harper speaks in the House of Commons.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits a refugee camp in Jordan, one of the main host countries for Syrians. He announces $150 million in humanitarian aid; over the course of the conflict Canada has been one of the lead financial donors for relief efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. By this point, some $630 million has been committed. Stephen Harper and wife Laureen Harper visit Za'atri Refugee Camp in Jordan in January 2014.
The UN High Commissioner makes a new request: an additional 100,000 places for Syrian refugees by 2016. Canada says it is reviewing its options. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland in October 2015.
Conservative Immigration Minister Chris Alexander admits that fewer than 200 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since the July 2013 promise, saying the UNHCR was slow passing on referrals. Chris Alexander speaks in the House of Commons.
By the end of the month, just over 1,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, meaning the government missed its deadline. A Syrian Kurdish refugee walks in a UNHCR refugee camp in Suruc in January 2015.
The Conservative government commits to allowing 10,000 more Syrian refugees in by 2018, most through the private sponsorship program. The focus is to be on religious minorities. Syrian refugee girls sit at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 'Child Friendly Spaces' in the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Jordanian border with Syria in 2014.
The government finally meets its July 2013 promise to resettle 1,300 people, achieving it by increasing the number of government-assisted refugees. Stephen Harper gives the thumbs up during a photo opportunity.
The Conservatives order an audit of the government-assisted refugees coming out of Syria, citing security concerns. The review identifies no problems but delays the processing of those files for several weeks. Chris Alexander speaks at a press conference in Toronto in September, 2015.
The Conservatives pledge that if re-elected, they will allow a further 10,000 Syrians in over the next four years, continuing a focus on those being persecuted because of religion. Stephen Harper takes questions from the media on the campaign trail.
- Three-year-old Alan Kurdi dies during his family's escape from Syria. The photograph of his body on a Turkish beach and word his family had considered Canada as an eventual destination sees Canada's refugee response become a dominant issue in the election campaign. - The Conservatives increase available resources for the processing of refugee applications, promise to speed up resettlement of the 10,000 originally promised places and announce they'll match donations for Syrian relief. - The Liberals say they'll bring over 25,000 government-assisted refugees as soon as possible and encourage the private sector to take in more. They later promise to bring them in by the end of the year. A handout photo courtesy of Tima Kurdi shows a photo of her three-year-old nephew Alan Kurdi.
The Liberals win a majority government and say they remain committed to refugee resettlement. Justin Trudeau waves to the crowd as they arrive to Liberal election headquarters in Montreal.
The Liberal government announces its plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians. Immigration Minister John McCallum holds a news conference with Health Minister Jane Philpott and Defence Minister Harijit Singh Sajjan.