For the rest of our lives, all of us, from across Canada and from around the world, will remember a single photograph, a photograph of a young boy, lying face-down on a beach.
The heartbreaking image of Alan Kurdi, who was only 3 years old when he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last September, is seared forever in our hearts and in our minds.
He and his family were fleeing terror.
They were desperate, risking everything, searching for what all of us here have and for what we sometimes take for granted – peace and freedom.
That now iconic photograph was broadcast around the world on Wednesday, September 2nd and it sparked an awakening, a collective awakening.
The very next day, Toronto Mayor, John Tory issued a challenge to the Mayors of Canada’s largest cities, to all communities across Canada, to all Canadians - he challenged us to act.
Londoners accepted that challenge without hesitation and without question. That’s what I love about our community.
There is a willingness to accept a challenge and to tap into our networks to ignite change – significant, meaningful change.
After Mayor Tory’s challenge, a group of Faith and Community-based organizations here in London came together with Libro Credit Union to raise awareness and to raise funds to support privately sponsored families to come to London.
We heard from so many Londoners who wanted to do something, Londoners who wanted to make a difference. Over the past 3-1/2 months, more than $400,000 has been raised.
To you who have come forward in this time of need: I can’t thank you enough for your generosity and for your willingness to act.
What we are facing today is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.
During the past 4 years, 12 million people have fled their homes. 1/3 of these people are children.
There are currently more than 4 million Syrian refugees, most of them living in camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
The Canadian Government has made a significant commitment. Canada has committed to welcoming 25,000 Syrian Refugees by the end of February.
I never thought I could be more proud to be Canadian – until now.
Last week Valy Marochko and I travelled together to Ottawa to attend a meeting hosted by the Governor General, His Excellency, David Johnston.
We met with 100 community and business leaders as well as mayors from across Canada.
Our focus was how we, as a nation, can accomplish this critical task.
The fact that the meeting was hosted by the Governor General and that it took place in Rideau Hall was meaningful. Rideau Hall has is Canada’s House.
It is the place where the Governor General welcomes Prime Ministers, Crown Ministers, Loyal Opposition leaders and visiting heads of state.
The choice of venue demonstrates that this response is not simply a Federal Government initiative, or even a multi-level government initiative.
It demonstrates that this is a non-partisan, nation-wide response. It demonstrates that all of us, as individuals and as members of the business, not-for-profit and government sectors must come together to make this happen.
I left Ottawa to return home to London, feeling truly inspired. I was convinced, more than ever before, that this is the right thing to do. I was convinced that this is the Canadian thing to do.
Faced with the worst migration crisis since World War 2, the only way we can accomplish this goal is by pulling together as a community.
I have no doubt that London and Cities from right across this great country will do whatever it takes.
Before the end of the 2015, we will welcome 10,000 refugees to Canada - 4,000 of them destined for Ontario. 25,000 refugees are expected to arrive on our shores by the end of February including a total of 10,000 here in Ontario.
London is one of Canada’s largest Cities and as such, we will play a significant role.
Our most up-to-date information indicates that we will welcome approximately 200 newcomers to our community by the end of this month. And there will be even more in the months to come.
Our first challenge will be how to deal with the initial short-term surge of arrivals over the next 2-1/2 months. Our next challenge will be how to support them as they become acclimatized to their new home.
The message from the Governor General and from Minister McCallum was clear. Canadians have the expertise and the ability to make this happen.
Canadians have been doing this for decades.
To put this into perspective, Canada, in 1980, had a population of 24 million people. In 1980, at roughly 2/3 of our present-day population, we welcomed 60,000 Vietnamese refugees to our land.
We can do this.
To be successful, we need to strengthen the infrastructure that is already in place.
That’s why we’re here today. We need a co-ordinated, community-wide response.
The CCLC and other agencies that will be providing settlement services to the families arriving in London need our help.
Make no mistake: this is going to be a lot of work. But the key message I want to leave with you today is that London is a caring and compassionate city.
We have come together and we are going to do everything we possibly can to welcome and support these new Canadians, these new Londoners, our new neighbours and friends to our community.
In the words of Minister McCallum: “We must ensure this is done quickly; it is done right; it is done well; and that we do it together.”