MONTREAL — Several weeks ago, Danielle Létourneau, a Quebec actress, found herself in her kitchen reading on social media some disturbing reactions to the Paris terrorist attacks and the Canadian government’s decision to welcome at least 25,000 Syrian refugees over the next few months.

“I began reading comments that were paranoid and illogical, saying that they [the Syrians] were potentially terrorists coming to Canada,” she recalled. “I found it completely irrational and not worthy of Canadians. I felt like I didn’t recognize myself as a citizen.”

She began thinking about what she could do to help reverse what she saw as a dangerous backlash that could scuttle the government’s refugee settlement plans.

She came up with the unlikely idea of knitting 25,000 wool tuques – or hats – to be presented as a welcoming gift for every refugee.

“Every baby born in Quebec is given a little tuque in the hospital so that it doesn’t get cold,” she said. “They are knitted by volunteers, often in old-age homes. It’s symbolic. It represents a welcoming into the world. For the refugees, it’s like a welcome to you, to your new home. It’s like saying they have come into the world again, with us.”

The idea caught on through social media and within days Canadians had formed knitting circles to meet the target. They set up 127 depots to receive the iconic tasseled wool hats Canadians wear to protect themselves from their main enemy – the cold.


The 25,000 Tuque campaign is but a small reflection of the huge outpouring of support for Syrian refugees as they began arriving last week in Canada. While Americans debate closing their borders to Muslims and refugees, Canadians are rolling out the red carpet.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, a not-for-profit body that supports the settlement of newcomers, said its almost 500 member organizations have been swamped with calls from people willing to volunteer.

Businesses, the Canadian Labor Congress, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, small towns and large cities are all contributing clothing, furniture and financial support to help settle Canada’s most recent influx of refugees.

While a few Conservative politicians raised security concerns after the Paris terrorist attacks, these fears have not had much impact on the refugee plans. The Liberal government that took office in early November has refused to budge on its campaign promise to receive the newcomers, although it did extend the time frame in which it would receive the 25,000 refugees by two months, to the end of February.

Early Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the first planeload of refugees arriving under the plan, and another jet arrived Saturday night with more. Over the next three months, Canadian military and chartered planes will fly in the rest of the 25,000 refugees from camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

The country is opening its doors primarily to the most vulnerable of the 4.2 million refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war, officials say. These include Muslim families with children, as well as Christians and gays.

Trudeau told Parliament this past week that “resettling refugees demonstrates our commitment to Canadians and to the world. Canada understands that we can and must do more.”


Leaders of refugee organizations in Canada do not express surprise at the outpouring of help for the Syrians.

Canada, they note, has a long history of accepting refugees.

“It’s exactly what Canada is all about,” said Bernie Faber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute in Toronto, which studies refugee and immigration issues. “We are, even more than in America, a country that is built on immigration. We are all the sons and daughters of immigrants from conflicted lands, and we kind of get it.”

In Canada, the newly arriving refugees are granted landed immigrant status, the first major step toward citizenship, and will have access to free child and adult education, social welfare, health care and housing.

Thirty-six communities across Canada have signed up to accept the government-sponsored refugees and assure a smooth integration into their new communities.

In addition, Canada’s unique system allows small groups of people (these often involve religious institutions) privately to sponsor refugees. That is expected to bring in another 25,000 for settlement during 2016. These sponsors must come up with about $25,000 to finance a refugee family during its first year in Canada.

Despite Canada’s warm reception of the newcomers, refugee workers are not impressed by what the country has done so far. They’re talking about doubling the commitment.

“I think we need a little humility here, because compared to Germany, which is taking in a million refugees in 2015, we’re not doing very much,” Dench said.

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