(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)
It has been exactly one year since Canada opened its doors to the first wave of Syrian refugees.
We have now welcomed more than 35,000 Syrian newcomers through churches, charities, community organizations and government-funded resettlement groups.
During this time, we have learned that admitting the refugees was the easy part.
What happens next is far more challenging.
These newcomers must be engaged, welcomed into our communities and encouraged to join the Canadian family.
There must be a deliberate effort to ensure they learn the local languages, integrate into our economy and accept and adopt Canadian values.
We want them to become truly Canadian.
This important work of integration has too often fallen by the wayside.
The Canadian Senate released a report this week on Syrian refugee resettlement efforts. Its findings are discouraging.
During months of hearings, refugee resettlement workers emphasized the lack of planning, resources and care made available by the Trudeau government.
There were stories about poor living conditions, a failure to provide food and shelter to newcomers and unreasonable queues for language training classes.
There were also stories about Syrians who wished to return to Syria rather than being stuck in Canada.
We heard the same thing over and over again.
Our government is failing many Syrians during this pivotal moment in their transition to life in Canada.
This failure starts with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself.
His government often seems more concerned with the public relations aspect of the Syrian refugee program than proper integration.
Now, we have proof this is the case.
An access to information request, filed by the Rebel Media’s Christopher Wilson, revealed how the Trudeau government prioritized a photo opportunity ahead of the needs of refugees arriving in Canada.
Government staff were scrambling to get Syrians to sign privacy waivers to ensure they could be photographed with Trudeau and other Liberal politicians upon arrival.
“We have the forms to be signed. The ideal would be for this to happen prior to departure in Beirut (knowing that people can change their minds),” wrote a staffer in an internal email.
Rather than focusing on a genuine plan to welcome and resettle these refugees, government officials were apparently focused on making sure Trudeau got the perfect photo with the Syrian refugees.
That is shameful. We must do better.
The Senate report contained plenty of recommendations on how the government can do more to help Syrian refugees.
But not if the Trudeau government puts its political interests ahead of the interests of both Syrian newcomers and Canadians.
It is now up to individuals, families and communities to pick up where the Trudeau government has failed.
We must ensure that Canada does not follow in the footsteps of Europe, where closed and isolated Muslim communities have often created social divisions and major security threats.
The Christmas season is a perfect opportunity for Canadians to offer a helping hand.
If there are Syrians or any refugees in your community, say hello and make them feel welcome.
Invite them to your Christmas party, a holiday concert or to a community or church event.
Volunteer to work with refugees and donate to a local food bank.
Show them Canada is an open and welcoming place.
Our government may only care about refugees when news cameras are around, but it is our duty to care about them all the time.