After months of promises and weeks of preparation, the first Canadian government planeload of Syrian refugees has landed in Toronto.
Those aboard a military aircraft were met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau was elected to a surprise majority in October promising to accept more refugees more quickly than the previous Conservative government.
“This is a wonderful night, where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations,” Trudeau told airport workers and volunteers standing by to meet the refugees.
Trudeau’s Liberal government scaled back the number of Syrian migrants it will accept by year end after the attacks in Paris sparked concern that the election promise to bring in 25,000 by December 31 would not allow enough time for security checks.
The plane carrying 163 Syrian refugees touched down in Toronto just before midnight on Thursday and will be followed by a second military airlift to Montreal on Saturday.
Trudeau has said 10,000 will be resettled by the end of the year and a further 15,000 by the end of February.
Privately sponsored Syrian refugees were also arriving on commercial flights at Toronto’s main terminal, greeted by sponsors and ordinary Canadians who had come to the airport to welcome the much-anticipated newcomers.
Toronto’s airport authority urged Canadians not to come to the airport to greet the refugees or drop off donations, saying: “We’re so proud that our community wants to help, but such a response would be very overwhelming for those arriving.”
The request did not deter Shai Reef, 20, who held up a sign that read: “Welcome to Canada” in Arabic.
“I’m here to show my solidarity for and support of the Syrian people going through genocide in Syria,” Reef said. “As Jews, we were also locked out, I know what it feels like.”
Toronto’s mayor tweeted a welcome, while the Toronto Star, the country’s largest newspaper, covered its front page with a “Welcome to Canada” banner headline in English and Arabic, along with an article explaining Canadian weather, ice hockey and slang.