'My home by choice': Syrian refugee chocolatier becomes Canadian citizen
Published Wednesday, January 15, 2020 9:01AM EST Last Updated Wednesday, January 15, 2020 10:46AM EST
TORONTO -- Sporting a Canadian-flag tie and socks, a Syrian refugee who has become a well-known Nova Scotia chocolatier officially received Canadian citizenship Wednesday.
Tareq Hadhad came to Canada five years ago after bombs destroyed his chocolate factory. He has since built Peace by Chocolate from scratch in Nova Scotia. On the morning of Jan. 15, he became a citizen along with dozens of others at a ceremony in Halifax.
Hadhad, who passed the citizenship test in December with a perfect score, shared his excitement on CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. His family is expected to receive their citizenship this year too.
“I’m so proud to be part of this sweet and nice nation,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for me to express my gratitude to the nation from coast to coast to coast for hosting me after losing our sense of identity and losing our life back home in Syria.”
The Hadhads had shipped “specialty treats” across the Middle East for more than two decades, but were then forced to live in a refugee camp in Lebanon for three years after bombing destroyed much of Damascus, including the family chocolate factory. Their story has become emblematic of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refugee resettlement efforts, with the PM sharing the Hadhad story at a United Nations speech in 2016.
Peace by Chocolate ships treats globally and employs Canadian newcomers and locals in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A percentage of proceeds go to “peace-building projects” around the world and in Canada. In 2016, the Hadhads donated some profits to relief efforts after Fort McMurray wildfires.
Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee who with his family operate a successful NS chocolate company becomes a Canadian citizen after four years. 49 people from 14 countries joined him. @CTVNews pic.twitter.com/dL9umuGTAp— Todd Battis (@battisctv) January 15, 2020
Hadhad told CTV News Channel late Wednesday that he and his family were prepared for some growing pains when it came to once again getting into the chocolate industry.
“When I arrived in Nova Scotia, I had no idea what life was bringing to me,” he said. “We thought it would take us 15 years until we might come back to the business that we love and sharing the happiness that chocolate is all about, but really it took us only a few weeks until we started again in our home kitchen.”
On CTV’s Your Morning, Hadhad shared a message for other newcomers and those who have contested Trudeau’s refugee resettlement surge.
“This is the second-largest country in the world and there is a place for everyone. We are human beings -- we have legs. We are not trees -- we don’t have roots. We can move and find and build our own opportunity,” he said.
“We did not come to Canada to take jobs. We did not come to Canada to take from anyone. We came here to contribute and give back to this amazing country that has really given us a lot.”
He hopes that Peace by Chocolate will become one of the country’s top five chocolate companies within the next five years by spreading messages of peace, love and inclusion in every season. For the Valentine’s Day period next month, the Hadhads interviewed senior citizens who have been together for more than 25 years for “unsolicited love advice” to brand the chocolates. They have also produced bars with LGBT Pride flag wrapping, a “Welcome Bar” to benefit The Refugee Hub charity, and First Nations-inspired bars to benefit Indigenous issues.
Hadhad said he had thousands of requests from Canadians who wanted to join him at the citizenship ceremony on Wednesday morning at Pier 21 in Halifax. He wasn't sure if there was enough space for that many fans.
“There’s enough room in my heart for all Canadians for sure,” he said. “I thank and I’m so grateful for everyone who supported me along this journey.”
To celebrate, Hadhad plans to use a toonie to buy a double-double from Tim Hortons.
“Syria is my home by birth,” he added, “but Canada is my home by choice.”
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins