Canadians are enormously proud of the diverse, inclusive and generous character of our country, especially as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Internationally, Canada is often applauded as the finest expression of pluralism the world has ever known.
That idea of openness, equality among peoples and fairness for all was part of the motivation behind the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. It in turn paved the way for our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Over the past 35 years, an overwhelming majority of Canadians have consistently identified the Charter as a fundamental part of what defines us.
Waves of enriching immigration, both historic and current, from every corner of the globe, account for 95% of our population. Multiculturalism is embedded in our Constitution. Provinces such as my own in Saskatchewan have long embraced inspiring mottos like “…from many peoples, strength!”
Queen Elizabeth once noted that Canadian citizens are not asked to deny their forebears or forsake their inheritance, but only that each of us should value and respect the cultural freedom of others, just as we enjoy our own. Justin Trudeau has often made the point that Canada is strong not in spite of our diversity, but precisely because of it. Even sports organizations like the CFL have embraced that notion in their league branding.
But we dare not take all this for granted. Safeguarding that inclusive heritage demands constant vigilance and hard work. And we’re far from spotless.
History records some tragic failures. Think of the internment of Ukrainian Canadians in World War One, and Japanese Canadians in World War Two. Think of the Chinese head tax, the South Asians turned away on the Komagata Maru, and the Jews turned away on the MS St. Louis.
Think of the 1929 provincial election in Saskatchewan which installed an intolerant right-wing government with the perverse populist support of the Ku Klux Klan.
Think of the racism inherent in Indian Residential Schools and more than a hundred years without reconciliation. Think of the white supremacist graffiti, vandalism and violence directed recently against minorities. Think of those right-wing social media trolls who spew xenophobic rants against newcomers and refugees. Think of six innocent Canadian citizens shot dead last January for the sole reason that they were at prayer in a Mosque.
Not spotless, indeed. We can never be complacent or careless about the nature of our country. Canadians need to work hard all the time to build and preserve the fair and decent place that we aspire to be.
That doesn’t mean we’re at all naive about national security. Our police, security, intelligence and border agencies must have the powers and resources necessary to keep Canadians safe, and an unambiguous legal and constitutional framework within which to operate effectively. We also need the clear-eyed recognition that terrorist threats do not emanate exclusively from savage outfits like Daesh, Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but also from hateful right-wing extremists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Hand-in-hand with public safety, our security framework must ensure the scrutiny, transparency and accountability required to vigorously safeguard the rights and freedoms of Canadians and our open, inclusive, democratic way of life.
Most importantly, it is incumbent on each one of us, in the way we live our lives and treat others, to practice the principles which have, in fact, shaped Canada as a global example of successful pluralism.
A sense of fairness and justice. A spirit of generosity. Compassion. Caring and sharing. Open hearts and open minds. Respect. Inclusion. Pride in our vast diversity.
We need to make room for one another. To reach out. To listen to each other. To bridge differences. To try very hard to understand one another, and be willing to act with and for each other together.
Not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to.
More than anything else—Canada is a triumph of the human spirit, built and held together not so much by the force of arms or the force of laws, but by our common will. And that kind of nation-building—the Canadian way—is a never-ending process.
Canada is now, and always will be, a precious work-in-progress, deserving the very best that each one of us has to offer. Together.