Thank you very much Nick Noorani for being our master of ceremonies for tonight’s sixth annual Paul Yuzyk awards for excellence in the promotion of multiculturalism. Earlier today, I had a news conference with Nick, who is one of the most effective advocates for immigrants and their successful integration, to announce that he is chairing a special expert panel that I’ve appointed to advise the government on how we can better assist newcomers in getting their credentials recognized, their qualifications recognized so they can get to work and realize their potential. Nick, thank you for your service to Canada.
Friends before I go further I thought it might be appropriate if first we began by recognizing the brave Canadians whose lives were so brutally taken earlier this week, particularly Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent de St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Could I please invite you to rise as we observe a minute of silence in their memory and in memory of all our fallen?
(Minute of silence)
Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them. Amen. Thank you all. You understand that for people like myself and Minister Wong and our friend Wai Young, Senator Martin, our public service has perhaps a slightly different meaning for us in the last few days and our patriotism has been deepened. Our love for this country has been strengthened as we Canadians demonstrate our strength of spirit in the face of violence that would seek to tear us apart.
We all rededicate ourselves to responding to those who disrupt our way of life, of peace and the rule of law. We rededicate ourselves to building a society based on peace and the rule of law, a society characterized by peaceful non-violent conflict resolution, a society based on respect for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, a tradition of ordered liberty that goes back centuries.
That’s really what brings us together here tonight friends. It’s our tradition of freedom found at the heart of our parliamentary institutions, of our constitutional monarchy, and of our tradition of rule of law, all of which is reflected in part in the value of Canada’s multiculturalism.
All of these traditions of the rule of law through Parliamentary institutions, our constitutional monarchy and our devotion to a tradition of ordered liberty in many ways all of these founding values of Canada come together in what we call multiculturalism and others call pluralism. The idea behind it is simply this, that every human person has an inviolable dignity, and part of living that dignity is giving people the freedom to express their conscience, their faith, their most deeply held convictions.
One manifestation of those convictions is people`s cultural sensibility and how they define themselves and who they are, where they came from. That is why this country has always in one way or another invited people to celebrate what is best about their backgrounds, to maintain fidelity to what is best about their faith while at the same time being fully Canadian, fully integrated and fully respecting their neighbours of all backgrounds.
That’s why we have this award for excellence in the promotion of multiculturalism. It’s a value that is enshrined in statute and in our constitution and it is a value that we give practical expression to every single day. You know, multiculturalism itself isn’t an idea that Canada invented in 1982 with the Charter of Rights or in 1988 with the Multiculturalism Act. It’s something that really goes deeply into our DNA as a people, into our political culture.
In 1759 when the British conquered New France, la Nouvelle France, they made a remarkably enlightened decision. They invited the French Canadians to maintain their language, religion, legal system, traditions, customs, institutions of civil society. They did not seek to conquer that people but rather they sought a system of loyalty under one crown where many different peoples could live in different ways.
While of course there have been many tragic and unjust moments in the history of Canada’s aboriginal peoples it’s also true that compared to the treatment of aboriginal peoples in many parts of the world that Canada had at many times a peaceful attitude of respect for the wisdom of our aboriginal and First Nations. That has been part of our history all the way through.
A great Canadian historian, Desmond Morton, professor at McGill University once wrote that “Canada has been made up of the losers of history.” It sounds a little bit harsh, but just think about that for a second. The First Nations, arguably losers of history, the French Canadians in 1759, from their perspective, losers of history.
The people who founded English Canada, Upper Canada and much of Atlantic Canada were United Empire Loyalists who lost the American Revolutionary War. They came with the original black Loyalists who were fleeing slavery, losers of history. They were followed by the escaped slaves who came following the north star to Canada, the land of freedom. They won in coming to Canada but they arrived here as slaves.
Think about the wave after wave of migrants who came, the Jews who escaped pogroms and the anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe who arrived with nothing but a tradition of education and deep faith and an amazing work ethic before the war. Think of the Jews who came after the war as holocaust survivors.
Think of Ukrainians who arrived following the Holodomor famine genocide of 1932 or the Czech refugees who came following the Soviet Invasion of Prague in 1968, the Hungarians who came including the entire forestry faculty of the University of Budapest that was airlifted to Vancouver in 1956 following the Soviet invasion.
Think of the Vietnamese, Indochinese boat people who came here in 1979 and 1980, some 60,000 of them, wave after wave of people. Think of the Highland Scots who founded Cape Breton and my own ancestors, the Irish potato famine émigrés.
The reason I tell this story, the reason I look at this perspective on Canadian history is not to indulge in some kind of black armband victimology, to the contrary. The point is that all of these people came from backgrounds of adversity but came to this land with a sense of hope and new beginning.
The reason this country works, the reason this Canada is considered a model and a sign of hope to the world is because we attract people from every corner of the world, every faith and ethnic and religious background. We attract people because they want to build something new together.
While they respect their past, their traditions, they respect the wisdom of their ancestors, in most cases they want to maintain a fidelity to the faith of their families and their ancestors, they also want to build something new and they do not want to be burdened by the negative baggage of their own histories.
That’s the story of Canada, not one of victimology but a story of people who have gone through adversity, who have overcome it, who have persevered and who have built one of the most magnificent and generous societies in the world.
That is why I am so honoured now for seven years to have served as your Minister for Multiculturalism. That is why I am so delighted that Canada is regarded as the world model of pluralism. That is why the Aga Khan His Highness has made Canada the home of his World Centre for Pluralism in collaboration with our government to share particularly the Canadian model of unity in diversity with the rest of the world.
By the way, speaking of one of those immigrants that founded English Canada, the United Empire Loyalists who launched the American Revolutionary War, you know what their motto was in coming here? Unity in diversity and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about creating ghettos or ethnic enclaves. It’s not about recreating little versions of people’s home cultures.
It’s about maintaining a positive pride and respect for tradition and the wisdom of our ancestors, our freedom of faith and conscience while sharing those things with everyone else and being fully Canadian grounded in our democratic values. That’s why as Minister for Multiculturalism I thought it was important for us to go deep into the roots of what our multiculturalism is, how it was founded and what it means.
Sometimes, I think there is a superficial and facile discourse about multiculturalism. Sometimes, I hear politicians just talk about diversity as an end in itself and that diversity is our greatest strength. Let me offer a caveat to that view. I don’t think diversity in itself is a strength. I think it only works if there is unity in our diversity. That is what we mean by our multiculturalism.
That is why we established this award in 2009 to recognize those special Canadians who have gone above and beyond any normal sense of civic duty to give practical expression to this Canadian value. This is why we named it in honour of Paul Yuzyk, a man who is little known but who is really truly the father of Canadian multiculturalism.
In 1965 the then federal government appointed a Royal Commission on “bilingualism and biculturalism.”
Paul Yuzyk was the son of Ukrainian farmer immigrants who were settled in the prairies, came here with absolutely nothing to the bald prairies, the newest part of the new world and carved out a livelihood from sometimes inhospitable land in a tough climate.
Those were rugged people. Those were true Canadians. Paul Yuzyk went on like so many immigrant children undoubtedly every day he came home from the one room schoolhouse in the prairies and his parents like immigrant parents always do were demanding to know how he did at school that day and making sure he completed his homework, parents who probably didn’t read or write English making sure that he mastered his. Does that sound familiar? So many families.
He went on to become a PhD at the University of Manitoba, a distinguished scholar and a voice for respect for all of the different diverse cultural communities in Canada which is why the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker appointed him to the Senate in 1962. In 1965 when Prime Minister Pearson created the bilingualism and biculturalism commission Senator Paul Yuzyk stood up and gave a famous speech in the Canadian Senate where he said that biculturalism was an inadequate way of describing Canada.
He said that he had respect for what he called the two founding nations of Canada, the French and the British and of course the First Nations who went before them. He said he had profound respect for the institutions they created and the two official languages of Canada. He said however when it comes to culture we must recognized that there is a third force in Canadian society that traces its origins neither to the British nor French patrimony.
All of those Canadians who make up the third force including his Ukrainian parents deserve full encouragement and recognition as equal members of Canadian society. He said therefore instead of characterizing Canada as a bicultural society, we ought to characterize it as a multicultural society. That was the first time that word was ever cited, ever stated in our Parliament of Canada.
It was then declared as a policy in the 1970’s and enshrined in the constitution and under my predecessor Gerry Weiner became an act of Parliament. So the reason we named this award after Paul Yuzyk was to remember his founding vision. His idea of multiculturalism was not cultural relativism. It was not that every cultural practice or every cultural value has equal standing in Canada. He would be aghast at that notion, that treating women like property rather than people is somehow justifiable in Canada simply because someone calls it a cultural value or cultural practice.
He would have been aghast at the notion that some people believe violence can be justified in our free society by religious conviction. He would have said and he did say that our multiculturalism is predicated on our founding democratic values and the rule of law. Paul Yuzyk really points us in the right direction as we ask some of the questions following the events of earlier this week.
We instituted this prize in 2009 which invites nominations from across the country. We typically receive hundreds of nominations. We have an expert advisory committee that winnows it down to three recommended finalists and ultimately the Minister makes the final selection trying to ensure that we have an appropriate range of diversity over the life of the award and across the country geographically, linguistically and in every respect.
The winner of the award is invited to designate a $20,000 gift on behalf of the government of Canada to a charity of her or his choice. I am pleased to announce that we have made a change in the program starting in 2015. For next year’s round of nominations we will create two new additional categories, one for youth and a separate category for organizations. This means that in 2015 we will present the Paul Yuzyk Award to three recipients in each of these categories.
Why not spread the love a little bit more to an individual in the lifetime outstanding achievement category, an award to an outstanding youth under the age of 25 and a third award to an outstanding organization. Get your nominations ready for next year.
With the addition of these two new categories we will be able to recognize even more outstanding Canadians for their great work to help foster unity in diversity in our country. That was announcement one.
Announcement two, I am very pleased to announce and present the Paul Yuzyk Award for 2014 to my friend, to one of the most remarkable exemplars of the values of Paul Yuzyk, the values of multiculturalism, the values of Canada, Tatay Tom Avendano.
You all know that Tom arrived in Canada in 1982 from Philippines and in 2001 was one of the key founders of the Multicultural Helping House Society.
MHHS has since then distinguished itself as one of the most dynamic settlement organizations in Canada. There’s many great ones especially here in Vancouver. We have Charan (Gill), who founded PICS and of course we have S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and Mosaic.
I’ve got to tell you, I’m going off my script to say you guys have got it right here in British Columbia. You’ve got it right. Back in Toronto, all the different ethnic communities start their own little wee tiny organizations and they never reach out and there’s a lot of redundancy and overlap. Here you created these organizations. They started out of South Asian or Filipino, Chinese community but they knew they had to be there for everyone. That’s the multicultural idea.
That was Tom’s vision and he built bridges with everyone. Tom, I was joking with some of the ladies here on the board. They do all the work, he takes all the credit, right Tatay? He’s got an amazing team of volunteers, of donors and I know the Government of Canada has been delighted to be a big supporter of the excellent work of Multicultural Helping House. Tom has been richly recognized for his leadership by example, his generosity of spirit in being a real living exemplar of multiculturalism.
He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and he was invited to Rideau Hall, to Government House by the Governor General to receive the award from His Excellency and the Prime Minister, one of only 60 people in this country to have received that honour.
He is still young at 85 years of age. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Just last year for example MHHS opened its new service office in Manila, reaching out across the ocean.
Tom continues to be a tremendous … this is one of the things I love about Tom’s vision and Multicultural Helping House is the promotion of what they call civic engagement, what I call civic literacy. Basically it just means making sure our new Canadians understand their rights and responsibilities and that it’s not good enough just to take the benefit from Canada. You’ve also got to give back.
That is what Tatay teaches to all of the newcomers. Tom, it is my great honour and privilege on behalf of the government of Canada, on behalf of the Canadian people to say thank you for your excellence, thank you for your perseverance, thank you for all of those nights when you’re sitting there wondering how are you going to pay for the rent next month.
For all of those times you went out to the churches and recruited volunteers, for all of the newcomers who perhaps you had to comfort as they were in tears missing their families, perhaps unemployed, uncertain of their futures, thank you Tom for being multiculturalism in a very real and living way. God bless you. God bless Canada.