Speaking Notes for
Opening Remarks for CASHRA 2014 â€“
and Introduction of Mark Tewksbury
June 11, 2014
Check against delivery
Good morning! And welcome to the nation’s capital here in the traditional territory of the Algonquin people!
As current President of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA), and as Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), I wish to convey my warmest welcome to all of you attending this conference, CASHRA 2014 â€“ Accommodation Works!
CASHRA 2014 â€“ Accommodation Works! is a learning event hosted by the CHRC in conjunction with the CASHRA, and with generous support from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
We thank all our partners for their generosity. It is significant that we can assist one another in these projects, as we share so many of the same organizational goals.
I believe our mandates have a common thread â€“ we are all engaged in promoting social inclusion. In other words, the right of everyone to make their contribution to society, and to make the best lives they can possibly make for themselves and for their families, free from discrimination, free from stigma, free from barriers to equality of opportunity.
It is a vision of a Canada that, at the CHRC, we recently crystallized in a renewed vision statement: â€œAn inclusive society where everyone is valued and respected.â€
Inclusion does not mean, and excuse me for emphasizing something so clear to so many of you, inclusion does not mean forcing people to hide or deny their differences.
On the contrary, it means recognizing and celebrating their differences. Inclusion has a sibling: and that sibling is Accommodation.
In putting together this conference our staff engaged with a variety of groups â€“ employers, unions, NGO’s and professional associations â€“ in crafting a program that would embrace leading edge human rights issues of our time.
This year’s theme of Accommodation Worksâ€¦ Toward a more Inclusive Society! was chosen because, as the Prime Minister said recently, â€œour job is social inclusion.â€
Accommodation makes social inclusion possible, and its importance in today’s society grows by the hour, as we come to terms with the meaning and implications of the concept.
The meaning of accommodation is continually evolving and, as it evolves, its scope broadens to reflect contemporary values â€“ the values of today’s society.
When we talk about accommodation today, we are not solely referring to accommodation in terms of persons with physical and mental disabilities; we are including all the grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and provincial and territorial human rights codes, which include religion and family status, to name just two.
The goal of this conference over the course of the next two days is to tackle these important issues while broadening our understanding of what it means to live in a modern, inclusive society where equality of opportunity is not just words on paper, but an aspiration that can be realistically achieved, for the benefit of all.
In the spirit of our conference theme, our staff has worked diligently not only to plan the content around the subject of accommodation, but also to design a truly accommodating conference experience â€“ an accommodating conference about accommodation!
Be it the live captioning, sign language service, green space for service animals, or the over 20 volunteers tasked exclusively with offering a human touch in terms of providing an accessible environment, the design is as important as the content.
We engaged experts at every turn to ensure that this conference would be a model of accessibility.
Accommodation is not an exact science and is not always as self-evident as one would think â€“ until you’re in the other person’s shoes it’s hard to anticipate the other person’s needs.
We hope we have at least met expectations but we do know there is always room for improvement.
And that’s why we are here today. To learn from each other so we can be better at what we believe we already do well.
As part of that learning experience, this conference will see the launch of two new products developed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to help employees and employers navigate two important issues.
The first is entitled Accommodation Works!: A user-friendly guide to working together on health issues in the workplace.
To develop this product, the Commission’s Promotion Branch drew together a working group of experts from different sectors, including employers, health professionals, unions, insurance boards and government.
This group guided the Commission’s work in creating an interactive, web-based tool, designed to achieve a common understanding and a common lexicon for health issues in the workplace.
This guide helps every player in the process see the process from the other's perspective. It provides a common language and standardized guidelines to enable everyone to focus, not on the process, but on the person.
So far, it’s received great reviews. Let me share just one comment: This is from Dr. Garey Mazowita of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Dr. Mazowita was on the working group. At the time he was also the Chair of the College’s Mental Health Program Committee.
He said and I quote: "This resource will help family doctors to be able to interact with workplaces in a more standardized and evidenced-based fashion, to the ultimate benefit of their patients."
The second product is our Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations: Collaborative Approaches for a Supportive and Well-performing Workplace.
This guide was also prepared in collaboration with key stakeholder groups, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one of our partners in this conference.
It offers employers and employees practical tips on what to do when an employee’s family caregiving and work responsibilities come into conflict.
The rights of family caregivers are an issue of increasing importance, as highlighted in the 2013 Speech from the Throne and more recently in two landmark court rulings.
Louise Bradley, CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada recently said of the guide and I quote â€œThis Guide offers concrete guidance for managers to help employees meet these challenges.â€ So congratulations to our teams that worked so hard on both of these products.
As is always the case at these conferences, our legal update, tomorrow morning, hopes to be particularly insightful. This year’s update will include a panel discussion and will be followed immediately by the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who will take the time out of his busy schedule to address this conference.
I would be remiss not to mention the success of yesterday’s symposium, organized by the National Aboriginal Initiative of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in collaboration with our CASHRA colleagues, entitled, â€œFostering Reconciliation,â€ a special Symposium on implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We had the great honour of hearing from International Chief Wilton Littlechild who spoke movingly about the need for reconciliation.
Since my return from Edmonton where I was a honourary witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final National Event, I can say that I consider International Chief Littlechild’s message to be crucial to the process of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a challenge on the horizon for all people in Canada. We must all rise to meet it. The trauma of the residential schools is a burden we must all carry together, and we must all be part of the process of healing.
It’s fitting to kick off this conference with something that the Commission has made one of its main priorities over the last few years. That is the promotion and protection of the human rights of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
We will continue to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
We will continue to advance legal arguments before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in the AFN / First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada complaint. We hope to achieve equity and sufficiency in the provision of funding for child welfare services on reserve.
And we will continue to support those who are pressing to have the reality of the residential school experience become a mandatory component of school curricula across Canada, as Alberta announced it will do during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final National Event.
We do this so that every Canadian student knows their history and understands the terrible legacy of trauma we inflicted on Aboriginal peoples.
And of course we will continue to support those who push the boundaries to attain true equality of opportunity.
Because that’s what it takes to build a society that matches the aspirations of Canadians.
It takes people willing to go against the grain when necessary, and stand up for those who have no voice.
We are fortunate today to have a keynote speaker who has done just that throughout his career.
Mark Tewksbury first came to prominence as the star athlete who burst out of the water at the Barcelona Olympics; an Olympic Champion with gold, silver and bronze medals, numerous awards, and a cover appearance on TIME magazine.
While sporting achievements contributed to his early success, Mark’s remarkable life post-Olympics has truly defined him. Along with his international speaking career, Mark has hosted television shows, authored three books, and performed workshops around the world.
He has been the Master of Ceremonies for the Dalai Lama’s Canadian appearances; was invited by the Government of France to address human rights at the United Nations in New York City; and he was the Chef de Mission for the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team competing in London.
Mark sits on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Canada; is the National Ambassador for CANFAR’s Legacy Group; and is a global leader on LGBT sport issues. He is the co-founder of Great Traits, a professional development company focused on achievement, leadership, and legacy.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to introduce to you Mark Tewksbury.