December 19, 2016 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission
The Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Marie-Claude Landry, issues the following statement:
Is Canada all talk when it comes to inclusion? Could we fall prey to the wave of intolerance washing over the western world?
In a year where Canadians had to respond to dramatic and sometimes troubling shifts in the world around us, we are all searching for answers. We have seen how human rights are fragile and tested every day around the world.
Many would suggest that when it comes to human rights, Canada is the envy of the world – that we are above the bigotry and hatred we are seeing elsewhere. Our Prime Minister is often heard saying that “diversity is Canada’s strength.” As we all celebrate diversity and inclusion, many would conclude that we have reached the perfect balance. That we are diverse enough. That we are inclusive enough. But what if this renewed emphasis on diversity and inclusion is blinding us to our own shortcomings.
We should be concerned that so many Canadians do not feel included. That our greatest achievement – our diversity – is being challenged. It’s being challenged by the recent rise in hate messaging and violence. It’s being challenged by a persistent xenophobic discourse cloaked in “Canadian values.” It’s being challenged by increasing intolerance and bigotry – acts of anti-Semitism, islamophobia, racism and misogyny. We must be continually mindful of history and the lessons it has taught us, because history is littered with subtle examples when indifference and intolerance – the lifeblood of hate – led to devastating consequences.
We need to be honest about what kind of country we want to be. We are still conflicted. While Canadians are open to immigration and multiculturalism, we are deeply divided about how immigrants and refugees should be “integrated” into Canadian society.
Many may be discouraged by this observation. We are so busy, lacking time and energy, and the problem may seem so big, but countering indifference and intolerance isn’t only reserved for those who subscribe to big actions or to sustained advocacy. It starts with increased understanding and empathy. It only takes second to cultivate those small moments when we can tune in and try to see the world through someone else’s eyes: hosting a book club that introduces different perspectives on indigenous issues; inviting the gender-creative child to play with your children; turning up the volume in the car so a teenager can listen to a radio story about reports of racism; honouring another culture by attending celebrations; or engaging in conversation with colleagues about human rights issues that hit close to home.
I believe that this is what Eleanor Roosevelt had in mind when she said: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world.” It’s as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, because despite all the progress we have made, human rights will always be fragile. We can never let our guard down. We all have a part, however small, to play in protecting inclusion and diversity. And so, in 2017, what part should we each play?