Chief Commissioner remarks to the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Canadian Human Rights Commission
“Change Needs Noise”
Keynote address at the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children’s
Raise the Bar event
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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Good afternoon everyone,
It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I want to thank the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children for bringing us together in the name of children’s rights in Canada.
I can think of nothing more fundamental to the future of our country than the rights of our children.
Nelson Mandela said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Those words inspired me to come here today to invite you to encourage all the young people in your lives to consider three things:
One — they have the power to be positive forces of change in our country;
Two — they have the right to be heard, the responsibility to speak up, and the power to make noise about what needs to be changed in our society;
And three — they are not alone, and that we are here to make sure their voices are heard, and supported with action and change.
I will elaborate on each of those three messages, in just a moment.
But first, I will tell you a little bit about what we do at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The Commission is Canada’s independent human rights watchdog.
Our job is to protect and promote human rights across Canada, and to speak out against all forms of discrimination.
In short, we help ensure that everyone in Canada is treated fairly, no matter who they are.
We also hold the government to account on its international human rights obligations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As most of you know, next year the UN Committee will examine how Canada well is doing when it comes to protecting the rights of children in this country.
The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children has done a superb job of organizing and raising awareness of the key children’s rights priorities for Canada.
They have organized them into five groups:
- The right to know your rights,
- The right to be heard,
- The right to live free from violence,
- The right to live free from poverty, and
- The right to equal services.
These are the five basic areas of human rights that everyone, no matter our age, is entitled to. And these rights inform much of the work we are doing at the Commission.
But as so many of the children’s rights advocates in this room know, it’s a lot.
These are big issues, big topics, and they carry great weight.
Sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of what is truly at stake.
When that happens, I find it helpful to bring it back to something personal.
For me, that’s my daughter, Isabel — and my grandson, Brandon.
Isabel was born in Mexico, and I adopted her when she was very young. I have watched her grapple with the way many people in this world see her only for the colour of her brown skin.
And then there is Brandon, my grandson. Brandon is only 7 years old, but already, I have seen him gradually learn that the colour of his skin changes the way some people — even in Canada — see him and treat him.
When they were little, first Isabel and now Brandon, they had no idea about race or what any of that meant.
For Isabel, and for Brandon it simply didn’t matter to them, or to the other kids in the sandbox.
That’s because all children are born with the ability to see the world without division, without labels.
The amazing way our children see the world, is one of Canada’s greatest strengths.
But it must be nurtured, because it can be lost so easily.
Nelson Mandela also said:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.”
That is why I wanted to start my conversation with you today with the inspiring voices of children from a local Grade 6 class, in the video we just showed.
20 years ago, it would have been unusual to hear children talk like that.
Now, we too often take for granted the ideas those kids shared.
But their clarity of mind is extraordinary, and their words are profound.
They inspire me.
Because, if young people are taught that they have the power to create change…
…that that they have the responsibility to raise their voice…
…and that we are here to help them be heard…
…I believe they will be well prepared to be life-long human rights defenders and change-makers.
Let me be clear, it is not all up to them—it is not all on their shoulders.
And I will say more about that a little bit later.
But if our children learn now that they do have a role to play — and that their ideas matter — I believe there is no limit to what they can do.
And I believe that when the time comes, they will be ready.
That brings me to my first message for the young people in our lives: that they all have the power to be change-makers and human rights defenders.
Much of our world has been shaped by young leaders who — in spite of their age — stood up for what they believed in, and helped change the world.
There are many great young icons to point to as examples. Some of them are changing the world right now, as I speak.
But we need to teach young Canadians that they do not have to be a hero to create change.
Change can come through simple, everyday actions.
Learning to be a human rights defender and a change-maker is like learning anything else — it takes practice.
It can feel uncomfortable and even scary at first. But then it gets easier.
It’s about inviting young people to create new habits.
We need to tell them that each and every gesture can make a difference.
It doesn’t have to be monumental.
In fact, a thousand simple gestures can often create more change than one big one.
It is often in the ordinary, everyday actions, where extraordinary acts of courage and social change can occur.
It takes courage to stand beside the kid who is being bullied.
It takes courage to call out a racist joke when you hear it.
It takes courage to create those awkward moments that are often part of doing the right thing.
But these everyday acts of courage — one by one — can create real change in the lives of people around us.
When a child learns they have the power to create change and that their voice matters, by the time they are adults, speaking up is like second-nature to them.
And as I look around the room today, at so many of the young advocates, I see many shining examples.
Somewhere along the line you learned that you have the power to create change.
That your voice matters.
That brings me to my second message I want all of us to share with the young people in our lives: Change. Needs. Noise. Silence is not an option.
As parents, we spend a great deal of our time urging our children to “please be quiet!”
In fact, it was not all that long ago in history that it was commonly accepted that, “children were to be seen, not heard.”
I made sure to tell my own children that their voices mattered, that they have a right to be heard, and that they need to stand up to injustice when they see it.
Progress needs noise! Change needs noise!
It also needs people to listen — and I’ll get to that a little later.
But I want us to invite every young person we know to go and make some noise.
We need to teach our kids and our youth that being loud — especially when it will help others— is a good thing.
We need to teach them that change only happens when people raise a stink, when people call it out, shout it down, and demand something better.
We also need to teach them that they don’t have to be loud to “make noise.”
That they can start a hash-tag.
Or wipe away hateful graffiti.
They can create a photo campaign on Instagram.
They can start a petition. Or volunteer. Be of service.
They can fill out the Coalition’s “Raise Your Voice” survey to have their say in decisions that affect them in Canada!
They can do as Mahatma Gandhi famously instructed: Be the change you want to see.
So now it is up to you to be the change you want to see.
But as Gandhi also taught us, raising your voice and speaking out does not always make you popular.
In fact, throughout history, whenever a person stood up and called for change to the status quo, their ideas were often not popular at all.
Many times, they got shouted down. But they stuck to it.
They found people who would listen, who would join them, who would make their voice stronger.
And slowly, change took root.
That brings me to my final message for the young people of Canada:
they are not be alone.
It is everyone’s job to make sure the younger voices are heard.
Because progress does not happen in isolation.
No one has ever heard of a social movement that included just one person standing alone.
Our young people need our support, to spur them on and give power to their voices.
That’s part of our job as Canada’s human rights watchdog — to amplify the voices of those who need to be heard, and to help make sure that their calls result in change.
Our job is to also call on Government, and work with the Government to ensure:
One — that there is a clear and easy way for young people in Canada to speak up when something impacts their rights.
Two — that the Government hears them and takes appropriate action based on their feedback.
And three — that the Government follows-through on those plans and promises, and continues to seek the input of young Canadians.
Together, I believe we all have the power to make sure that every young person in Canada knows that their ideas matter, that people are listening, and that change is possible.
Next year, as Canada is reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, we will be there, standing beside all of you, ensuring your voices are heard.
You can count on it.
As I conclude, I want to once again thank the Coalition for their incredible work and commitment to improving the lives of children in Canada.
I want to thank all of you — for being here today, and for the important work you do every day for children’s rights in Canada.
For encouraging them all to be powerful forces for change.
I am inspired by all of you. As children’s rights advocates and youth advocates, you all have that same gift I was talking about earlier — of seeing a world without judgement, without labels, without divisions.
We need that! Canada needs it……
And lastly, when you share these messages from today with the young people you know and work with, please also tell them this:
We need them to keep on being kids. With an open mind and sparkle in their eyes.
Their optimism, their enthusiasm, their creativity, and their joy of life inspire all of us to keep doing the work we are doing.
So let’s all make sure to remind the young people in our lives:
Don’t forget to still be KIDS!
Thank you everyone, merci tout le monde!