Featured in the Global Centre for Pluralism’s “what we’re reading” section, is the address by the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau at Canada House in London, UK, on November 26, 2015.
Against the backdrop of “a fragmented world,” Prime Minister Trudeau shares Canada’s experience as a counterpoint – a successful example of a diverse and inclusive nation. Below are some excerpts from three of the four themes discussed in the address. Prime Minister Trudeau also mentions the positive moments with the Ismaili Muslims on two occasions.
Given the polarizing rhetoric capturing the news media headlines, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan’s address at Harvard on “Cosmopolitan Ethic in a Fragmented World” and Prime Minister Trudeau’s message on “Diversity is Canada’s Strength” provide an enlightened response to bring peace in today’s troubled world.
ADDRESS BY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
Why diversity is important
Because it’s 2015, people around the world are noticing the diversity of our Cabinet, and our Parliament. But the diversity of our country is not news.
An MP colleague of mine once told me a story that captures it perfectly. He was doing a parliamentary exchange program in Paris. There were elected representatives from around the world present. He was asked what Canada “looks like.”
He was accompanied by four other colleagues, none of whom except him were born in Canada. Among them were three women and two men. Two Catholics, an Ismaili Muslim, a Jew whose parents had survived the Holocaust, and a gay protestant minister. One was born in France, one in Portugal. Another was born in Argentina. Another in Tanzania.
He pointed to his colleagues and said: “Well, this. This is what Canada looks like.”
How and why Canada does diversity best
Canada’s story proves that diversity and inclusion work. Not just as aspirational values, but as a proven path to peace and prosperity.
We need to recognize that for Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian reality has not been—and is not today—easy, equitable or fair.
We need to acknowledge that our history includes darker moments: the Chinese head tax, the internment of Ukrainian, Japanese, and Italian Canadians during the First and Second World Wars, our turning away boats of Jewish or Punjabi refugees, our own history of slavery.
Canadians look back on these transgressions with regret and shame—as we should.
But our history was also filled with many positive moments.
The Underground Railroad. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Multiculturalism Act. The Official Languages Act. The welcoming of Ismaili Muslims. The freedom for Jews and Sikhs, Hindus and Evangelicals to practice their religion as they choose.
These positive changes can never right historical wrongs. But they can serve to remind us that, in the phrase so beloved of Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
The last election campaign provides a good example. It was, in part, about whether Canadians still believe in those values. Many had their doubts.
But let me tell you this. I’m standing here today as Prime Minister of Canada because Canadians rejected the forces that would divide us against ourselves.
Canada’s role in the world
We have proven that a country—an astonishingly successful country—can be built on the principle of mutual respect.
In characteristically Canadian fashion, we don’t celebrate this success often enough. But the world needs us to do so. Especially now.
One of the most difficult and urgent global problems is how to develop societies where people of different cultures can live together and build common ground. And collectively, we face the influx of refugees fleeing a violent conflict.
Yesterday, our government laid out a plan that would see 25,000 Syrian refugees approved for resettlement by the end of the year, with all expected to arrive in Canada within a few months.
We’ve done it before. Under Prime Minister Joe Clark in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Canada resettled nearly 60,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
We’ve done it before, and we will do it again, because we know that we are not just resettling refugees, we are welcoming new Canadians.
And we know how to do what former UN Secretary General Annan called for in 2013: “learn from each other, (and make) our different traditions and cultures a source of harmony and strength, not discord and weakness.”