Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here today to talk to you about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Thank you, Barbara, for the introduction.
My friends, on behalf of the Board and staff of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, let me extend my warmest welcome to Winnipeg. Welcome to Winnipeg!
It makes us enormously proud that you are holding your conference here, quite literally on the front steps of the Museum. I can't think of a more fitting testament to the partnership we now have in place between Canada's human rights agencies and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
It gives us great pleasure to formalize our partnership with you. We are looking forward to working with you to encourage human rights education. Partnerships like these are vital to our own work and we believe vital to the advancement of human rights in Canada. Formalizing a memorandum of understanding with CASHRA is in many ways a natural evolution of allegiances already formed.
I see colleagues here today from the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission with whom we signed a strategic alliance earlier this spring. The Museum will continue to forge these types of partnerships so that we may learn from one another, support one another, and stand united with one another as we work to dissolve the barriers that still divide us and hold our country back.
There is something bittersweet about the title of this year's conference. "Are we there yet?" We in this room recognize that we are not yet there. And this can be as confounding as it is at times infuriating. How can it be that a nation that has come so far — so far, in fact, that other nations rightly look to us a beacon of rights, of dignity, of inclusion — can at the same time still have such a distance yet to go?
We must not allow Canada's human rights story to be a lesson in some distant history. Though we can be proud to be the nation that produced the citizen who helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be a nation that has affirmed the right of each one of its citizens to fall in love with whomever they want, and to marry whomever they want, to be a nation that has multiculturalism woven into the very fabric of its shared identity, while nonetheless we continue to have some of the best-educated cab drivers in the world?
For all of our progress, how is it that people of colour continue to earn less than those who are white? For that matter, how is it that Canadian women, in 2012, continue to earn less than men? A full twenty-five percent less if you look at the most recent data from Statistics Canada. Our First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples continue to be faced with many barriers and we still lose some of our most vulnerable citizens each year; children who are taunted to the point they would take their own lives because of how others respond to who they are? We ask ourselves: how can this be?
At this very moment there is a child being born somewhere in Canada. There are limits to what we can honestly tell that child. We cannot tell a child born today that they will never encounter arbitrary barriers just because of who they are. We cannot tell a child born today that there will be no artificial roadblocks that keep them from reaching their full potential, merely because of how they look, how they speak or whether they use a device to help them move. We cannot tell a child born today that the world will judge them only by their character, and not by colour, creed or any other capricious factor that has no actual bearing on what they are capable of achieving.
So we today confront that hard truth that no, we are not there yet.
But, with honest hearts we can tell that child that we are getting there. And we can go further. We can give that child the strength of conviction that unites us here today; that we are not there yet, but that we will get there. That we are getting there.
I look at your conference logo, produced, incidentally, by two exceptionally talented artists from Winnipeg's Graffiti Gallery, and I see faces that are smiling. Faces not consumed with the despair that there is still injustice, inequality and ignorance in our world. But rather, faces that are resilient, optimistic and hopeful with the recognition that the levers of change are within our grasp.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is an embodiment of the resilience and optimism that we, together, have the capacity to accelerate the pace of change; that we can create new tools of change, and empower those who come through our doors to put those tools to use. We arrived at a decision very early on at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that the nature of our subject matter meant we could not settle to be a museum in the traditional sense. Although great places of learning and discovery are profoundly important, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights must go further. And so we are building not just a place of learning, but a centre of action. We are working not only to inspire conversation and dialogue, but to provide the forums where that dialogue can take place.
Our job is to make sure every citizen who comes to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights feels not only like a guest, but a partner in effecting meaningful, lasting change in the lives of others. Part of that work is reminding those who come through our doors that human rights advances in this country have come about because our fellow citizens made it so. We need to remind ourselves and each other that behind every law, every statute, every judgment that furthers human rights, there is a person or group of people who rallied to bring about that change.
The Museum will proudly tell our uniquely Canadian stories so that we can inspire other uniquely Canadian stories of ordinary citizens making extraordinary change. These stories are immensely powerful, because they are our own. Our kids may know Rosa Parks, the black American woman who changed the course of history by refusing to give up her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955. But they likely don't know Viola Desmond, the black Canadian woman whose actions changed segregation laws here in Canada when she refused to give up her seat in a Nova Scotia movie theatre a decade earlier.
Our kids are sadly familiar with children who are bullied just because of who they are. But it's incredibly powerful when they also see their peers taking a stand for vulnerable classmates whose rights have been abused. Two Canadian high-school kids, David Shepherd and Travis Price, garnered headlines around the world after they stood up to school bullies who were harassing and threatening a fellow student for wearing a pink polo shirt to school. These two students rallied their classmates to come to school the next day dressed in pink. They created not just a sea of pink but a sea change in how their fellow students both thought about bullying and responded to it.
When we remind ourselves of these stories we remind ourselves that every advancement of human rights has a starting place. Most often it starts with one of us — Canadian citizens with no extraordinary powers other than the strength of our own convictions. We remind ourselves of this and we remind ourselves that anyone can be a human rights champion. It starts with each of us, and then we amplify that change by coming together. And when we do this, we begin to create something bigger.
Just as peace is more than the absence of war, we define human rights as much more than the simple absence of discrimination, prejudice or oppression. Rather, we are actively working to foster a culture; a culture of human rights. And we define this culture by much more than the things we stand against, but what we stand for: Not just acceptance, but active inclusion. Not just tolerance, but effortful understanding. Not just an embrace of difference, but a realization that our differences are a cause for celebration, and an ingrained part of the fabric that makes our nation strong.
It gives me great pride and great hope that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and CASHRA are united in this aim. Together, we are expanding a network of like-minded partners; those with the conviction that Canada's finest moments can be the ones still to come, and those with the courage to effect the change we need to get there.
At the Museum, we are proud that these efforts have started well in advance of the opening of our doors. We have forged meaningful links with colleges and universities. With education leaders and schools. We are introducing the idea of a human rights curriculum, and we are fortunate that some of Canada's finest educational thinkers and leaders have taken up the task. We have built formal relations with partners half a world away. In December we signed an MOU with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, because in an interconnected, globalized world there is mutual benefit to harnessing the tools of digital communications to exchange ideas, stories and lessons.
And we have fostered connections close to home. We are meeting today, in fact, at a place that has served as an epicentre for human rights for many generations. It is here where we sit today that Louis Riel founded this province. Last week marked Treaty Days here at the Forks. This has been a site of significance for Canada's First Nations for thousands of years. And yet too often Canada's Aboriginal communities have been excised from the discussion about how we together build this country.
This must change because we are stronger if we actively work to harness those lessons. The Museum, certainly, is stronger because of the guidance of the Elders who advise us, and our Aboriginal Youth Advisory Council who have a vision for Canada that truly embodies the spirit of a human rights culture.
So: Are we making progress? Let us allow ourselves a measure of pride that yes, we are. Are we there yet? Not quite. And at times, the road admittedly seems dauntingly long. But let this reality not deflate or defeat us, but motivate us to continue to build; to build the kind of human rights culture that will affirm not just for ourselves, but all of Canada's citizens, that we are on the right path.
Together, we have forged a strong foundation. And together, with courage, with optimism and with conviction, we will continue to forge a strong future for one another and for the whole of Canada. We will get there yet.