Celebrating Freedom: Three Grand Challenges For Canada’s Next 150
When the most commonly heard criticism of Canada seems to be that Canadians are too polite, you gotta figure that Canada is an exceptional country.
Canada isn’t perfect—we are only #2 on the 2017 Best Countries list after all— but we try very hard to do the right thing. Yet, we never quite measure up to our own expectations.
Truth be told, our historical record is spotty when it comes to doing the right thing. Take, for example, the issue of women’s rights. Two Canadian women who deserve to be better known are Grace Annie Lockhart, who was in 1875 the first woman in the British Empire to graduate from university with a bachelor’s degree; and Clara Brett Martin, who became the first female lawyer in the British Empire in 1897.
At the same time, women did not gain the right to vote in federal elections (subject to several racial and Indigenous exclusions) until 1918, years after New Zealand (1893) and Australia (1902).
We’re not always the first to do the right thing.
Sculpture of the Famous Five, Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia
As Canadians, we are rightly proud of our diverse, inclusive and welcoming society. In 1986, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) honoured the people of Canada with the Nansen Award, an award given annually in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees.
In making the presentation for the first and only time to an entire nation, the High Commissioner honoured us for "providing a new homeland and citizenship to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution.” In the years 1979 and 1980, 60,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were resettled in Canada.
Once again this year, the UNHCR praised Canada for resettling a record number of refugees in 2016. Even so, a hefty minority of Canadians-- 41% of Canadians polled in February 2017-- said that fewer refugees should be allowed to enter the country.
Looks like we don’t always all agree on what is the right thing.
Source: The Globe and Mail
I could go on to provide other examples of Canadians’ courageous defence of the rights of all, mixed with a record of injustices committed in the name of our country. At times, we have failed miserably, as we did with our abusive and oppressive residential school system for Indigenous children.
Our legacy is uneven, but there are enough bright spots in the past 150 years to demonstrate a trend. More than any other nation in the world, we want to do the right thing by each other and by our neighbours. I join Craig Keilburger in calling on Canadians to embrace a vision of Canada for the next 150 years as a nation of selfless idealists.
What are some steps we can take toward the realization of this vision?
1. Step up to the plate on international assistance.
At the beginning of June, the Canadian government announced a new international assistance policy, with human rights and gender equality at its centre.
Delivering on this policy will require a significant financial investment for the government. Canada’s commitment to international assistance is near an all-time low, standing at about 0.26% of gross national income (GNI) in 2016. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommended in November 2016 that Canada increase its ODA to 0.7% of GNI by 2030.
We need to let our elected officials know that we agree with this goal and will back the tough decisions required if we are to meet it. As two of the action areas of the new international assistance policy are "inclusive governance” and "peace and security”, Canada should invest in the strengthening of justice systems, supporting the training of police, prosecutors and judges so that vulnerable women and children are protected and entire countries benefit from increased stability, more stable environments for investment, and more robust economies.
It’s the right thing to do, and it also helps assure our security and prosperity. Canada will only be peaceful and prosperous if the rest of the world is also.
2. Keep our doors open.
We ought to encourage our government to maintain its disciplined immigration policies and refuse to give in to fear, even in the face of the global scourge of terrorism. Let’s celebrate the constantly evolving nature of Canada’s identity, more of a kaleidoscope than a cultural mosaic, changing with each new wave of immigration.
Now we have a Punjabi edition of Hockey Night in Canada and Canadian cities compete for recognition as the Shawarma Capital of Canada. But as we welcome the world to our streets, our schools and our marketplaces, let’s also share with the world our respect for the rule of law, personal and collective rights, and freedom of expression-- making it clear that we don’t support cybersex trafficking of children or any other form of violence against women and children, here or abroad.
3. Embrace the concept of Canada as a treaty nation, established on a series of Treaties and Acts of which the Confederation agreement was one.
Canada has three founding peoples: Indigenous peoples, British and French. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the government’s apology on behalf of all Canadians, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—all are important steps in forging a new relationship between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians, but we have a long way to go.
Source: The Hill Times
In keeping with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, our government is committed to the development of "new laws, policies, institutions, structures, and patterns of relationships that fit together and acknowledge and integrate Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, and legal traditions.”
We have difficult, even contentious, work ahead of us to ensure that Canada’s Indigenous peoples can take their rightful place within Confederation.
These are grand and worthy challenges for all Canadians as we embark on our next 150 years. Achieving these goals calls for the engagement of the best minds of our country and open hearts from every one of us. As uneven as its progress has been, there is an arc in Canadian history that is bending toward justice, mutual respect and reconciliation.
We really do want to do the right thing, but need supernatural wisdom and guidance if we are to find our way to the right things for this amazingly beautiful and complex country and the world Canada is called to serve.
And if all this seems a little too challenging for the moment, let me make it simple:
Do the right thing by the people you meet today.
Love your neighbour as yourself.