27 June 2008
Thank you very much. Thank you, Moishe, for your kind and generous words.
Excellencies, Mr. President and governors, distinguished guests.
It is a truly a great honour to be the first Canadian awarded B'nai Brith International’s Gold Medallion. I have to tell you, that was a big enough honour in and of itself. I was not expecting the centre as well, so thank you very much. That's just a wonderful honour and I am really overwhelmed by it. I really deeply appreciate it.
The Gold Medal in particular is a special honour. It's a special honour to be so recognized by B'nai Brith International, not just because B'nai Brith is one of the world's oldest and largest humanitarian and human rights organizations, but also because B'nai Brith is one of the important contributions made to humanity by the Jewish people, who have contributed so much to our country and to our world.
Included in these contributions are timeless truths and fundamental values that I know the Jewish community holds dear in Canada, in Israel and around the world. Indeed, the preamble of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that, I quote, "Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law," is itself rooted deeply in our common theistic tradition in the covenant at Sinai.
It is also humbling to receive this award. As Moishe noted, previous recipients of the Gold Medal include some of the most important public figures in history; presidents like Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy; prime ministers like Thatcher, Ben-Gurion and Meir. This is impressive company indeed. In the sum of their achievements, I have no claim to stand among them. But what has earned them your and my admiration has been their ability to do what is right and not what is opportune and expedient.
Doing what's right is not always easy, or even always obvious, but if there is one thing that has always been both right and obvious, it is that hatred and discrimination have no place in a civilized society.
This is the principle underlying the philosophy of B'nai Brith, the principle that has guided your philanthropic work around the world for the better part of two centuries, the principle that animates your relentless battle against anti-Semitism - one of the worst political plagues that hatred has ever spawned - the principle that informs your stalwart defence of the state of Israel, the still-besieged homeland of the Jewish people.
The award of the Gold Medallion generously acknowledges that this principle has guided key actions of our Government and the actions of many of its ministers, including great members of our Government, great men like Stockwell Day and Jason Kenney, who do deserve your recognition. That's why, for example, our Government is establishing the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, a project initiated and inspired by the Asper family. But we have, of course, done more. We've never hesitated to publicly condemn hatred and discrimination in all their vile manifestations and to fight against them, whatever the diplomatic or political costs. For instance, not long after we took office, as has been mentioned, we suspended relations with the Hamas-led Government in Palestine, becoming the first country in the world to do so. We have stood firm on Israel's right to defend its existence against suicide bombers, terrorist groups and the genocidal threats of the regimes that support them. From the United Nations to the Francophonie, we have refused to be bullied into signing on to one-sided international resolutions against Israel, and we will continue to do so.
That is why we are refusing to participate in the so-called Durban Two conference. We have every reason to expect it will be a repeat of Durban One, and this country will not be a party to an anti-Semitic and anti-Western hate-fest dressed up as an anti-racism conference.
All of which underscores why our Government, in partnership with B'nai Brith, Vad Yashem and the Canadian Jewish Congress, is also joining the taskforce for international cooperation on Holocaust education, remembrance and research. The Holocaust must be retold, not just for its value as history, but so that we recognize today and in the future its signs and its apostles wherever in the world they might appear, and so that we realize what we were too slow to understand before World War Two; that those who seek to eliminate one nation will inevitably threaten all of us.
Today there is no longer any hesitation or ambiguity in Canada's position. We see Israel as a friend and ally in the democratic family of nations. Our support for her right to exist is unshakeable. Our support for her right to self-defence is unequivocal, just as we support a two-state solution in the Middle East; and in this we stand with Israeli leaders who have long desired peace, security and democracy for both their own people and the Palestinians. The sweep of history tells us that those groups and regimes who seek the destruction of Israel have not and never will bring victory or peace or justice to the Palestinians. They will only prolong their suffering.
Sadly, friends, the Middle East is not the only region in the world where peace, democracy and human rights are under siege.
Today the government of Zimbabwe is holding an election that is an ugly perversion of democracy. Our Government has condemned the corrupted vote in the strongest possible terms and we are working with our friends in the international community to bring in strong measures to pressure the Mugabe regime, which has illegitimately stolen this election.
Of course, as proud as I am of our Government's actions and as proud as we all are of our country's values, Canada's history is not without its scars. For example, the decision to turn away hundreds of German Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis was both tragic and indefensible.
That's why the Historical Recognition Program we announced last month will support community-based projects to commemorate events like the St. Louis incident. Earlier this month, Canada's history and values were put to one of the toughest tests we have ever faced, as Moishe mentioned. We confronted the sad chapter of Indian residential schools; the Government of Canada's long policy of forced removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and forced assimilation in mostly church-run schools. The suffering endured by those children and the shattering of their families haunts us, and haunts our country, to this day.
On June 11th, we joined with Canada's Aboriginal leaders in symbolic acts of apology, remembrance and reconciliation. We spoke frankly of the terrible things that transpired, but at the same time, Aboriginal leaders also spoke of their pride in our country. National Chief Phil Fontaine said the apology heralded a new dawn for Canada where, and I quote, "together we can achieve the greatness our country deserves."
In my view, ladies and gentlemen, great democracies do not claim to be perfect. They do not seek to write and rewrite their histories to prove greatness at every turn. They seek to learn from their history and always to grow into a better future. That is the kind of country I want to lead and that's why on behalf of our country, I am honoured to accept the Gold Medallion. Thank you, shalom.