Address by the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
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Quite a pleasure to be here, in London, with all of you today.
Thank you, High Commissioner Campbell, and all of the staff here at Canada House.
I also want to thank everyone here in the room, and all those joining us outside in the square, for taking the time to be with us today.
Earlier today, I had the opportunity to meet with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
She was, of course, gracious and insightful, with a unique and valuable perspective. Her Majesty has been an important part of Canada’s history and, I am confident, will remain an important part of our continued progress and our future.
And it’s that future, and Canada’s role in our shared future, that I’d like to address today.
Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them, and going forward, that capacity will be at the heart of both our success, and of what we offer the world.
Our commitment to diversity and inclusion isn’t about Canadians being nice and polite—though of course we are. In fact, this commitment is a powerful and ambitious approach to making Canada, and the world, a better, and safer, place.
Why diversity is important
It’s easy, in a country like Canada, to take diversity for granted. In so many ways, it’s the air we breathe.
We’ve raised generation after generation of children who think nothing of hearing five or six different languages spoken on the playground.
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.”
One-fifth of Canadians were born elsewhere, and chose to immigrate to Canada. In our largest city, more than half were born outside Canada.
Against that backdrop, the importance of diversity can sometimes be taken for granted. But there is no doubt that we’re a better country—a stronger, more successful country—because of it.
Just consider the words that people use to describe Canada: we’re open, accepting, progressive and prosperous. There is a direct line between each of those attributes and Canada’s success in building a more diverse and inclusive society.
We’re not the only nation that’s tried to do it.
But what’s made it work so well in Canada is the understanding that our diversity isn’t a challenge to be overcome or a difficulty to be tolerated.
Rather, it’s a tremendous source of strength.
Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded—culturally, politically, economically—because of our diversity, not in spite of it.
In typical Canadian fashion, we don’t celebrate this success often enough.
But I would argue that now, more than ever, the world needs us to do just that.
In the wake of horrific events like the recent attacks in Paris, as we renew our resolve to work with the international community to help prevent such attacks, and as we reaffirm our steadfast participation in the coalition against ISIL, we must also recommit to building a world where diversity and difference are promoted and celebrated.
We know that peace is possible, and that hope beats fear every single time.
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.
It hasn’t always been easy. We have had stumbles along that path.
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.”
Like many other nations, Canada faces a constant debate between those who would have us restrict, close ranks, and build walls—and those who remind us that we are who we are precisely because we are open diverse and inclusive.
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.
But we don’t need a national election to see Canada’s commitment to diversity in action.
We see it in our communities each and every day.
While a few allow themselves to be overwhelmed by anger and outrage, as a society, cooler heads and warmer hearts ultimately prevail.
Whenever, or wherever, a few seek to threaten those who look, or dress, or pray differently; many others stand up and say: “No. Not here. Not in our community, not to our neighbours.”
Time after time, when intolerance rears its ugly head, Canadians rise up to reject it. We prove—clearly and unflinchingly—that we are better than that.
I’d like to share with you a few very recent examples.
One day after the attacks in Paris, a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, was set on fire—a suspected hate crime. In response, the community rallied, and raised more than $110,000 in two days to help the Muslim community rebuild. United in faith, members of local Christian and Jewish communities opened their doors—literally opened their doors—to give their Muslim neighbours a place to pray.
Those are Canadian values.
In Kitchener, Ontario, a Hindu temple was vandalized—its windows smashed by rocks, while the congregation's head preacher attended a vigil for those who died in the Paris attacks. A Muslim group in the Toronto area started a fundraiser to help repair the damage.
Those are Canadian values.
The importance of a strong middle class
As important as these values are, they cannot exist in isolation. It’s essential that they are supported by economic policies that benefit Canadians.
Canada’s economy depends on a strong and growing middle class. This has always been the case.
In the last century, Canada’s growing and optimistic middle class created a big-hearted, broad-minded consensus. Together, these hard-working Canadians built a better country, not just for themselves, but for their children, and for each other.
By keeping our focus squarely on helping the middle class and all those who are working hard to join it, we can deliver real economic growth that will benefit all.
That’s a worthwhile goal in its own right, but it’s also important because we know that a diverse country doesn’t work without it.
When opportunities are limited, when people don’t think they have a real and fair chance to succeed, fear eats away at hope. Economic stress manifests itself in many ways. Fear and mistrust of others who are different is one of its most common, most dangerous, expressions.
In other words, middle class growth is much more than an economic imperative—it’s central to our unity as a nation.
It’s that shared sense of purpose that’s so hard to define but so deeply felt. The feeling that we are all in this together. The knowledge that wherever we came from, we are united not only in our struggles, but also in our dreams.
It is the middle class that unites us, and it’s our diverse communities that keep our economy growing. We need both to succeed.
Canada’s role in the world
Providing greater support to our middle class is an important domestic objective, but there is also a critical role for Canada to play in sharing its success with the world.
As the century unfolds, and as economic and environmental trends make migration between states the “new normal,” more and more countries will find themselves faced with challenges that Canada confronted long ago.
We’ve gotten an important thing right in Canada. Not perfect, but right. That thing is the balance between individual freedom and collective identity.
We know that people are defined in large part by our relationships to other people. Our cultural background, our gender, our religious beliefs, our sexual orientation.
However, we also believe that all of those collective associations receive their highest expression in the form of real, flesh and blood, individual human beings.
We expand cultural freedom by ensuring that individual Canadians who come from these diverse communities have the freedom to live and express and grow and change their cultures.
We refuse to see a contradiction between individual liberty and collective identity. In fact, we have created a society where both thrive, and mutually reinforce one another.
It was at its root, a leap of faith, and a very new idea. Over time, we learned to trust that whatever their culture of origin, the more people engage with the breadth of our country’s diversity, the more Canadian they will become.
Where there was repression, it would be defeated by the more compelling Canadian opportunity to achieve liberty. Where there was isolation, we would meet it with openness and inclusion.
It may have started as a leap of faith, but it has become a defining characteristic of our country, our great success, and arguably our greatest contribution to 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 more, Canada can also export the ideas and institutions that make diversity work so well at home.
We know how to govern in a way that is inclusive, transparent, respectful and effective. We can share that expertise with other countries and their citizens.
We know how to work cooperatively with our allies to combat terrorism, and how to be an effective partner in international peace operations. We can contribute more to those international efforts, and have committed to do so.
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.”
We have a responsibility—to ourselves and to the world—to show that inclusive diversity is a strength, and a force that can vanquish intolerance, radicalism and hate.
Canada’s success as a diverse and inclusive nation didn’t happen by accident, and won’t continue without effort.
The future is never certain. It depends on the choices we make today.
Compassion, acceptance, and trust; diversity and inclusion—these are the things that have made Canada strong and free. Not just in principle, but in practice.
Those of us who benefit from the many blessings of Canada’s diversity need to be strong and confident custodians of its character.
Let us not close our hearts to those in need, nor our minds to the knowledge that better is always possible.
We are, after all, Canadian.
Let’s show the world the very best of what that means.