Prime Minister Trudeau delivers a speech at Canada House in London
Thank you friends. Thank you, High Commissioner. Thank you very much for being here. I seem, I heard somewhere that there’s about a quarter million Canadians in the U.K and I think many of them are here today. So it’s a pleasure to be able to offer you some news from home.
Thank you also to all the staff here at Canada House who have pulled this together on short notice and pulled together a wonderful event for us here.
I want to thank everyone here in the room for joining us as well as everyone out in the square, for taking time to be with us today.
Earlier today I had the opportunity to meet with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. 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 of 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 have to offer the world.
Our commitment to diversity isn’t about Canadians being nice and polite, although 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.
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 Canadians is not news.
An MP colleague of mine once told me a story that captures it perfectly from five or six years ago. He was doing a parliamentary exchange program in Paris. There were elected representatives from around the world present and he was asked what Canada looks like. Well, he pointed to the delegation of five Canadian MPs. His four other colleagues and him, none of them except him, was 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 are a better country, a stronger, more successful country because of it.
Just consider the words that people use to describe Canada. We are 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. Now 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 the 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.
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 and Punjabi refugees, and our own history of slavery.
Canadians look back on these transgressions with regret and shame, as we should. But there are also brighter spots, things that we can be proud of, things that made us who we are today. The Underground Railroad; the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the Multiculturalism Act; the Official Languages Act; the Welcoming of Ismaili Muslims fleeing East Africa; the freedom for Jews and Sikhs, Hindus and Evangelicals to practise 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., that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward 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 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, 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 can share with you a few recent examples. One day after the terrible 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 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. Well, a Muslim group in Toronto started a fundraiser to help repair the damage.
Those are Canadian values.
And as important as these values are, they cannot exist in isolation. It’s essential that they be supported by economic policies that benefit Canadians.
Canada’s economy depends on a strong and growing middle class. That 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 working hard to join we can deliver real economic growth that will benefit all.
Now 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 and anxiety eat away at hope. Economic stress manifests itself in many ways. Fear and mistrust of others who are different is one of its most common, one of its 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, that 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 hopes and 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.
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 got an important thing right in Canada. Not perfect, but right. That thing is the balance between individual freedom and collective identity. How to have a cohesive society despite extraordinary difference within that society?
Well, we know that people are defined in large part by our relationships to other people. Our cultural background, our gender, our religious belief, 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 origins, 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 engaged 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. And in characteristic Canadian fashion, we don’t celebrate the success often enough. But the world needs us to, 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, because collectively, we face an influx of refugees fleeing violent conflicts.
Yesterday our government laid out a plan that would see 25,000 Syrian refugees approved for re-settlement by the end of the year with all expected to arrive in Canada within a few short months. We’ve done it before. Under Prime Minister Joe Clark in the late 70s and early 80s, Canada re-settled 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 re-settling 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. Regardless of the past, 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.
Thank you very much.