Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at a Black History Month reception
Good evening, my friends. First of all, thank you, Mélanie, for that lovely introduction, and for all you do to promote and celebrate diversity in our country. I want to thank all of the parliamentarians, MPs and Senators who are here among us this evening: thank you for being here. But I also want to thank all those who have come from all across the country to mark this occasion. Your presence in this symbolic place represented by the Canadian Museum of History attests to our common desire to build a Canada that is proud of its diversity and strengthened by its inclusiveness.
I also want to highlight and thank Elder Claudette Commanda for welcoming us onto traditional territory of the Algonquin people tonight. Thank you Claudette, I know you spoke of the pain and anguish felt by the indigenous communities across this country on the… on the trial of Colten Boushie… sorry, the verdict in the Colten Boushie trial. I think I am not wrong in saying there are few rooms that understand as well as this one the unfairness in the justice system here in Canada that needs to continue to be addressed. We can and must do better, all of us.
My friends, welcome. It’s a pleasure to be with you to mark Black History Month. As many of you know, this year’s theme puts the spotlight on black Canadian women.
(Cheers & applause)
Women whose strength, courage and vision deserve to be recognized and celebrated. We remember the trailblazers and risk-takers who’ve made this country what it is today, from Viola Desmond to Carrie Best, to Jean Augustine, these pioneers paved the way for us to meet tonight.
We also recognize those who have chosen to carry on their legacy, some of whom are in the room tonight. Champions in their own right. Women like Senator Anne Clare Cools, Yolande James, and Kathleen “Kay” Livingstone have taken it upon themselves to build... to better their community and build a country we can all be proud of. And we rally behind the next generation of leaders who are already holding us to the highest standards. People like Hadiya Roderique, Esie Mensah, Robyn Maynard, and countless others who may not be here tonight but do amazing work. They remind us every day that despite the battles we have won, the fight is far from over.
Indeed, as we stand here tonight, we know that anti-black racism persists, that inequality lingers, and while it is our responsibility to celebrate our success, it is also our duty to address our failings. It’s time we recognize that anti-black racism and unconscious bias do exist.
It’s time we hear and believe the stories of men and women who’ve been judged by the colour of their skin. It’s time we take action to ensure equal opportunity and equal treatment of black Canadians in our schools and in our places of work, and it’s about time we realize that black history is Canadian history.
(Cheers & applause)
In that vein, the government was proud to recognize the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, just a few weeks ago. The important contributions that people of African descent have made to Canadian society should be highlighted and celebrated throughout the year, throughout the decade, not just in February.
(Cheers & applause)
Over the coming weeks, months, and a decade, Canadians and their government will learn more about the issues that affect black Canadians.
To better understand the specific challenges facing the black community, the UN International Decade for People of African Descent proposes to increase research capacity and data-collection. It is clear that the current system needs to be improved to get a better overview and establish better policies. The Federation of Black Canadians and several organizations across the country have also pointed out that we still have work to do when it comes to mental health and overrepresentation in the prison system. We share their concerns and understand that these issues have a long-term impact on many families and communities. As I emphasized last week, we have to tackle these issues together and find lasting solutions.
The government is determined to work with Canada’s black community in a spirit of partnership to inform decision-making and make real progress. On that point, I would also add that, in order to achieve this, the composition of the House of Commons, the heart of our democracy, has to be in the image of Canada, and yes, that means recruiting and electing a greater number of black MPs.
We’ve heard from people and organizations from across the country telling us that we have to do more to support black Canadians specifically, and that’s what we’re going to do. Anti-black racism, discrimination and inequality are part of the day-to-day lives of too many people. It’s unacceptable. Canada can and must do better.
As we stand here tonight, let us be reminded of our collective duty to build a more just society, not only this month, but every month. The people in this room bear witness to the value of dedicated work and relentless effort that is needed to bring about real change. I’m reminded of course of the dedicated work of my friend and colleague, our other co-host tonight, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, whose fearless advocacy has inspired our caucus to step up and stand tall against anti-black racism, unconscious bias, and inherent privilege.
My friends, trust that the power of your example is not lost on your government or on your fellow citizens. You are an inspiration to countless people, who, like you, have added their voices to the growing chorus that demands more of this country and its people and we thank you for it.
Once again, thanks for all the work you do every day to make our country stronger and more inclusive.
Thank you for all you’ve done to get to this point, but thank you in advance for all the work we will do together.
Thanks very much, everyone! Thank you!
(Cheers & applause)