1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 150
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The Honourable Gerald J. Comeau, Acting Speaker
Charter of Rights and Freedoms
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Cowan calling the attention of the Senate to the 30th Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has done so much to build pride in our country and our national identity.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I have spoken to Senator Andreychuk, and she has agreed that I may speak before her and the matter will be adjourned in her name.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Cowan’s inquiry on the thirtieth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has, for three decades, promoted and enshrined Canadian values: human dignity, liberty, equality, diversity and compassion.
Before I begin, I would like to thank Senator Cowan for recognizing the importance of celebrating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and for shedding light on the role that the Charter has played in shaping Canada’s identity.
Over the past few months, we have had the opportunity to hear what a number of senators have to say about the impact the charter has had and continues to have on the lives of Canadians.
Canada’s identity is defined by a mosaic of language and culture.
With our shared values enshrined in the charter, we are a model of diversity and inclusion for everyone.
In Canada, difference and diversity are strengths, not weaknesses.
We welcome people from all walks of life, regardless of their race, religion or beliefs.
Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I would like to draw the attention of my honourable colleagues to the sections of the charter that define Canada as a pluralistic nation and that reinforce the important role that equal opportunity, bilingualism, and multiculturalism play in Canadian society.
I wholeheartedly believe that these sections are the very essence of Canada’s identity and they help to define Canada as a tolerant, welcoming and progressive country.
Honourable senators, multiculturalism was established in Canada 41 years ago within the framework of the policy on bilingualism and biculturalism.
In 1982, the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms marked another important step, and I am extremely proud to say that in 1988, by adopting the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, Canada became the first country in the world to pass legislation on national multiculturalism.
These policies not only contribute to preserving culture and language, but they discourage discrimination by helping to promote intercultural understanding.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes the importance of preserving and enriching Canada’s multicultural heritage.
Section 23 of the Charter guarantees that the rights of minority language communities are protected. I completely agree with that. I believe that this vision will be fully realized when my grandson, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, can learn to speak fluently in both official languages or when we get to the point where our culture is such that all children can be part of our bilingual heritage.
The Charter also protects the rights of Aboriginal people under section 35. This is an area where we all have a lot of work to do to achieve real freedom and equality. Until we truly value the lives of missing Aboriginal women and address the root causes of violence, the rights written in the Charter ring hollow.
The Charter also ensures that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and the benefit of the law without discrimination. It affirms that everyone has the freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, and it guarantees those rights and freedoms equally to all Canadians.
Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the equality of women. I remember clearly the three- year period that followed the adoption of the Charter. Many laws that discriminated against women had to be amended. I am proud of the work that many of us did to make sure laws did not discriminate against women.
Today, we have not achieved equality of women in Canada, but the Charter still exists as a tool, a standing commitment that we will continue to strive for equality. On the day when we are truly equal, women will earn equal pay for equal work. We will live in a world that proactively protects women against sexual violence.
To truly embrace the values entrenched in the Charter, we must all work harder to create a culture free of violence against women and children, where my daughter-in-law Shaleena, my daughter Farzana and all our daughters can walk without fear on the streets of Vancouver.
Freedom, equality and peace are among the fundamental principles that frame Canadian ideals. These are the rights guaranteed to each and every Canadian, regardless of their race, origin, colour, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability.
Honourable senators, during one of the speeches marking the proclamation of the Charter, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau described his vision of Canada this way:
I speak of a Canada where men and women of aboriginal ancestry, of French and British heritage, of the diverse cultures of the world, demonstrate the will to share this land in peace, in justice, and with mutual respect.
I speak of a Canada which is proud of, and strengthened by its essential bilingual destiny, a Canada whose people believe in sharing and in mutual support, and not in building regional barriers.
I speak of a country where every person is free to fulfill himself or herself to the utmost, unhindered by the arbitrary actions of governments.
Honourable senators, I am very pleased today to say that the vision Prime Minister Trudeau had for Canada 30 years ago is now reality.
Today, more than 6.8 million Canadians speak a mother tongue other than French or English. These Canadians represent over 200 ethnicities, and this number continues to grow.
In fact, according to the 2006 Census, visible minorities are projected to increase from 16.2 per cent to 30 per cent in 2031. Canada’s cultural mosaic is renowned the world over. It is something that Canadians can be proud to share.
In 2010, I had the privilege of attending the tenth annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium, which was founded by former Governor General the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, and which featured His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.
During his keynote address, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan delivered an inspiring speech on the topic of pluralism. In his lecture, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan spoke about the Global Centre for Pluralism, which has been established in partnership with the Government of Canada. He explained that this centre is one of the first institutions dedicated to tackling the questions of diversity and pluralism in our world.
His Highness the Aga Khan went on to explain that Canada is a natural home for this institution, given how Canadians value diversity. He said:
What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that identity itself can be pluralistic. Honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others. One can embrace an ethnic or religious heritage, while also sharing a sense of national or regional pride.
The very fact that Canada was chosen to be home to an institution dedicated to building pluralistic, welcoming and tolerant societies says a great deal about Canada and its values.
It also demonstrates that we Canadians have the opportunity to live in a truly multicultural society where people with different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds can coexist in peace and harmony.
Those values were first established by doctrines such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which are the foundation of our country.
Honourable senators, I am a Shia Ismaili Muslim woman of Indian descent who was born in Africa and educated in Europe. My identity is layered, but ultimately I feel privileged and honoured to identify first as Canadian.
Forty years ago, when my family and I fled from Idi Amin’s Uganda to seek refuge elsewhere, we were very lucky to be welcomed by Canada.
My family and I worked hard to make a new life in a new country, learn a new language and adapt to a new climate.
We found it very comforting that it does not matter whether you are black or white, speak English, French, Swahili or Hindi, or practise your faith in a church, mosque or synagogue.
Being different does not hinder in any way one’s ability to thrive in Canada.
Besides the profound sense of belonging that I feel in Canada, I am honoured to serve as the senior senator for British Columbia, home to one of the most ethnically diverse populations in our country.
Honourable senators, we are all exceptionally fortunate to call Canada our home. However, we must not take this fortune for granted. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms entrenches many fundamental rights, which we have the right to excise and the responsibility to protect. As we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter, let us not forget the impact that it has had and that it continues to have on shaping the Canadian identity. Let us remember the role it has played in helping Canada to be recognized as one of the most accepting, diverse and pluralistic nations in the entire world.
Honourable senators, a few weeks ago, Senator Ataullahjan organized a medal ceremony for Zarqa Nawaz, a renowned journalist who wrote the acclaimed CBC television show Little Mosque on the Prairie. Ms. Nawaz spoke eloquently of how, as a Canadian, she could write a Muslim sitcom and have Canadians laugh with her rather than at her. I know that senators Marshall, Poirier and Martin, who were also present, will agree that Ms. Nawaz really made us proud to live in a multicultural Canada.
(On motion of Senator Jaffer, for Senator Andreychuk, debate adjourned.)