Volume 140, Issue 17
Thursday, November 7, 2002
Speech from the Throne
Motion for Address in Reply Adopted
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I am pleased to respond to the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne on Canada’s continuing commitment to diversity.
As is the case with a number of other senators in this chamber, I first came to this place in the fall of 2001 during the last session of Parliament. It was not a Speech from the Throne that set the tone for my first months here; rather, it was the horrible events that had taken place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania only days before I was sworn into the Senate.
Canadians were justifiably afraid and called on their government to respond by examining issues of security, safety and counterterrorism. I was able to participate in much of the debate on these issues directly as a member of the Special Senate Committee on Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism bill. As both a refugee from Africa and a Muslim Canadian, I feel I was able to contribute a unique perspective to the debate on Bill C-36, a perspective that many Canadians who are members of minorities share. While I do not believe Canadians will ever be able to look at things entirely the same after September 11, our minds have gradually been able to return to other matters that are important to us.
The Speech from the Throne offers a concrete opportunity to return the focus of the government to all the issues that matter to Canadians; for me, it presents the first opportunity to work with a fresh policy agenda.
The Speech from the Throne contained a number of new initiatives that are worthy of our attention and support, some of which have already been brought to our attention by other senators in the course of this debate.
I should like to focus on some points that I feel are particularly important, specifically the government’s commitment to lower the barriers to the recognition of foreign credentials, to implement targeted strategies, to reduce the problems faced by new immigrants to Canada and to make training available in both official languages to the children of immigrant families. These points reflect an ongoing commitment of Canada’s government to diversity and multiculturalism in our country.
It has often been said that Canada is a nation of immigrants. I speak from personal experience when I say that Canada and Canadians embrace different people and cultures like no other county. Canada provides not only a place for individuals to live, but also the space to practise their own religion and culture freely while still welcoming them into the Canadian community as equal partners. However, many of those who immigrate to Canada seeking opportunities for themselves and their families continue to face barriers to the recognition of their credentials because they studied or worked in foreign countries. In some cases, these difficulties have been caused by a simple lack of understanding on how education and employment standards in other countries compare to those of Canada.
In the Speech from the Throne, the Canadian government has committed itself to break down the barriers to recognition of foreign credentials and allow skilled foreign workers to join the Canadian workforce more quickly. This will allow individuals and families to realize the opportunities that originally drew them to Canada and to integrate into the Canadian workforce more quickly.
Honourable senators, I am very familiar with the source of problems that these sorts of barriers can pose. I was one of the many Ugandan Asians forced to leave Idi Amin’s terror just 30 years ago, and I faced many barriers to the recognition of my credentials when I arrived in Canada as a refugee.
When Idi Amin took away all my possessions, he did not break my spirit. When Idi Amin made me stateless, he did not break my spirit; but when the Law Society of British Columbia told me I could not practise law, my spirit was broken.
I began working at the firm of Dohm, Macdonald Russell and Kawarski as a junior secretary. Thomas Dohm, a partner in the firm and a former Supreme Court justice, asked me why I, a London-trained lawyer, was working as a secretary. After I explained my situation to him, he fought on my behalf, and I have been practising law in British Columbia since 1978. I have been living my dream.
Since then, I have met thousands of individuals across the country who are not able to live their dreams. They are unable to realize their dreams because of barriers to the recognition of skills and credentials earned in foreign countries. These people do not have Thomas Dohm to fight on their behalf.
By including a commitment in the Speech from the Throne to reduce the barriers to the recognition of foreign credentials, the government has given many Canadians a chance to realize their dreams. However, it is not only those who are coming to Canada who will benefit from the removal of these barriers, but all of Canada.
Our last census has shown that the Canadian population is aging, creating a need for more skilled workers to replace those who are now leaving or will soon be leaving the workforce. This is also why it is necessary to ensure that Canada becomes a destination of choice for foreign students with diverse skills. The increased efforts to bring these young, talented individuals to Canada will ensure that the foundation of Canada’s knowledge- based economy remains sound for years to come.
However, it is not only the recognition of credentials that can pose problems for those who come to Canada from abroad. There are also any number of other problems that can interfere with one’s ability to live and work in a new country. These could include language barriers, culture shock, or the general uneasy feeling of being an outsider in a new land.
One of the things that makes Canada great is that we pursue the integration of communities rather than the assimilation of individuals. This country is not a melting pot; rather, we have a country rich in diversity in which people can remain a part of their own communities while still participating fully in the larger society of Canada. We believe in integration of communities.
Our Constitution guarantees through our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that all Canadians should be treated equally. All of us here agree with that principle, but it is a much easier promise to make than it is to keep.
Barriers to full participation in Canadian society still exist. That is why I am so happy to hear that the government has committed itself to targeted strategies to reduce the barriers faced by immigrants to Canada. Continued harmony between the diverse groups of Canadian society is essential for our continued growth as a country. The Canada we want is both prosperous and inclusive.
Of course, when we speak of the future, our thoughts naturally turn toward our children. For many of those who come to Canada from other countries, it is at least as important that their children find opportunities as it is that they find them themselves. However, children also face barriers to full integration in Canadian society. Even though it may be easier for them to adapt to a new culture in some cases, other more mundane barriers can exist. These are, most of all, linguistic barriers.
Canada’s diversity is highlighted by its bilingualism, and it is important that children of immigrant families be given an opportunity to learn both French and English so that they can both realize the greatest opportunities that our great country has to offer and have the broadest number of careers available and become fully part of Canadian society.
With Canada’s aging population, the children of immigrant families need to be given the greatest possible opportunity to become members of the Canadian labour force. That is important for their own sake and for the sake of Canada’s continued economic prosperity.
Ultimately, it is the things that have not changed in the Speech from the Throne that mean the most â€” the Government of Canada’s on going commitment to harmony, diversity and multiculturalism. The Government of Canada understands the role that new Canadians have played and will play in the future of Canada and recognizes the benefit of making Canada the destination of choice for foreign-skilled workers.
I applaud the Government of Canada, and especially the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Honourable Denis Coderre, for making it a priority in the Speech from the Throne to remove these barriers.
I look forward to seeing how these policies are implemented.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is the house ready for the question?
Hon. Senators: Question!
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Some Hon. Senators: On division.
Motion agreed to, on division, and Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne adopted.
On motion of the Honourable Senator Robichaud, ordered that the Address be engrossed and presented to Her Excellency the Governor General by the Honourable the Speaker.