It is with great pride that I present my second Annual Report to Parliament as Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
As I reflected upon this message, I could not ignore the events of the past year. We have read hate-filled words directed towards various communities; we have learned of threats aimed at religious and ethnic groups; we have been exposed to political messaging that capitalizes on exclusion and discrimination; and we have seen misogyny aimed at women who dare to speak out against the status quo—all of which were eclipsed by the horror of witnessing a violent shooting in a mosque.
It would be easy to assume that these events happened elsewhere, not here in Canada—a country nonetheless known for its diversity, respect and openness. I am, with countless Canadians, profoundly saddened and shocked that all this happened right in our own backyard—in Toronto, in Edmonton, in Quebec City. An attack against one of our communities is an attack against us all; and since we are all affected by the aftermath, we must all work towards solutions.
While these forms of hate and intolerance are taking center stage, this year was also marked by human rights violations that may be far less worthy of headlines, but that have no less of a devastating impact—people living on reserves who don’t have clean water or safe homes; children who are held in detention because of the ambiguous immigration status of their families; children who choose to take their own lives because they can’t get the support they need in their communities.
In the face of so much change, so much uncertainty, so much conflict, more than ever we must choose to anchor ourselves in the core values of empathy and respect. We must choose to be a country that continues to value human rights.
“In the face of so much change, so much uncertainty, so much conflict, more than ever we must choose to anchor ourselves in the core values of empathy and respect. We must choose to be a country that continues to value human rights.”
To do this, we must make choices and show that the importance we place on human rights in Canada is more than theoretical or academic. It must be real, tangible and concrete. It must reflect the binding sentiment that was at the heart of our country’s creation 150 years ago: Canada is stronger because of, not despite, its diversity. Canada’s diversity is its strength, not its weakness. Our country has been built on the common values, hard work and dedication of people from throughout the world—from Indigenous peoples, to the waves of immigrants that created the foundations of our provinces and cities, to the refugees who found safe harbour after fleeing conflict. Canadians have great pride in our reputation as a beacon for human rights, yet we must lead by example:
- We must stop ignoring the extreme distress of Indigenous people on reserves, and stop normalizing situations of great neglect that would be unacceptable elsewhere in Canada;
- We must reaffirm our respect of international human rights agreements by investing in our domestic human rights institutions; and
- We must re-examine our human rights laws to ensure that they reflect Canadians’ expectations.
“Ensuring that children are given equal opportunities to thrive, regardless of their individual challenges, is the best way of ensuring human rights for all.”
What better time to start than the year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the 150th anniversary of our country. Let us, this year, work towards a country that is even stronger, and even more dedicated to its human rights values.
It is with this forward-looking perspective that we endeavoured, in this Annual Report, to examine human rights in Canada through the eyes of children—children taken from their parents, children who want to express their gender identity, children of migrants who were incarcerated like criminals, and children who faced daily challenges and bullying because of their disabilities.
Ensuring that children are given equal opportunities to thrive, regardless of their individual challenges, is the best way of ensuring human rights for all. How they are treated today, will determine, in large measure, how they will treat others tomorrow.
With all the uncertainty and intolerance that we are witnessing here and across the world, it can be easy to lose sight of our objectives as a country. The solution to this is simple: Let’s bring it back to the children. As Nelson Mandela said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Let us reaffirm together our desire for a country whose soul is anchored in human rights for all.
Which is why this report is all the more important to me. The lived stories shared in this annual report are both heartbreaking and uplifting. They recount moments of despair and exclusion of some of our most vulnerable children. Yet in sharing their stories, these young Canadians become a source of hope, courage and strength. If we are to give our children a world that is open, respectful and empathetic, then it will require a tremendous amount of hope, courage and strength. Let us turn to these children to see how it can be done.
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.