|In these times of trouble, in
the midst of a war when our spirits are low and our fears high, when
we feel as one with our American neighbours in this hour of our
common grief, I wish to rekindle our core belief that Canada is a
beacon to a troubled world. It is not that we are perfect. The
battle for equality and fairness never ends. I earn part of my
living waging it.
But I tell you, from the perspective of one who has seen the
world, that Canada is as close to heaven on Earth as it gets.
A common definition of a Canadian is that she is not American.
But we can come up with a more positive formulation, one that goes
well beyond simply saying that we have universal medicare and they
The first thing to say is that we share a common border but not a
American author Francis Fukuyama has said that there is a big
hole at the heart of the American liberal democracy: Based as it is
entirely on the principle of individual rights, it does not
recognize collective rights. But Canada does, dating back to the
1867 British North America Act.
The Fathers of Confederation struck a fine balance between
individual and collective rights. They extended a collective
identity to our 600 First Nations. They codified the compact between
the French and the English. They entrenched the Civil Code in
Quebec. They enshrined educational and linguistic rights to the
English minority in Quebec and the French minorities in English
A very Canadian
balance between ballots and bullets
This subculture of mutual respect led us to the desire to declare
Quebec a distinct society. Both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown
Constitutional Accords failed, but something remarkable happened
along the way.
Quebec's two referendums, despite giving us palpitations,
strengthened our democracy and spawned a new political culture of
peaceful dissent, unique to Canada.
Instead of jailing separatists, we now put them on our payroll in
There is also national consensus that we will not use force to
hold the Quˇbˇcois in Canada against their democratic will,
expressed clearly on a clear question. The Clarity Act is a
revolutionary doctrine that strikes a very Canadian balance between
ballots and bullets, between the right of secession of a distinct
people on the one hand and the territorial integrity of the nation
on the other.
Parallel to this development has been another great Canadian
achievement: The 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms made Canada the
only constitutionally multicultural country in the world.
Along with the Multiculturalism Act that followed, our law
accepts what Charles Taylor, our foremost philosopher, has called
the politics of equal dignity for all cultural groups.
The most defining feature of Canada today is its staggering
demographic diversity. While 1 in 10 Americans are foreign-born, 1
in 5 Canadians are. In fact, Canada today makes more citizens
through immigration than through net increases in the domestic
Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world. More than
150 languages are spoken here. About 54 per cent of Torontonians are
immigrants. The comparative figure for New York is only 40 per cent.
Toronto is the only urban centre in the Western world where a
majority, 51 per cent, are visible minorities.
Only institutions that best reflect this demographic reality, as
York University is beginning to, are assured of a bright future.
Across Canada, visible minorities now total about 4.5 million.
Both sides of every international issue are present in Canada,
especially Toronto - Arabs and Jews, Serbs and Croats, Serbs and
Bosnians, Serbs and Kosovars, Indians and Pakistanis, Tamils and
Sinhalese, mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese. The list is long.
But don't fret, Canada has always been home to all the old
country troubles: all the bickering nationalities of the British
Isles, plus the English vs. the French; Catholics vs. Protestants;
Greeks vs. Macedonians; Greeks vs. Turks; Hungarians vs. Russians;
Russians vs. the Czechs. The old list was long as well.
It is the genius of Canada that all such groups have almost
always kept their rivalries within the rule of law. They have done
so either by living in splendid isolation of each other, even while
being good neighbours; or they have done so by simply agreeing to
Never before in the history of humanity have so many different
peoples come together in such a common bond of peace and tranquility
as under the broad canopy of Canada.
Unlike many nations that approach diversity as a problem,
Canadians embrace it - in law and in day-to-day practice. For us,
diversity is not a problem. Rather the problem is the occasional
prejudice that greets it. That's why we worked our way out of
anti-Catholicism; we fought anti-Semitism, and still do; and, since
Sept. 11, we have been busy battling anti-Islamism.
Another very Canadian formulation is the late Pierre Trudeau's
practical implementation of Marshall McLuhan's theory of the global
village. Canadians no longer have the conceit of a fixed culture.
Canadian culture - informed by our honourable history, with no
colonial past and no present geopolitical desire to dominate any
people anywhere - is a living, breathing entity that evolves every
day. Every generation feels free to rework it, reshape it, improve
it. In that sense, you have the chance, perhaps more than any other
young generation anywhere else in the world, to remould the country
in your own image.
It is the same spirit of flexibility and of cultivating a culture
of human rights, at home and abroad, that Canada has distinguished
itself elsewhere. It was a Canadian, John Humphrey, who wrote the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The nation that
produced him also introduced the policy of giving refugee claimants
the right to due process of law.
The nation that invented the idea of peacekeeping has led the way
on the international movements to ban land mines and the use of
The nation that created the National Film Board, the CBC, the
Canada Council and Telefilm to reinforce a Canadian narrative is
producing objective journalism on this current war, as opposed to
The nation that incubated the idea of "Medium being the
message" is pioneering what I have called the Equality of
Citizenship in Print and on the Airwaves. To paraphrase Prof.
Taylor, we at The Toronto Star are trying, in our modest way, to
provide the dignity of fair coverage to all our minority
Fair coverage to
all our minority communities
African Canadians are not merely entertainers and sports figures.
Sikh Canadians are not just people with beards and turbans. Not all
Muslims are terrorists. Not all Tamil Canadians belong to the Tamil
Tiger movement, any more than all Catholics ever belonged to the
Canadian media are beginning to portray members of minority
groups in all their humanity, in all their complexity, glory,
success and failure. They deserve no less as the first-class,
taxpaying Canadian citizens and consumers that they are. They are
entitled to have their voices heard, on domestic and on
international issues on which they hold very definite and
It is only by attempting to understand each other, here at home
and in Canada's many extended families abroad, that we can begin to
find our common humanity.
These twin themes - protecting the rights of minorities and
hearing out all viewpoints in our broader public square - become
more important, not less, during times of crisis.
This is a very Canadian view, which you have chosen to honour
today by conferring this honorary degree. More than me, or even The
Toronto Star, you are celebrating Canada - our home and native land.