By Senator Mobina Jaffer : Canada is a nation whose identity is comprised of the mosaic of languages and cultures it embodies. It is a nation that stands as a role model for multiculturalism and which views difference as strength rather than a weakness.
Most importantly, Canada is a nation that welcomes people from all walks of life regardless of their race, religion or creed.
Multiculturalism in Canada was originally established 41 years ago within the framework of Canada’s bilingualism and biculturalism policy. Over the years, our country’s policies continued to evolve, and I am extremely proud that in 1988, with the passage of the Multiculturalism Act, Canada became the first country in the world to pass law regarding national multiculturalism.
Not only do these policies assist in the preservation of culture and language, they also set out to reduce instances of discrimination and promote intercultural understanding. Today, we as Canadian’s are fortunate to live in truly multicultural society, one where individuals from various religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together and co-exist peacefully and harmoniously.
As we celebrate 41 years of multiculturalism in Canada, I would like to reflect on the values of acceptance, tolerance and understanding, all of which are at the very heart of the Canadian identity. These values were all at the very heart of the late Prime Minister Trudeau’s vision for Canada, which was illustrated in a speech he delivered to the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress on October 9, 1971, where he stated:
“A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate. A society which eulogizes the average citizen is one which breeds mediocrity. What the world should be seeking, and what in Canada we must continue to cherish, are not concepts of uniformity but human values: compassion, love, and understanding.”
Today, Canada is home to over 200 different ethnicities and over a 100 different languages. In fact, linguistic diversity extends beyond the two official languages, as nearly 5 million Canadians have a mother tongue other than English of French. Moreover, the African population in Canada is growing incredibly fast, making people of African origin one of the largest non-European ethnic groups in the country.
Over 40 years ago, my family and I found refuge in Canada from Uganda. As a woman of Indian origin, Ismaili Muslim faith, who was born in Africa and educated in Europe, I felt extremely fortunate to be welcomed into a country that embraced diversity and multiculturalism. Today, not only do I have the honour of identifying myself as a Canadian, I also have the privilege of representing my province of British Columbia in the Senate of Canada.
As we celebrate 41 years of multiculturalism in Canada, I look forward to coming together and celebrating how fortunate we are to call one of the most diverse, accepting and peaceful nations our home.