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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Youth Dialogue on Peace and Solidarity

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Youth Dialogue on Peace and Solidarity

Vancouver, Monday, September 28, 2009

I am so pleased to accept the mission that you have conferred upon me, on behalf of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

I believe that each of us must make a firm commitment to building peace, right now.

And I believe that sport, like art, has the power to unite us around this ideal to which humanity has aspired since the dawn of time, much like the ancient tradition of the Olympic Truce.

My friends, I want you to think back for a moment.

Think back to Russia’s Natalia Paderina and Georgia’s Nino Salukvadze at the Beijing Olympic Summer Games last year.

As the conflict raged between their countries over a border dispute, these two athletes embraced and kissed one another on the cheek after winning medals in an air pistol event.

Afterward, Nino Salukvadze said, “If the world were to draw any lessons from what I did, there would never be any wars.”

The photo of these two athletes, side by side, the words of tolerance and openness that they shared on that day, spread around the world like wildfire and kindled a spark of hope.

That gesture of solidarity showed that even in regions besieged by renewed aggression, peace is always possible and can be built by seemingly simple gestures.

Each of us has the power break down the walls of hate and indifference that can spring up within us and around us.

We need to undermine the foundations of those walls, that is, the prejudices and injustices upon which they are built.

We need to break down each and every solitude that they create and that continue to push too many of us into isolation, exclusion and despair.

We need to chip away at suffering and anger so that light can shine through and illuminate the shadows.

We need to rally around that opening, small though it may be, so that promises of fellowship and peace can emerge.

This is what the arts and sports do, in the Olympic spirit.

They break down the walls of defeatism, anger and misunderstanding by inspiring hope, confidence, esteem and a desire to excel.

They pit the forces of creation against the forces of destruction.

Across the country, youth are turning to sports and the arts to successfully overcome some of the serious problems that they and their communities are facing.

I am impressed every single time.

Take, for example, Joe Juneau, a former NHL all-star.

After travelling to Nunavik, in northern Quebec, Joe got the idea to create a hockey program in Kuujjuaq because he was so deeply moved by the number of Inuit youth searching for direction.

And already, after just one year, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of youth attending school and doing everything they can to succeed.

I myself have often witnessed the extent to which the arts, particularly the urban arts–be it rap, multimedia, sculpture, film, dance, theatre, hip hop, graffiti, spoken word, slam, poetry, to name but a few–the extent to which the arts are helping to ease tensions, reawaken a desire to live again, a desire to dream, to reinvent life and find one’s place in the world.

I could give you several examples since launching the Urban Arts Forums project, which allows me to go out and meet with young artists in the regions I visit across Canada and around the world.

One particularly moving example always springs to mind, that of a former gang member. This young man looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Excellency, with hip hop, I have learned how to replace anger and violence with words.”

It is my profound belief that conflict and violence, which are never justified, are the result of words that were never spoken, thoughts that were never shared, dialogues that never took place, debates about ideas that were never launched.

Unfortunately, many young people have told me that they feel as though they are not being taken seriously, as though they have nowhere in which to express themselves, make their opinions heard and have their perspectives taken into account with respect to the issues that affect them.

That is why, from the moment I took office, I wanted to give you, our country’s youth, a place in which you could make your voices heard, and to make you my priority.

I have already mentioned the Urban Arts Forums, which have been tremendously successful and are helping to create networks of solidarity between young artists.

I also hold Youth Dialogues in every region of Canada, just as we are doing today.

I hear you, I see you hard at work, and I believe that we have so much to learn from you, our youth.

As I travel across this country and around the world, I see that you are taking action. You are a key part of every struggle for justice, equality, freedom; of every effort to condemn poverty, overcome tyranny and protect the fragile balance of our environment.

And I can see just how far removed you are from the narrow “fend for yourself” mentality that seems to have taken hold in the world, to the detriment of all.

This morning, I spent some time at the Directions Youth Services Centre, engaging with and listening to the concerns of young people trying to exit high risk circumstances such as homelessness and addictions. They are trying very hard to make the transition from the street to a safe life. They have dreams, lots of talent, and they want to feel that they are part of the community. They want to feel that they are not alone and that people care. Building peace is also about breaking the indifference, breaking down solitudes, and reaching out to those in need. About engaging and assisting street-involved youth in taking the next steps with their life. About sharing that responsibility and raising awareness on this issue.

You are not indifferent; your presence here is proof of that. You are concerned about the future of your community and the world, and you want to do your part and share your unique perspective.

I love to see the extent to which you, today’s youth, are finding imaginative solutions and are daring to find new ways of mobilizing those around you and rekindling the hope that the world can change.

I believe it is important to encourage you and to recognize the solutions that you are putting forward to address the challenges we are currently facing. They are quite often solutions that we had never considered and that would bring about lasting change.

And I believe that you are the lifeblood of this country, not just for what you can do to shape the future, but because of what you are doing every day, here and now, to shape the present.

Yes, peace is never a sure thing. It must be built, and often under the most trying conditions.

I recently returned from Afghanistan, where children at one of the schools that we helped to build, the Sayad Pacha School in Kandahar, told me that their biggest dream is to no longer live in fear of stepping on a landmine. This is part of their daily reality.

I met some of those children recovering from their injuries in the hospital in Kandahar, where our military medical team does exceptional work.

Whenever one of our soldiers falls in Afghanistan, I stand beside the grieving families.

Building peace demands a great many sacrifices. Every action counts.

One incredible memory stays with me of a moment that I shared with our soldiers over there, when they sang as one with 19-year-old Canadian artist Ricky Paquette, hundreds of voices echoing through the dark Kandahar night: “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

We know that peace has not yet been achieved, not here, not anywhere.

That it begins with each of us, with our own actions at home, at school, in our neighbourhood, our community, wherever we live, and in solidarity with the rest of humanity.

Today, the floor is yours.

I want to know about your dreams for peace and the solutions you are putting forward to make those dreams a reality.

I want to know how you can act as ambassadors for peace and solidarity within your community and with other youth.

I think I’ll stop here so that we can begin our discussion.

I’m listening to you.

It is my hope that the dialogue between us will reflect our desire to come together and help to bring about change for our country and our world.