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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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News

Panel Discussion on Celebrating Diversity in Canadian and Swedish Cities (Malmö, Sweden)

Malmö, Sweden, Wednesday, February 22, 2017

 

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Just over two decades ago, Canada held a major public inquiry called the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

The purpose was to study and find ways to address challenges in the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, and to help us build a more fair and just society.

The final report ran to 4 000 pages, and it set out a 20-year agenda for change.

Today, 20 years later, we have made progress, but we still have a long way to go to achieve true reconciliation in our country.

I would like to share a quote from the Royal Commission, which provides so many insights on the nature of Canada, a land of great diversity.

This one is particularly apt:

“Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.”

Indeed, that is the story of Canada, and increasingly, it is the story of our world.

We try, we fail, we try again, to live in peace and harmony.

We are all testing this grand notion, and it’s so important we succeed.

Let me share a few facts about our country:

Canada is home to a population with more than 200 ethnic origins and speaking more than 200 languages.

It has the highest proportion of foreign-born population (20.6%) of any G7 country.

A growing majority of Canadians view multiculturalism as one of our most important symbols of national identity. A full 85% believe that ethnic and cultural diversity is an important shared value.

On immigration, 82% of Canadians believe it has a positive effect on our economy.

And yet, we have a long way to go before we call ourselves truly inclusive and tolerant. There are significant gaps.

Tragically, Canada is not immune to hatred and violence, as the recent terrible attack on a mosque in Quebec City reminded us.

One-third of Muslims in Canada report having experienced discrimination or unfair treatment in the past five years. This is totally unacceptable.

In the context of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, we have made progress but much remains to be achieved. Indigenous peoples represent 4 percent of our population, and we are working to heal the wounds of the past and to create a better future in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.  We have made progress, but far too many socioeconomic gaps remain.

In terms of gender equality, women workers in Canada earn an average of 66.7 cents for every dollar earned by men. This too is totally unacceptable.  

So as you can see, when it comes to diversity, Canadians have reason to be proud, but no reason to feel complacent. We can do better, and we must.

I’m very pleased to be here with you in Malmö for this discussion on diversity. For generations, Sweden has inspired people around the world as a welcoming nation, and with its efforts to achieve a diverse, peaceful and harmonious society. Throughout the 20th century and to the present day, Sweden has been a source of hope and inspiration to people from all over the world.  

And in the current context, the city of Malmö is playing a central role in this challenge, and I would add, this opportunity.

We have so much to discuss and to learn from each other. Our focus must be on what allows newcomers to succeed in their adopted homelands, whether Swedish or Canadian.

We’re here to share best practices and learn from each other. I’m a great believer in this kind of collaboration, and this is a wonderful opportunity for our like-minded countries to exchange on this very important matter.

And as I’ve said in Canada in relation to our country’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis:

Great nations are built on great challenges.

You understand this in Sweden. Your generosity has been extraordinary, and is rooted not merely in compassion but in an understanding that through inclusiveness, diversity makes our societies stronger.

Inclusivity is the key.

I’m very proud to be joined on this State visit to Sweden by a delegation of distinguished Canadians, who have much insight on this topic.

By definition, any delegation of Canadians will be comprised of people who have backgrounds from around the world. Indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants of our land, but the rest of us are relative newcomers.

Thus, our delegates include Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, who was born in Myanmar and is of Indian Muslim descent.

Mr. Naheed Nenshi is the mayor of Calgary, which makes him the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city.

And of special note for all of you, we are joined by a native son of Gothenburg who needs no introduction: former NHL all-star and Olympic gold medalist Daniel Alfredsson!

People sometimes dismiss a commitment to diversity as starry-eyed idealism, yet these talented Canadians demonstrate it is anything but.

Canada’s commitment to diversity is anchored by a robust suite of legislation designed to combat discrimination and empower all Canadians to fully participate in society. In 1971, Canada was the first country to adopt a multiculturalism policy. In 1988, this vision was enshrined in law with the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. The values and principles of inclusive diversity are also enshrined in key legislation such as the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a diverse, globalized, complex world, nothing could be more pragmatic than an inclusive, pluralistic society. Diversity at home helps us to enrich our society, to better understand other countries and to forge connections with people around the world.

With that in mind, what practical challenges do we face? Let us ask the hard questions.

How do we ensure access to health care, education, social security and employment for newcomers?

How do we foster social harmony, and which approaches to integration are most effective? How do we ensure we are truly inclusive and fostering the success of all of our citizens, regardless of who they are or where they’re from, whether they’re newcomers or citizens whose families have been in our respective countries for generations?

These are among the questions we must answer, and I’m heartened to see all of you here and engaged in the effort.

No one ever said diversity and multiculturalism would be easy. But I know that in Canada, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, many of our greatest advances have come through a firm commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness.

This is the story of Canada, and I know that increasingly, it is Sweden’s story as well.

We have much to celebrate, and much to learn together.

Let this common cause be part of the glue that binds Canada and Sweden! The cause and the company are very good!

Thank you for your participation in this important discussion.