Presentation of the Pearson Peace Medal
Rideau Hall, Wednesday, May 24, 2017
I acknowledge that this gathering is taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.
What a pleasure to welcome all of you to Rideau Hall for the 30th presentation of the Pearson Peace Medal.
And a special welcome to a most deserving recipient: Lloyd Axworthy.
Lloyd, with this medal, you have come full circle! As though it were yesterday, I’m sure you’ll recall your grade 11 history class field trip to Winnipeg’s Civic Auditorium, where you heard a very special guest speaker.
His name, of course, was Lester B. Pearson.
I wonder: what would Mr. Pearson have said had he known who was in the crowd that day? A young idealist and activist who would one day serve as Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and become a Companion of the Order of Canada?
My guess? He wouldn’t have been surprised one bit.
Mr. Pearson was a humanist, after all.
He had faith in peoples’ ability to do great things in life, given the chance.
I think he knew exactly who he was speaking to that day in Winnipeg.
Lloyd, you share that conviction.
You, too, are a humanist who believes in people, and you also believe in the power and the obligation of organizations, institutions and States to make the well-being of individual people their number one priority.
In the words of one of your nominators for this medal:
“In a world in which political leaders too often use the shield of sovereignty to exploit and abuse their citizens with impunity, [Lloyd Axworthy] has repeatedly underscored the obligations of the sovereign state to protect its citizens and their rights.”
With this medal, we honour and celebrate your lifelong pursuit of a more fair and just world, a world in which all people have the fundamental rights to life, dignity and protection from harm.
It’s a world we all want to live in.
It’s a world that you have helped to bring about for large numbers of people.
Throughout your career, you have pursued freedom from fear and freedom from want by many means. They’re too numerous to mention here, but allow me to highlight just three spheres in particular which illustrate your commitment to people both at home and around the world.
One, your time as Canada’s foreign minister, a remarkable tenure that included your work on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. This effort, which led to what is known worldwide as the Ottawa Treaty and was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize for the campaigners, is estimated to have saved tens of thousands of lives and averted hundreds of thousands of injuries in the past 20 years.
Two, your leadership and support of international institutions. Examples include your term as president of the UN Security Council, your support of both the UN Optional Protocol on Children and Armed Conflict and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and your role as the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for implementing the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Three, closer to home and of equal significance, your efforts to achieve reconciliation and healing with respect to Indigenous peoples in Canada. Notably, during your time as president and vice chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, you worked hard to improve accessibility and to help ensure a learning experience that respects Indigenous cultures and traditions. You played a key role in this important work, which continues across the country today.
To borrow from another of your nominators for this medal, any one of these accomplishments would merit your consideration for this honour.
Together, your achievements on behalf of human security in Canada and around the world are extraordinary, making you a most deserving recipient of this prestigious medal.
Congratulations, Lloyd, and thank you for all you have done for humanity.