This past weekend, in Montreal, Canadians from across the country came together to celebrate the significant strides towards improving the rights of the LGBTQ2I community. It was the first national Pride celebration for Canada, and it was a spirited and modern display of support for a historically marginalized group. Amid all the posters and catchphrases, one t-shirt in particular stood out for me. It simply said: “Humankind—be both.”
Human. Kind. A message made all the more important in the wake of the disturbing events we have seen over the last week around the world, and here in Canada. News coverage of a terror attack in Barcelona, alt-right protests in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere in the U.S., white supremacist rallies being planned in cities across our country, organized groups protesting the arrival of refugees.
While debate is healthy for any democracy, fear and hate are being emboldened and we are starting to sense that maybe, just maybe, Canada isn’t as sheltered as some like to believe. There are cracks in Canada’s foundation — a foundation first built on diversity, acceptance and understanding. And these cracks are starting to let water in.
That’s how hate and extremism work. Gradually over time, they seep into every crack they find and weaken all they touch. They are insidious that way — day after day, week after week, month after month — ever so subtlety, eroding the edges until one day, something gives. This is where we now find ourselves. The reality is that we can’t pretend that the problem isn’t also here in Canada. We need to have an authentic conversation about it. We need to face it and address it.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has a responsibility to speak and act in the public interest. Events, like those of the past week, always plunge our organization into discussion: When is the best time for the Commission to speak out and have an impact? How should we respond?
Are these not the very same questions we ask ourselves, on a personal level, when we witness hate, racism and intolerance—no matter how subtle—in our daily lives? When should I say something? And if I don’t say something now, who will?
So many questions, yet it is clear that the answer is the same whether it be at an organizational level or personal level. We cannot stay silent. Silence makes us complicit. We should always say something.
Call it out.
Point a finger at it.
Comment on it.
We must act. We must say loudly and clearly that these are not our values. Not tomorrow, not later when it will be too late.
The Commission is committed to speaking out when the respect of human rights is threatened.
The time has come: we must not accept hate when we see it on such a scale, manifested openly. We need leaders to be blunt, we need companies to use their corporate weight to get messages heard, and we need governments to mobilize. And this will happen, if, acting together, we sound an alarm that is so loud, so unequivocal, that we will all feel compelled to action.
This may seem, to some, as an excessive display of concern. This is Canada, after all. Yet, we have seen the impossible and improbable happen elsewhere, so we must work together so that it doesn’t happen here. Let’s work together so that the Commission’s message “My Canada includes everyone” is not just a slogan or a hashtag. Let’s work together so that “Human. Kind.” is not just a simple message on a t-shirt.
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission