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Challenging Canadians to Respond to the Quebec Attack

February 1, 2017

In conversations with faith, political, and cultural leaders in Saskatchewan, I heard a consistent and shared response to the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec) in the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy. Without exception, that response has been one of shock, grief, empathy, compassion, and outreach.

Many Canadians are declaring their support for the grieving Muslim community in Quebec, and many Canadians are voicing their solidarity with Muslim communities across our country.  This unity affirms that an attack on people of the Islamic faith is an attack on the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion of every Canadian. This support defines us as Canadian.

Diversity is another defining characteristic of our country. To be clear, diversity is a strength that cannot and must not be underestimated.  The complexity of our diversity must also be considered. It has been said that, on the one hand, Canada is the most successful experiment in pluralism that the world has ever seen. That success, however, is fragile.

Canada is not without its conflicts. Our country and our success are not strengthened by intolerance, malice, or ignorance. Canada is not immune to the language of acrimonious populism. As the Supreme Court of Canada has asserted, words and actions matter. Words have the power to maim, shame, and blame. Hate speech begets hate crime. There is no place for hateful words, intolerance, or terrorism in our society.

It is incumbent upon all of us to educate ourselves about the issues that are shaping our community, our country, and our world. It is essential that we stand up, speak out, and challenge the words and actions that are wrong, harmful, and divisive. Our citizenship demands this fundamental responsibility. These conversations and actions require courage. When individuals demonstrate such courage, they are, in effect, working to make society more enlightened and more empathetic.

Every Canadian bears the responsibility of upholding the rights of others, just as they would want their own rights upheld. This mutual recognition is a critical feature of our democracy. Without responsibility and action, rights become meaningless.

We need to invest to sustain and grow our commitment to a multicultural, multiethnic, and multitheist Canada. That investment should be in education, in relationship building, and in engaging in courageous conversations.

Canadians must uphold democracy, act on our collective responsibilities, and stand with those whose rights and freedoms are under threat. Every Canadian has a responsibility to make the world a better place.

David M. Arnot, Chief Commissioner
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission