ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for the Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism at the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism Ceremony

Ottawa, Ontario, June 27, 2011

As delivered

Thank you very much. Distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic corps, Your Excellencies and members of the clergy, community leaders, Canadians all, good evening and welcome to this third-annual ceremony for the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism. 

Today, I am happy to announce that Mrs. Baljit Sethi is the winner of this year’s award and she joins us all the way from Prince George, British Columbia – a very long voyage. As you know, the Government of Canada named this award after the late Senator Paul Yuzyk in honour of his legacy and his lasting influence as the key pioneer of multiculturalism in Canada. Senator Yuzyk was known to many as the father of multiculturalism and this award is an opportunity for us to recognize his legacy, the original historical vision of multiculturalism in Canada, but also to recognize those who personify what’s best about this tradition of pluralism, of unity in diversity, that has been part of our history dating back centuries.

While Senator Yuzyk praised the institutions and heritage of our British and French founders as well as the achievements of Aboriginal peoples, he was the first to insist that Canada was more than a bilingual or bicultural nation. 

As a Canadian of Ukrainian heritage, he could not identify with a concept of Canada which only referred to two founding nations. He argued that reducing Canada to two founding cultures ignored the stories of Canadians who he said formed the third way, like himself, who had neither British nor French ancestry. So when the Government of Canada created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963, it was Senator Yuzyk, who had been appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Diefenbaker, who argued for a broader view of the country, one that included all of our history and all of our diversity. He was a key figure in telling Canadians about the story of his Ukrainian origin, and he encouraged them to learn about all cultures that have made up this country. 

His vision of a united but diverse Canada is one which generations of Canadians have embraced.  Multiculturalism, as he said, should lead to unity in diversity, and we should all be working to build an understanding between us. Multiculturalism means celebrating the best aspects of our respective traditions, but it’s also about building bridges between communities and coming together on the basis of shared values and our shared Canadian story, our common institutions, values, symbols and history.

Highlighting the work of people who champion Senator Yuzyk’s vision commemorates his legacy and principles. And, by the way, I believe we have a number of members of his family, and if I could ask them to stand and be acknowledged.

So tonight’s award also occurs on Multiculturalism Day and a few days before we will celebrate Canada Day and reflect on what it means to be a member of this great dominion. Because of the pluralistic and harmonious society we built, we’ve been able to achieve a strong and united country that is not only a source of pride for its own citizens, but also a place where people from around the world aspire to live. And it’s for this reason that I’m honoured this evening to present the Paul Yuzyk Award to Mrs. Baljit Sethi. 

Mrs. Sethi will receive this year’s award in the Lifetime Achievement category for her tireless dedication to promoting multiculturalism, racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding. Ever since she came to Canada nearly 40 years ago, she has dedicated her life to making our country a better place. In 1976, she established the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia to help newcomers succeed. It was not long before she realized that newcomers were encountering the same challenges that confronted her upon her arrival in Canada. 

Despite her two Master’s degrees, Mrs. Sethi struggled to find employment in her field of teaching. And she realized that in order for newcomers to fully integrate and succeed, she’d need to work to promote cross-cultural understanding. It was at this time that the Immigrant Services Society became the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society. Under this new title, Mrs. Sethi established various multicultural programs to promote racial harmony. She began to tear down the walls that prevented newcomers from integrating, and she worked to build bridges between all members of her community. She encouraged immigrants to interact more with their host community, to develop relationships and become more engaged in all aspects of community life – cultural, social and economic. 

Her efforts not only benefited immigrants and refugees, but the entire northern region of British Columbia, which is an area that’s larger than the size of France. By promoting multiculturalism, she helped change the region’s outlook towards immigrants and visible minorities. Indeed, she has had a very profound effect on advancing racial harmony. Mrs. Sethi has been described as a “beacon of hope” for new immigrants. She’s also been described by many newcomers as their adopted mom. It is without question that Mrs. Sethi has touched the lives of many, and for the better. And so with this award, she will have the opportunity to continue this legacy. 

As a winner of the 2011 award, Mrs. Sethi will select an eligible Canadian organization or association which will receive a $20,000 grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Multiculturalism Program in recognition of her contribution and the prestige of this award. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank Mrs. Sethi. I think that she has set an example for all of us, demonstrating to the world that social cohesion is indeed possible within Canada’s great diversity. 

Canadians can demonstrate to the world that people from all religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds can live together in peace and with mutual respect. 

And, before closing, I should remark that this is the third Paul Yuzyk Award for excellence in promoting Canadian multiculturalism. The first two awards we held took place in Toronto, and our first recipient was a great man, a great Canadian. Mr. John Yaremko, who was the longest-serving minister of a provincial cabinet in the Province of Ontario, was a friend and working colleague of Paul Yuzyk’s, and John Yaremko was perhaps most famously responsible for opening the doors of Canada to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. And I mention that because, sadly, we lost Mr. Yaremko earlier this year. And so I just pause to remember him and his legacy. 

But today, we carry on that legacy and the legacy of Paul Yuzyk in celebrating Mrs. Sethi’s contribution to Canada, because in so many ways, it represents the very best of our country. 

Thank you very much.

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