ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a Ceremony for the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism

Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization
Edmonton, Alberta

July 3, 2013

As delivered

Thank you all for joining us here today. Let me say what a beautiful rendition of Oh Canada that was and a special thanks to Kitbielle Pasagui for her lovely voice and her good French as well.

It’s a real pleasure to be here with you all at the Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization, an organization that I have long admired. I’m especially pleased that MLA Janice Sarich is here to join with us this morning. Thank you, Janice, for being here.

I would also like to bring greetings, on behalf of the Member of Parliament for Edmonton East, Peter Goldring, who regrets that he could not be here but wants to pass on his best wishes to Mr. Ahmed. 

This is an opportunity for us to recognize excellence in promoting an important Canadian value and tradition. You know that Canada has always been a country that managed to incorporate people of different beliefs and backgrounds all together united with their common Canadian identity and fidelity to this country.

Two days ago, I had the great honour of swearing in 150 new Canadian citizens on the anniversary of Confederation on July 1st. As I looked into their eyes, I was - as I always am deeply moved – to see the patriotism, the sense of hope and the gratitude for all of the opportunities Canada affords them, coming on that day from over 60 countries of origin.

Canada is a land that, from our very beginning, has embraced differences and found ways to create unity in our diversity. Since the British presence in what was then la Nouvelle France.

Since the 18th Century, our attitude has been to include differences. The British regime, following the conquests, implemented the Quebec Act, preserving freedom, French Catholic institutions, laws, and the legal, religious and linguistic traditions within what were the Canadian colonies.

Right from the 18th century we’ve had this attitude of including and incorporating differences in our approach to national unity and identity. Indeed we see that, now more than ever, as Canada maintains the highest sustained levels of immigration in our history and the highest per capita levels of immigration in the developed world, welcoming newcomers from over 180 different countries of origin.

I just came directly from the Edmonton Catholic Social Services Rotary House, where they help to settle and integrate new government assisted refugees. I met a small number of the 16,000 Iraqi refugees who we have welcomed to Canada and joined our protection, all of them victims of persecution and ethnic cleansing and violence, particularly against religious minorities.

I announced there this morning that Canada will begin to resettle Syrian refugees, victims of persecution in their homeland of Syria because of the war, particularly those who are at very high levels of risk. For example, women who are victims of sexual violence or religious minorities who have been persecuted.

This is maintaining the best traditions of who we are as Canadians but, as we enjoy and benefit from the advantages of diversity and the presence of so many newcomers from many different countries of origin, we have a special responsibility to be very deliberate about ensuring that people integrate into Canadian society quickly and successfully – that we do not end up creating a Canada that is made up of a series of parallel communities or ethnic enclaves.

We must find those common touchstones of unity in our diversity. That is why we created the Paul Yuzyk Award. Paul Yuzyk was the son of Ukrainian immigrants, farmers in southern Manitoba like the Ukrainian farmers who settled much of Northern Alberta. Who came here with nothing except a tremendous work ethic and desire to pass on a bright future to their children.

Paul grew up on a poor farm with his parents but went on, somehow, to university – the first person in his entire family to do so and earned a PhD in sociology at the University of Manitoba, after which he was eventually appointed to the Senate of Canada by the Right honourable John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister.

In 1966, the government of the day had a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. That’s what it was called – the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Royal Commission. It sounds a bit off key when we say it now in 2013. Paul Yuzyk said, ‘hold on a minute.’ He stood up in the Senate of Canada in 1965 in a famous speech and he said, ‘this is not a bicultural country.’ 

‘What about the one third of Canadians,’ he said, who do not trace their roots or origins either to Britain or to France. What about what he called the third wave of Canadians, those who had come from different corners of the world, including his Ukrainian parents.  He said we must find a model of Canadian identity, which includes people of all different backgrounds that honours their patrimony, their heritage.

He said, ‘we need not biculturalism but, rather, multiculturalism.’ That was the first time that anyone proposed this as a model for unity in diversity in Canadian public discourse.  So, when I became Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in 2007, I’ve had this great honour of working with our many cultural and ethnic and immigrant communities.

I thought it would be important to recover the original vision of his multiculturalism because – let me be clear. There is, in certain parts of the world, an abstract and really unhelpful, in fact, counterproductive idea of multiculturalism. An idea of cultural relativism, an idea that we cannot actually have any objective or normative values as a unifying force in our society.

Paul Yuzyk disagreed. He venerated, he celebrated, and he honoured the traditions rooted in our British and French institutions, our tradition of ordered liberty, our democratic Westminster Parliamentary system, our constitutional monarchy, the ideas of the dignity of the human person and the rule of law that flowed from that.

Paul Yuzyk, what he was saying, is that we want to create a country that is deeply rooted in those values which have a particular historical context but, at the same time, we want to welcome people from around the world who, while being loyal to those Canadian values, also celebrate what’s best about their own cultural patrimony, their own cultural background.

That is the authentic Canadian understanding of multiculturalism. When we see western European leaders, the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and other western European countries denouncing multiculturalism, they aren’t denouncing Paul Yuzyk’s understanding of a healthy pluralism. They’re denouncing an extreme abstract and counterproductive theory about cultural relativism which belongs in seminar rooms but doesn’t really reflect what we need to unite us in a diverse society like this.

Through the Paul Yuzyk awards, we seek to honour individuals who have made a particularly notable contribution to his idea of unity in diversity. Every year we do a call for nominations. We receive dozens of nominations from around the country. All, or certainly most, of those nominated are worthy of recognition.

Unfortunately, the way we set up the award, only one person can be ultimately selected. We have a selection committee that’s very representative, that goes through all the nominations and which identifies three individuals that are then submitted to me as the Minister who ultimately makes the final choice.

When I saw that Bashir Ahmed had been nominated and put on the short list by the selection committee, I immediately realized that he was a man who deserved recognition because of the way that he has given so much of himself to Canada and, in particular, through his own cultural community, the Canadian Somali community.

I thought this was important for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s important because Bashir himself is a model of successful integration. He’s proud, I know, of his Somali roots and identity and what’s best about that, but he is deeply loyal to Canada. His vocation, initially an avocation, his vocation has become helping other Canadians of Somali origin and all different backgrounds to fully understand the values that animate this country, to help them through the difficult process of integration into Canadian society, to build bridges with other communities, to find that unity in diversity.

He’s done that through his involvement in the Carleton Community Health Services.  Like so many other Canadians of Somali origin, he started in Ontario, in Ottawa, and then moved westward where he made a very important contribution, as I say, in Ottawa before moving here. Through his work with the Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization, he’s done so much to reach out to young Canadians of Somali origin.

I think this award is important not just because of the brilliant and sacrificial leadership of Mr. Bashir Ahmed, but because, let’s say what we all know, which is that many Canadians of Somali origin have faced uniquely difficult integration challenges, especially many of the youth. Bashir has come to me on occasion to talk to me about those challenges, about how we have seen too many young Canadians of Somali origin become victims of crime, sadly, in many cases victims of crime coming from people that they knew in the same community.

Bashir has not been imprisoned by political correctness. He’s been willing to say controversial things about the need of the community to take responsibility, to confront those who are doing great damage and violence to the Somali Canadian community.  Bashir represents, and this organization represents for me a sign of hope, a hope that we can overcome these challenges faced by so many youth at risk in the Somali community.

It’s a complex and difficult problem, but it’s one that he has taken on and not avoided.  So Bashir, I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to thank you for all of the brilliant work that you have done.

That is why, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to invite Mr. Bashir Ahmed to come forward to receive … imagine this. There are 35 million Canadians, hundreds of nominees and this man has been selected as representing the very best of multiculturalism in Canada.

I spoke too long, but I had so much to say about this guy.

I forgot to mention that, along with the award, goes a $20,000 monetary prize.

This is a real award. It’s not just a plaque. I’m sorry. I don’t have the cheque with me, but I understand that Bashir has decided to contribute the $20,000 to the organization that he’s done so much for and that’s a sign of his tremendous generosity.


Subscribe to news

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: