Messages of equality and justice

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial Opinion
Published On Mon Jun 21 2010

The exercise of power has to be earned

Louise Arbour, former Supreme Court justice and current president of the International Crisis Group, to graduates of the faculty of community services at Ryerson University.

I have moved, in my current work, from the field of human rights to that of international politics, and in particular to the prevention and resolution of armed conflict. The organization that I lead, International Crisis Group, has launched a few weeks ago a report entitled War Crimes in Sri Lanka. We have documented in a rigorous way deliberate attacks on civilians in the last few months of the brutal war during which the government of Sri Lanka managed to eradicate the Tamil Tiger insurgents and put en end to the decade-long atrocities that the Tigers had inflicted on their own people. But the government armed forces did so at an unconscionable price, and through actions which will make a real and lasting peace in Sri Lanka impossible to achieve. That is unless there is a credible international investigation to ensure full accountability on the part of those who are most responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, and the immense suffering of thousands more.

With this background in mind, I will leave you with a few propositions that have emerged loud and clear from my working life and to which I am deeply committed.

That all people are born free and equal in rights and dignity, and that most of them have to spend the rest of their lives fighting to remain so.

That fundamental rights don’t have to be earned. But that the exercise of power does.

That we are only as safe and as free as everybody else is.

One nation for all of Canada’s children

Charles Pascal, executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and former deputy minister of education in Ontario, to graduates of the University of Toronto’s faculty of education.

What should it mean to be a child in Canada? Shouldn’t it mean the same thing whether one is in Kamloops, Sudbury, a small fishing village in Newfoundland or on reserve?

For me, this is a core question about the kind of society that we should be building. For me, how Canada fares when it comes to supporting our children is the single most important measure of our progress.

Forget about the GDP and what it says about how much we produced last quarter. As educators, we know that if we want to truly focus on building a strong nation, there is no better measuring stick than how well we protect, support and nurture the development of the youngest of our young.

We need to re-establish a clearer and renewed sense of what it means to be a Canadian. In my view, a renewed national commitment to early child development ought to become the lever to get Canada back on track.

Doing public service really matters

Kevin Lynch, former clerk of the privy council in Ottawa, to graduating humanities students at McMaster University.

As you decide how you will make your mark on the world, give some consideration to a public service career. My 33 years in public service have afforded me unbelievable opportunities, for which I am truly grateful, but most of all, it has reinforced my belief that doing public service really matters to our country and our citizens.

The public service is not like the private sector. Government has a different purpose, different values and different measures of success. The bottom line for public servants is not profit but service — making a difference to Canadians, in ways large and small. The bottom line for our country is that a strong, professional, diverse and non-partisan public service is crucial to this country’s success. And to be excellent, the public service needs you — with your values, your commitment, your skills and your ambition for this country.

All of humanity has to share a single world

Julie Payette, Canadian astronaut, to graduates of York University’s faculty of environmental studies and faculty of science and engineering.

When I was a little girl and growing up in Montreal, from French Canadian descent, I remember watching (moon landings) on TV. . . There was no such thing as a Canadian astronaut yet … and space travel was still for other people, other nations. So, I had the wrong nationality.

It didn’t matter. When you are 10 years old and there is something fascinating to do, you dream about it. Why do we lose that later in life — that idea that we could still accomplish something that other people tell us that we can’t?

Dare to dream.

Going to space of course is a little unique. It’s an opportunity to see an incredible sight called the planet Earth from above. That is the true privilege of space travellers right now. One day, it will be more open to people. Instead of just the international space station like we have right now, which is just a basic laboratory, we will have hotels and institutions and infrastructure and a space for people to go and indeed contemplate our planet. Perhaps when we do so in greater numbers we will have a better outlook on how precious and completely unique this planet is for us. . . There is only one place that we can live, and this place here we all share. Whether or not we have borders or differences and different ways and different cultures, we are sharing a single world.

Profits are no excuse for ignoring risky actions

Eileen Mercier, chair of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board, to graduates of York University’s Schulich School of Business.

If we have learned anything from the recent financial crisis and the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it is that models alone are insufficient to make decisions and will not save you. Wise judgment has not been layered on top of these models often enough and we are now suffering the consequences. . . .

“Leadership” in this context, is the act of creating and maintaining a culture within your organization that examines every action in light of these probabilities, fosters an environment of “no blame” for genuine mistakes and near-misses, and performs root-cause problem-solving to make sure that the same mistake is not repeated. This is not simple. Neither the young nor the experienced like to be told how to do things. That is why they must be “sold” on the merits. Employees must be involved in the design of these activities and implicated in their maintenance. This principle is as true for financial services as it is for oil-drilling or manufacturing. You cannot have risk management without it. Every root-cause examination that I have ever been involved with turned up human error, and often a series of highly improbable small errors that together produced a disaster. They are usually born of a culture that ignored and minimized these small occurrences and did not examine the risk associated with the cumulative effect. How misguided it is to do these things in the name of profit. As BP now knows to its peril, profit can evaporate in an instant and mean nothing.

City’s social problems belong to all Torontonians

Austin Clarke, award-winning author and native of Barbados, to graduating students of the faculty of liberal arts and professional studies at York University.

Bob Marley compliments this generation and reminds us that, in spite of our cultural and social background — or perhaps because of it — we have achieved some success, as he sings in Redemption Song. In spite of the “robbery” committed by “old pirates, in “merchant ships,” and the bottomless pit of this generation’s history, he traces our journey from one hell, to our present disquietude.

“We forward in this generation, Triumphantly.” This is poetry. But it could be the science of politics.

I shall define “this generation” as the omni-cultural arrangement, arrived at, by ourselves, and by the entire community in which we live. His words show our grappling for the instituting of a multicultural community in Toronto. But I prefer to call it, for the purposes of this address, “omni-culturalism.” Or, the moral acknowledgement by every one, white and black in Toronto — in Canada — that the social and economic problems that define Jane-Finch, and Monarch Park in Scarborough, Regent Park, St. James Town and Thorncliffe Park, are not a sovereign black problem, but are a Toronto problem. . . .

Why do white neighbours mourn only white victims? Why should black neighbours mourn only black victims? Why are white Torontonians not vouchsafing the character and reputation of their black neighbours? Why do they leave it to the Toronto Star and other media to define the character and the motivation of black violence in black neighbourhoods?

We don’t have to sacrifice values to fight terrorism

Marlys Edwardh, criminal lawyer and civil rights activist, to graduates of Osgoode Hall Law School.

The greatest challenge of your era will arise from the state’s growing secrecy and lack of transparency. We live in a time where there is an absence of legal rules which govern what is sometimes clearly overreaching state power. These seem to be features of the post-9/11 landscape. The powers-that-be tell us that we must fortify our borders, approach our neighbours with suspicion and scrutiny, and denigrate criticism of the state, which is at best the talk of fools and at worst in support of terror. These practices and beliefs are enemies of reason, liberty and fairness, and put at risk the values of our democracy as we know them. This is the era that produced the events that swirled around Maher Arar.

A year after 9/11, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, a husband, a father of two children and an engineer, with a promising professional career was rendered by the CIA from the United States to the Far Falastine prison in Syria. There he remained for 10 months and 10 days in a prison cell measuring three feet by six feet by seven feet — the size and dimensions of a grave. During his first two weeks of detention he was brutally tortured and subjected to interrogation. Mr. Arar never got an opportunity to stand his trial. There was no public accuser and no one who in the end would have to account for the spread of misinformation which resulted in the CIA’s decision to remove him to Syria. . . .

Therefore, for those of you who go on to practice law, your trusteeship of our values will extend to the defence of the rule of law. As the Supreme Court of Canada said in Suresh, a case involving a man facing deportation to a place where he faced the risk of torture — it would be a pyrrhic victory if terrorism were defeated at the cost of sacrificing our commitment to the values that are fundamental to our democracy. It is to you that this trusteeship must now fall and I daresay that the challenges will test you.

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