Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…
Those words form the opening lines of the preamble to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), unanimously adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the commission that was responsible for preparing the document, which was drafted by Canadian diplomat John Humphreys. Mrs. Roosevelt referred to the declaration as the “International Magna Carta of all humankind.”
As we enter the 70th anniversary year of the adoption of the UDHR, Canadians can take pride in many of our national accomplishments. National and provincial human rights commissions have been established in order to safeguard the freedoms that were promised to Canadians first through the Bill of Rights and then through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Wrongs committed by previous governments have been acknowledged and apologies have been offered, along with the commitment that we must do better. Exclusionary laws, once seen as natural, have been repealed one by one, recognizing that discrimination in the areas of marriage, employment, accommodation and the provision of goods and services is incompatible with a country that recognizes the worth and dignity of every human being.
The carnage of the Second World War demonstrated what happens when dignity was ignored, when human rights were abrogated, and the value of human life was diminished. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights offered an antidote – a better path to a better future.
The road forward still presents many challenges in every country. In Canada we grapple with situations of racism and discrimination that call for all our best efforts to work together to find solutions that build a stronger Canada. The legacy of human suffering in Canada’s dealings with Indigenous people has been acknowledged, but the tough work of change and reconciliation, involving all Canadians, has only begun. The recent statistics of growing hate crime in Canada remind us that hatred can resurface and intensify with changing circumstances and issues, not only emerging in Canada but affected by movements and events in other countries, especially with the globalization of social media. We are all reminded of the ongoing effort required from individuals, society and government to keep these negative forces at bay.
We have made progress but there is much work yet to be done. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation reinforces its resolve and commitment to doing that work in partnership with communities, governments and other institutions as well as the private sector and committed individuals across Canada. The hope that our national journey will be successful, and that the Foundation will contribute to that success is what drove the Japanese Canadian Community to seek the creation of our organization as part of the 1988 Redress Agreement. The CRRF embraces that hope without apology and will continue to ensure that this legacy is respected, and its ideals realized. We have every confidence that by working together we will see the time when, to borrow from Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, “The longed-for tidal wave/ Of justice can rise up/ And hope and history rhyme.”