Thank you Sadie for your kind introduction.
Good afternoon distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It's great to be in this part of the country; where the cherry blossoms are blooming, the daffodils and crocuses are pushing up their heads and the temperature is above freezing.
When I left Toronto yesterday morning, most of it was under a blanket of snow with visions of daffodils and crocuses dancing only in the heads of gardeners.
But such is the diversity of this great land, not only in its weather, but also in its people.
A recent edition of Canadian Geographic magazine described Canada as the most "spectacularly diverse country in the world." And they're right.
Across Canada, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, visible minorities will have the highest rate of growth and will significantly increase as a proportion of the total provincial population in five years.
In Vancouver, for example, which has the second largest immigrant population, visible minorities account for a little more than 40 per cent of the city's population.
In Toronto, where most new immigrants arrive in Canada, the visible minority population is quickly approaching the majority population.
It's projected that by the year 2006, the visible minority population in British Columbia will be more than 18 per cent.
In five years visible minorities will make up nearly 15 per cent of the whole of Canada.
And let's not forget our First Nations people.
Their numbers are increasing too.
In fact, the Native youth population is twice that of the general population.
This demographic change is sweeping across Canada faster than the latest rumour out of Ottawa.
From Edmonton, to Calgary, to Winnipeg, to Montreal, to Nova Scotia, you're seeing diversity in action you're seeing change.
But as with all change, comes the challenge of managing that change.
Today I stand before you to say: As Canadians, we are not doing a very good job. We're not making the grade.
We get a failing grade when police officers in Saskatoon drive Aboriginal men to the outskirts of town and leave them in sub-zero temperatures without winter coats.
We get a failing grade when 600 Chinese arrive by ships off the coast of British Columbia looking for sanctuary in Canada only to be met with fear and even hatred. They were handcuffed like criminals, and today, the future for some of these refugee claimants is uncertain and 35 of them remain in provincial jails.
We get a failing grade when our schoolyards become a war zone for some visible minority youth because they're bullied on a regular basis, sometimes with fatal results.
We get a failing grade when new immigrants, especially non-white immigrants, subsidize Canada's economy to the tune of 55billion dollars each year, according to a study done by the University of Toronto, because skills acquired in their homelands are not recognized in this country.
You know as well as I do that racism in Canada is not a recent phenomenon.
As a young boy, growing up in the east end of Toronto, I was called names simply because of the colour of my skin.
But as I became a man, racism also grew.
I experienced racism, as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
I experienced racism while looking for work after graduating from university.
And I experienced racism as a law student at Osgoode Hall.
I, like many of you, believe Canada is among the best places in the world to live. We have made tremendous progress in establishing equality for our citizens.
But it would be foolhardy to suggest that racism is declining in this country. On the contrary, despite public awareness campaigns and human rights legislation, racism is very much a part of the Canadian psyche.
That's why the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, in a written submission to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which will be held later this year in South Africa, has called for a thorough review of all federal, provincial and territorial legislations so they fully reflect this country's human rights obligations here at home and to the international community.
Most troubling for me, is this country's treatment of our Aboriginal peoples.
It is beyond comprehension.
It is beyond contempt.
It borders on the criminal.
The disturbing images of young Innu children sniffing gas fumes are only a symptom of a larger problem.
Increasingly, Aboriginal peoples feel ignored and neglected by the rest of Canada.
Five years ago the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples did a comprehensive examination of the problems and it laid out comprehensive plans on how to deal with them.
Some of the Commission's recommendations include:
The establishment of an Aboriginal Peoples Review Commission independent of the federal government that would report directly to Parliament.
That all levels of government report annually on what they have done to implement the recommendations of many similar Aboriginal commissions that have been held over time.
And a review and audit of how much it costs Canadians to administer justice to Aboriginal people.
These are just three of the 400 recommendations made by the Royal Commission that have been all but ignored.
Aboriginal people believe the federal government's alternative to the Royal Commission was little more than a quasi-apology for the devastating harm caused by residential schools. a government policy statement made to keep things the way they are rather than making fundamental change.
It's no surprise then that more and more Aboriginal people - in particular the youth - have given up on the current methods of conflict resolution.
Where do the youth turn when the highest courts in the land recognize fundamental rights to fish and then see fishing boats being rammed when they exercise those rights?
What do the youth do when the courts, the governments and political bodies no longer listen?
What do the youth do when issues of race and racism are no longer addressed or given lip service by the very bodies and organizations that say, "youth are our future"?
They warn of resorting to other means of redress.
There is talk about civil disobedience and turning to bodies such as the United Nations, international courts of justice and tribunals and international conferences.
This would be unfortunate. It would only serve to air our dirty laundry in the world arena.
I believe we have the resources and intelligence to solve these problems at home.
What we lack is the political will to do so.
If Canadians believe -- and I think we do -- in the fundamental right of Aboriginal communities to exist, then all levels of government must find a new way, a better way, of resolving these conflicts.
Maybe the ancient Iroquois Nation holds part of the answer for us.
Hundreds of years ago the Haudenosaunee (HO-DEN-O-SUE-NEE) culture had a law that recognized diverse people living with each other. It was called the One Plate Law.
Essentially, the One Plate Law said:
"We will all eat cooked beaver tails from the same plate but we won't use sharp knives."
The law was designed to prevent conflicts. And it worked.
Under this law 6 different Iroquois nations and their neighbours respected each other to share hunting territories.
They understood that while there were differences among nations, they had the same fundamental needs as human beings.
As we enter the 21st Century, our governments could learn something from the Iroquois Nation.
And as individuals, and private and voluntary organizations, we need to learn similar lessons if we want to be successful in our fight against racism.
Racism is alive and well in Canada.
It thrives in the "hidden discrimination" that prevents visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples from gaining equal access to jobs.
A recent study commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation found that despite higher levels of education by visible minorities compared to white Canadians, they get poorer jobs and less pay.
In effect, the higher you go in the workplace, the whiter it becomes.
What a shame. What a waste.
True diversity is about using the best that's available to us.
At a time when economic borders are disappearing, we should be employing the skills and talents of all Canadians so we can compete with the rest of the word.
Greg Dyke, Director-General of the BBC in the U.K., had this to say:
"We must recognize diversity as a central business objective - not just a (Human Resources) component. It must be as much a part of core managerial accountability and competence as financial responsibility and creative leadership."
What's true for a national broadcaster in Great Britain can apply to a country as large and culturally diverse as Canada.
Managing diversity in a business environment is not that much different from managing diversity in a country.
First, a strong case must be made to do it. What are the advantages? And more importantly, what are the disadvantages of doing nothing?
It's clear what happens when companies fail to capitalize on their strengths. They go bankrupt.
When a country fails to take full advantage of cultural diversity in its people, racism and intolerance become the norm.
I believe there is apathy in this country when it comes to fighting racism. What we need is a groundswell and our government can take the lead.
I know I've painted a pretty bleak picture of the state of race relations in Canada today. And I make no apologies for it.
Yes, it's bleak - but not hopeless.
The fact that we are here today to present Awards of Excellence to public, private and voluntary organizations for their work in promoting good race relations, is testimony that there are pockets of hope.
Whether it's the anti-racism program at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Alberta...
* Or the ambitious project in Ville de Saint-Laurent to develop and implement a citywide inter-cultural policy...
* Or Young People's Press, an innovative news service that provides stories to the mainstream media written by young people, many of them visible minorities or Aboriginals...
* Or the initiatives undertaken by the B.C. Ministry of Multiculturalism and Immigration over the past three years with community partners...
These are pockets of hope.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
I don't believe we are a nation of fools.