Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today in the House to speak to Bill S-218, an act respecting Latin American heritage month, which would recognize the contributions of Latin American communities to Canada and establish October of each year as Latin American heritage month.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage with responsibility for multiculturalism, I am pleased to inform the House that the government supports the bill. In so doing, let me start by paying tribute to the late Senator Tobias Enverga, the author of this bill, a strong senator, a great Filipino Canadian, and a champion of multiculturalism.
Canadians of Latin American origin have been part of the Canadian mosaic for decades. This bill recognizes the richness of these Latin American communities and their significant contributions to the social, economic, and political fabric of Canada.
Given the strong and growing presence of individuals of Latin American ancestry, this bill is a meaningful way to remember those contributions, educate the public, and encourage all Canadians to celebrate Latin American culture and traditions.
Formal recognition of Latin American heritage month is significant because it aligns with what all of us know, that in Canada our diversity is indeed our strength, and that as a country we are strengthened in many ways by our shared experiences, by the diversity that inspires both Canada and the world, and by the way in which we treat one another.
Official recognition is also consistent with other similar commemorations that reinforce the importance of cultural communities to Canada's identity. A few examples have already been mentioned today. We previously supported the establishment of February as Black History Month, and May as Asian Heritage Month. A new Latin American heritage month in October would complement these other celebrations and recognize the contributions of this important group in Canada.
In 1971, Pierre Trudeau declared multiculturalism as an official policy in this country, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. In 1982, upon the patriation of our Constitution and the enactment of the charter, section 27 was enacted, which includes references to “the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” and the important role this plays in protecting the rights of every citizen.
Recognizing the past and current contributions of Latin Americans who immigrated to Canada and have contributed to this country is in keeping with our country's commitment to an inclusive, multicultural society.
Let me reinforce the fact that our multicultural heritage is a reflection of our commitment to equality and the fundamental freedoms that are grounded in human rights. In 1988, Canada became the first nation to proclaim a Multiculturalism Act. We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of that legislation this year.
This law requires that we promote the multicultural heritage of Canadians. It also requires that we work to ensure that all Canadians are equal in our economic, social, cultural, and political life. However, our government has taken this approach one step further. Formal recognition of Latin American heritage month would directly support Canada's approach to multiculturalism, an approach that seeks to recognize and promote the cultural and racial diversity of Canada, one that acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance, and share their cultural heritage.
In going one step further, we have addressed this issue in budget 2018. In the most recent budget, we announced nearly $50 million in new funding to support programming that empowers communities to combat racism and discrimination: $23 million has been dedicated to multiculturalism; in addition, $19 million has been dedicated to the black community, and $6 million to the collection and dissemination of data on racialized persons. These funds will allow us to craft a new national anti-racism approach and give meaning to the official language contained in the Multiculturalism Act.
Let me return to Bill S-218, the Latin American heritage month bill before us today. The question that immediately comes to mind is, why October? Each year, during the month of October, peoples of Hispanic origin around the world pay tribute to their shared culture through celebrations such as Hispanic day, the day of the cultures, the day of indigenous resistance, and the commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month in North America. The latter celebrates the presence of Hispanics in North America, starting with the arrival of Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492.
October is also recognized as Hispanic Heritage Month in the city of Toronto, the province of Ontario, and in the United States. Bill S-218 underscores the importance of this community to our entire country and builds awareness at the national level.
I would like to say a few words about Latin Americans and who they are exactly. They are my constituents in Parkdale—High Park, who hail from all parts of the Americas in which Spanish or Portuguese is the main language. They are the folks in Toronto who run Salsa on St. Clair, the Argentinian community at Folklorama in Winnipeg, and the Peruvian community at Folkfest in Saskatoon. “Hispanic” is a narrower term, which is defined as “of or connected with Spain or Spanish-speaking countries”.
When Senator Enverga introduced this bill in the Senate, he explained that he had consulted members of the community and the public and had considered more inclusive and neutral wording. As a result, the bill refers to the geographic linguistic community of Latin America, which includes Portuguese- and French-speaking communities, as well as the indigenous peoples of the region, as opposed to the common but narrower reference to people of Hispanic heritage alone.
Bill S-218 defines Latin America broadly as a group of nations that includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as Puerto Rico, the French West Indies, and other islands.
As pointed out by Senator Enverga, many if not all Latin American countries also have a shared colonial history, stemming from the time when Spain and Portugal were world powers.
The first wave of Latin American immigration to Canada occurred between 1970 and 1973 with the arrival of approximately 68,000 immigrants. Today, Canadians of Latin American origin represent one of the largest non-European ethnic groups in Canada. As referenced earlier in today's debate, they are a constantly growing population, who represent more than 544,000 Canadian individuals and counting.
The majority of Latin Americans in Canada are Catholics, representing more than 60% of the Latin American community. Latin Americans are a diverse group within a diverse nation that we now all call home.
As a government, we are proud to support Bill S-218, which promotes and upholds our diversity and strengthens our multicultural and pluralistic society. At our root, we firmly believe we will only succeed as a nation when we move from simply tolerating differences to truly celebrating differences. Bill S-218 is an important step in allowing us to do just that. I urge my fellow parliamentarians to honour the memory of the late Senator Enverga and support this bill.