Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak this evening in support of my colleague from Thornhill, who is proposing that Bill S-218 , an act respecting Latin American heritage month be read the second time and referred to a committee.
The people in his riding can be proud of the work he has accomplished here in Ottawa for them and for all Canadians. I too support this bill, which seeks to recognize the tremendous contribution that Canada's Latin American community has made to our country.
This bill was drafted by our late colleague, the hon. Senator Tobias Enverga whose work with ParlAmericas moved him to propose the bill before the House today.
Latin America is part of our hemisphere. The region is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America, all of Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean, whose peoples speak a Romance language or have a Romance language among their various national official languages.
For the purposes of this bill, Senator Enverga envisaged the widest possible interpretation so that Bill S-218 would cover those who identify as Spanish and Portuguese speakers from South America and Central America, as well as those whose heritage is of the francophone and Hispanic Caribbean islands.
Using that broad and very inclusive measure, we can see that Canadians of Latin American origin can be found far and wide across our great and beautiful country. In the absence of exact census numbers covering that broad and somewhat imprecise measure, we might estimate a probable demographic well above half a million men, women, and children.
What we do know is that the Latin American community is one of the fastest-growing cultural groups in Canada today. Statistics Canada reports that between 1996 and 2001, the number of individuals reporting Latin American origins rose by 32%, at a time when the overall Canadian population grew by only 4%. Again, in terms of actual numbers, demographers can only estimate that between 600,000 and perhaps 1.2 million Latin Americans, again from the broadest possible measure, live among us.
These numbers are particularly interesting given that there was only a very small Latin American population in Canada before the 1960s. It was in the 1960s and 1970s that Canada recorded the first significant migration of Latin Americans. Their motivation, sadly in too many cases, was to escape social and economic turmoil, dictatorships, and conflict. Most recently, another wave is fleeing Venezuela's corrupt and repressive regime.
These Latin Americans represented a significant loss to the countries that they left, but they have been a boon to Canada. Their education, their skills, and their adaptability have been of great benefit to Canada's labour market, to our economy, and to our culture.
The top three South American countries with the highest populations living in Canada, according to census statistics, are Mexico, Colombia, and El Salvador. The three countries from South America with the smallest populations now living in Canada are Puerto Rico, Panama, and Costa Rica. Most Canadians of Latin American origin live in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, or Alberta, with almost half making their homes in Ontario.
Canada's Latin American population is young. Statistics Canada tells us that almost 50% of those with Latin American origins living in Canada are under the age of 25. Seniors make up less than 5% of those reporting Latin American origins, compared with 12% of all other Canadians.
Virtually all Canadians of Latin American origin are functional in one of Canada's two official languages. They are slightly more likely than the rest of our population to have university degrees. Also, Statistics Canada tells us that working-age adults of Latin American origins are somewhat more likely to be employed than the rest of Canada's adult population—fully 64% of adults of Latin American origin.
Latin America as a region is considered the fourth-largest source of immigration to Canada.
However, in sharp contrast to the United States, the demographic is not measured or appreciated nearly as much as are their counterparts in the U.S.
Bill S-218 stands not only to deepen our appreciation and celebration of our Latin American community, but also to more precisely measure the actual numbers and its regional contributions to our economy and culture.
Canada's Latin American population is a vibrant and multicultural community, composed of a range of subgroupings. First-generation artists, musicians, writers, and athletes, as well as leaders in the science, health, and business sectors, have led second and third generations that are adding their talents and skills to the mix.
Senator Enverga's bill, Bill S-218, would designate the month of October each and every year as Latin American heritage month.
I will explain the logic of this designation. October is a very significant month across Latin America. It is the month that marks the end of the annual season of independence celebrations from Mexico to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. October 12 marks the day of the cultures in Costa Rica, the day of indigenous resistance in Venezuela, the day of respect for cultural diversity in Argentina, the day of the Americas in Uruguay, and children's day in Brazil.
Puerto Rico and Chile also wrap up their independence celebrations just before October, and in many other countries, such as Mexico, end October with a three-day celebration of the Day of the Dead, when people honour their ancestors.
Of course, we must not forget the Hispanic influences in Senator Enverga's own country of origin. Canada's large and vibrant Filipino community, although fiercely proud of the independence won from Spain, which we celebrate every year in my riding of Thornhill, still observes All Saints' Day, the day of the dead, and many other cultural legacies of colonial days maintained among their newer national traditions.
To anyone wondering what a heritage month is, why we have them, or why we need them, I would say that they are meaningful moments for acknowledging and honouring the contributions of Canada's various cultural communities. People should also know that creating heritage months does not cost the government a penny. It is not a month off work or anything like that. Heritage months give us a chance to stop and take the time to acknowledge and honour the contributions of various groups. They also provide a unique opportunity for cultural sharing. Naturally, members of the community whose culture is being celebrated are aware of their culture and heritage year-round.
However, when we have a designated heritage month, that is a point in time for everybody else to pay particular attention to or recognize it, or maybe be reminded that this is an opportunity to learn about and from the particular aspects of a culture.
It is not as practical to say that we should just be aware of all cultures at all times, although in a lot of ways we should. Having these specific points of noting and reminding ourselves is worthwhile as part of that process of ongoing cultural sharing and education.
These heritage months also provide us with an opportunity to note and listen to the experiences of Canadians from diverse backgrounds. In particular, we know Canadians from visible minority backgrounds may experience prejudice others do not, and using these times as an opportunity to reflect on that, be sensitive to that, and learn about the experiences of others is very valuable.
There was an article in The Economist recently about Italian speakers in Brazil. I did not know this, but certain dialects in Brazil have a close relationship to forms of Italian, German, and of course, many different indigenous languages. That diversity is certainly reflected in the Canadian experience as well. We are enriched by the contributions of the wide diversity of peoples who come here from different backgrounds.
Other colleagues have mentioned the importance of October in terms of a number of different holidays and celebrations that have their roots in the various cultural backgrounds from that part of the world.
In conclusion, I want to thank Senator Enverga, as well as the bill's sponsor in this place, for bringing this important bill to our attention.
These heritage months are an opportunity for us to recognize the contributions of Canadians from diverse backgrounds. I commend this bill to the consideration of members of the House. I hope everyone will support it.