Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Over the past week, we have all been affected by the heartbreaking killing of George Floyd in the United States. The video is painful to watch. No one should ever have to plead for help while a crime is being committed, ignored by other members of law enforcement.
The tragedy triggered marches, occupations, protests and, unfortunately, riots. However, I hope it has mostly sparked conversations. Racism is real, painful and unacceptable.
No one should ever feel unsafe because of the colour of their skin, especially around police officers who have a duty and a responsibility to uphold the law for all.
Here in Canada, we are fortunate to live in a country that is welcoming, tolerant and inclusive. Canada was a beacon of freedom to so many escaping slavery during the U.S. Civil War. Our nation has benefited immensely from great Canadians who overcame prejudices and discrimination to serve their communities and make Canada a better country: Lincoln Alexander, elected as a Conservative in 1968, was the first black member of Parliament and went on to become the first black cabinet minister; John Ware was born into slavery in South Carolina but, following the American Civil War, was a leading figure in bringing the first cattle to Alberta and spearheading the ranching industry that would become the backbone of the province; Josiah Henson escaped slavery to become a thriving businessman in Ontario; and of course, Viola Desmond challenged segregation in Nova Scotia.
Black Canadians throughout history have not just built this nation with their contributions; they have also represented Canada with excellence and pride on the world stage, like Harry Jerome, who represented Canada in three Olympic Games and won a bronze medal in 1964. He would go on to become a teacher in British Columbia, once again serving with excellence to try to make a better world for the next generation. Throughout our history, black Canadians have put their lives on the line for their fellow Canadians, bravely serving around the world in our armed forces.
While there are many things we can point to in our history with pride, that is not to say that we have a perfect record, nor that we are immune to the threat of racism or that anti-black racism is just an American problem. Canada has had its own dark episodes of racism that cannot be ignored—sadly, not just in our past. Every day, there are people who experience discrimination or racism in some form.
Throughout this pandemic, we have seen a troubling spike in anti-Asian racism. No one should be attacked in their community or targeted on the bus because of the colour of their skin. Nor should places of worship be broken into and desecrated, like the synagogue in Montreal.
The Conservatives condemn all acts of anti-semitism, racism and discrimination. In a peaceful and free country like Canada, there is absolutely no room for intolerance, racism or extremism of any kind.
But the violence and destruction we have seen in response are not the answer. Millions of people are protesting peacefully across the United States and in Canada, and we must always protect the rights of people who are protesting peacefully and within the law for a just cause and separate them from those who exploit tragedies to commit acts of violence.
Mr. Floyd's brother, Terrence, said that violence will not bring his brother back. Instead, he has called for peace and justice and urged the crowds to educate themselves and to vote. Out of such tragedy, Mr. Chair, that is a powerful message about how each one of us can use our democratic rights to effect change.
In a peaceful and free country like Canada, there is absolutely no room for intolerance, racism and extremism of any kind. We are not born believing we are better than one another. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and because of that, we are all equal. An infinite value exists in each one of us.
Canada is an incredibly diverse country. Canada is a nation of immigrants that stands on the traditional territories of first nations, Inuit and Métis people. Waves of newcomers have come to Canada for a better life because our country is built on a rock-solid foundation of enduring values, democratic institutions, the rule of law and fundamental and universal human rights.
Everyone comes here because Canada is built on solid values, democratic institutions, and respect for the rule of law, as well as for fundamental, universal human rights.
We must absolutely protect these values, because they are what sets us apart. They allow Canada to offer what so many other countries simply cannot.
There are those who say that diversity is our strength, and that is true, but it doesn't quite capture the full picture. Diversity is the result of our strength, and our strength is and always has been our freedom.
It is the freedom for people to preserve and pass on their cultural traditions and the opportunity to live in peace with those around them; the freedom to live your life with equality under the law, regardless of your race or ethnic background; and the economic freedom that so many governments around the world deny their people.
It is that economic freedom that ensures that hard work pays off. It gives people the ability to work towards their dreams and choose their own path in life. Together, generations of Canadians who trace their roots back to countries around the world have built Canada to truly the greatest country on earth, the true north strong and free.
To ensure that our people remain free, we must continue to fight attacks on our freedoms, including racism and all forms of brutality and injustice in Canada and around the world. Minority rights must be protected. Freedom of religion must be protected. Freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest must be protected.
As John Diefenbaker said, “I am a Canadian...free to speak without fear, free to worship...in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.