Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased, as the Bloc Quebecois critic for citizenship and immigration, to speak today to Motion No. 379 tabled by the member for Markham to award honorary Canadian citizenship to a great hero of democracy, Nelson Mandela.
To date, only one person has been given this honour: Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of people from Nazi death camps during the second world war.
I cannot ignore the symbolism of this motion a few hours before passage at third reading of Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.
Nelson Mandela is an example for those who lead the fight for democracy in the world.
In 1944, he joined the African National Congress, the ANC. In 1948, the National Party won the election in South Africa. Its platform was unequivocal “The Black man in his place”. From then on, the policy of apartheid got tougher and introduced one of the most racist and undemocratic regimes in modern history.
Nelson Mandela was once asked when he decided to fight for freedom. He replied:
I cannot say exactly when I became politically active, when I knew that I would spend my life fighting for freedom. Being an African in South Africa means that we are politically active from the moment we are born, whether we know it or not. African children are born in hospitals reserved for Africans; they go home in buses reserved for Africans; they live in neighbourhoods reserved for Africans and they go to schools reserved for Africans, that is if they go at all. When they grow up, they can only get jobs that are reserved for Africans, rent houses in townships reserved for Africans, travel in trains reserved for Africans—
—I never had a defining moment, a revelation, a moment of truth. It was the accumulation of thousands of insults, humiliations and forgotten moments that led me to revolt, that gave me the desire to fight a regime that held my people captive.
In June 1955, the ANC adopted the charter of freedom which, in addition to criticizing apartheid, proposed the creation of a democratic and non-racial South Africa. At the end of that same year, Nelson Mandela was arrested for high treason, an offence punishable by death. He and 91 other ANC members were put on trial, a trial that was to end with their acquittal in 1961.
In June 1961, the ANC decided to take up arms to fight apartheid by setting up an organization known as the “spear of the nation” and led by Nelson Mandela.
In August 1963, Nelson Mandela was again arrested and charged with treason, conspiracy and sabotage. He was to come out of prison only 27 years later.
In 1991, Nelson Mandela became president of the ANC. His negotiations with the president of South Africa ended the racist system of apartheid. In South Africa's first free election in 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president, a position he held until 1999.
By making him an honorary citizen, parliament is paying tribute to the exceptional contribution this man has made to democracy and, through him, to the rightful struggle of those throughout the world who are fighting for democracy and equality.
However how can we ignore the paradox of Motion No. 379 and Bill C-11? Tomorrow, the act respecting immigration to Canada will make a future Nelson Mandela an undesirable citizen in Canada. If Bill C-11 had been in effect 40 years ago and Nelson Mandela had sought asylum in Canada, as a member of an organization for the subversion by force of any government, to use the wording of clause 34, he would have been inadmissible. He would have been sent back to South Africa and accordingly to prison.
On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I thank the member for Markham for his initiative. Democracy and the equality of all citizens are the paramount values in our society, but democracy is all the more precious for being fragile. We are all responsible for keeping it alive. Many have given their lives for this ideal. Charles de Montesquieu, an 18th century philosopher, wrote “To love democracy is to love equality”.
Nelson Mandela will remain one of the strongest symbols of democracy in the 20th century. May his life be an inspiration for our democracy.