Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Motion No. 24, which states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions that Tamil-Canadians have made to Canadian society, the richness of the Tamil language and culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Tamil heritage for future generations by declaring January, every year, Tamil Heritage Month.
I want to congratulate my friend for Scarborough—Rouge Park for bringing the motion forward. I have had the pleasure of working with him on the scrutiny of regulations committee. I am sure he finds its work as interesting and engaging as I do.
Whenever we discuss motions like this, I sometimes get these questions from people. Why do we need another commemorative month? Why is it important for us to spend time and energy on this discussion? What does this discussion accomplish?
At the outset, it is important to answer those questions and underline that what the motion calls for fundamentally is recognition without instituting specific policy changes. There is no cost associated with the motion, and it does not create a civic holiday, for example.
Points of cultural recognition like this require the action of Parliament, but they do not really involve us necessarily or at least oblige us to take specific subsequent action.
Some might ask what the purpose is of these kinds of steps. Despite not necessitating subsequent formal action by government, I think all of us in the House agree that these kinds of points of recognition are still very important. So much of our politics in the fullest sense of the term, of our life together, is shaped by our understanding of our identities, not simply by material considerations or choices. The kinds of communities that we form, and often the political choices we make, are shaped by a deep sense of who we are individually and collectively.
Canada is a country in which, at least historically, we have aspired to a shared common civic national identity, complemented by a multiplicity of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identities. There is unity and diversity, and both the unity and diversities are important.
Further, acts of political recognition of the contributions of minority communities are essential to helping us preserve our unity in the context of diversity. People from minority communities benefit from expressions of cultural recognition and appreciation from majoritarian institutions like Parliament. These acts of recognition help ensure a fuller sense of national unity.
Therefore, when we as a chamber undertake acts of specific recognition like this, we certainly are recognizing Canada's diversity, but we are also enhancing unity by showing Tamil Canadians our firm commitment to recognizing their distinct cultural identity and their contributions to Canada. Through that recognition, we help to ensure that all Canadians feel fully included.
We are also, of course, inviting Canadians who are not of Tamil origin to become more aware of Tamil culture, the contributions of Tamil Canadians, and maybe to reach out and learn and experience some of the richness in Tamil culture.
We often hear Canadian multiculturalism described in a way that suggests it is a modern, politically-spawned phenomenon. However, multiculturalism is not a product of government policy. It is a concept which our relatively new country drew on by learning from and observing the experiences of other societies through the vast swath of history.
To start with, in fact, as my colleague for Scarborough—Rouge Park specifically mentioned in his original speech, multiculturalism is indigenous to Canada. Canada has always had a plurality of languages and peoples living here since time immemorial.
However, Canada also draws into its understanding of multiculturalism from the experience of various immigrant communities to Canada, and from Indian immigrants to Canada in particular. Canada has a large and growing south Asian community, which happens to include my wife and in-laws.
Immigrants to Canada from India bring with them the experience of another multilingual, multi-religious, multicultural democracy. They have been doing multiculturalism for much longer than Canada has.
Multiculturalism, though enhanced by acts of state recognition like this, fundamentally stands on ground created by individuals, families, communities, and by civil society as a whole.
I congratulate Tamil Canadians and all Canadians for the hard work that they do to preserve and strengthen their cultural identity as part of the Canadian whole. Anything that we do or say as acts of cultural recognition as Parliament really pales in comparison to the significance of the more substantive acts of cultural preservation and sharing that ordinary Canadians in every part of this country are involved in every day. Parliament can undertake this act of recognition, and I believe it is important that we do so. However, the substantive work continues to be in the hands of individuals, of families, of communities, and of civil society.
I note this because the Tamil community is a model of both the unity and the diversity that we aspire to here in Canada as a whole. The Tamil community contains a wide variety of different faith traditions. It includes people whose families hail from India or Sri Lanka or from other places. It includes people who are active in and have made significant contributions to all three of our major political parties and probably other ones.
One of the key ties that unites the Tamil community is the beautiful and historic Tamil language, and I know other members have spoken about that today. Tamil is one of the oldest surviving languages in the world. We know of written inscriptions that date back about 2,500 years. The Tamil language is remarkable for its longevity, but also for its continuity over time. I read recently that around the world there are over 300 daily newspapers published in Tamil. It is an old language but also a language that is very much with us today.
I have to say I was surprised that my friend from Brampton East neglected to mention the contribution of Tamil Canadians to sports, though I am always happy to share my knowledge of sports with him. Canadian tennis player, Sonya Jeyaseelan; cricketer, Sanjayan Thuraisingam; ping-pong player, Pradeeban Peter-Paul; and hockey players, Raman and Velan Nandhakumaran have made us all very proud.
As members can tell, Tamil is not my mother tongue but I am working on it and always interested in learning more.
My colleague noted in his opening speech that we would not be the first government in Canada to recognize Tamil heritage month. This has been recognized by the Province of Ontario, as well, he noted, by a variety of municipalities, including Ajax, Pickering, Brampton, Toronto, Ottawa, York Region, Markham, Stouffville, Oshawa, and Whitby.
I will just conclude by saying that it is so great to be in a country where valuing our diversity is a point of political consensus. We can look around the world and see places where the value of diversity is debated as part of politics. However, we are in a chamber, not perhaps the only one in the world but relatively unique in the world, where this is very clearly a point of consensus, where we all recognize the benefits of diversity and the value that immigration has brought to our country. I think that universal political recognition of the value of diversity acts to strengthen our collective unity in the context of that diversity.
Again, this is a good opportunity to both recognize the contribution of Tamil Canadians but also to invite non-Tamil Canadians to learn more about Tamil culture and to take the opportunity to draw on the richness that this community has brought to this country.
I want to again thank the member for bringing this forward and encourage all members to join me in supporting the motion.