Today we stand united against the hatred, discrimination and marginalization people still experience based on their race. Every year, March 21 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – a problem that still persists and in recent times has taken on even more importance.
Sadly, we are seeing a rise in incidents of hate, discrimination, and even violence against different racial and religious groups. But, we find light in times of darkness when our communities choose to stand against hate and instead promote our shared values of tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance – values we hold dear as Canadians.
This day was born out of necessity. On March 21, 1960 police opened fire and killed 69 people during a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. Those 69 people were killed for protesting the openly discriminatory “pass laws” designed to segregate the Black population and support apartheid. The pass laws required passports for Black citizens to leave their “designated areas” – the law dictated that simply because of their skin colour, Black Africans could not move freely within their own country.
In 1966, the United Nation’s General Assembly proclaimed March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and called on the international community to commit to eliminating all forms of racial discrimination. Despite recognizing this occasion, and remembering our Black African brothers and sisters who lost their lives on this day in 1960, we know much more still needs to be done.
In my previous career, I worked tirelessly to advocate for human rights and access to justice as a constitutional lawyer, including the time I spent helping to fund a legal clinic for South Asians, and prosecuting genocide at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. I am still committed to the enduring fight for human rights internationally. As a Muslim Canadian, I am also personally invested in the fight against racism and intolerance here at home.
On days like today, I am proud to represent the diverse community in Parkdale-High Park to our federal government, because in our community I see fellow residents fighting daily to promote the values of inclusion and tolerance we all hold dear. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism, I am committed at a national level to defending these values and promoting our rich national diversity. On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I know the task ahead is significant, but I remain confident that in Canada we are capable of not only accepting difference, but celebrating it.
Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park
Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism