Tag Archives: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I am a Canadian. — John Diefenbaker

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“I am a Candian,” is the opening phrase in a notable quotation from the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker (1895-1979) 13th Prime Minister of Canada serving from June 21, 1957, to April 22, 1963. The entire quote reads as follows:

“I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” (John Diefenbaker, House of Commons Debates, 1 July 1960)

Yes, John Diefenbaker was a proud Canadian–not only that he was a proud Canadian nationalist. As Prime Minister, Diefenbaker advanced the cause of Canadian nationalism. He envisioned:

One Canada, one Canada, where Canadians will have preserved to them the control of their own economic and political destiny. Sir John A. Macdonald gave his life to this party [Conservative]. He opened the West. He saw Canada from east to west. I see a new Canada – a Canada of the North! (John Diefenbaker, Winnipeg Manitoba, 12 February 1958)

Diefenbaker lived during the first century of Canada’s existence. He witnessed the development by which Canada gained independence from Britain. Until 1931, with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, the British government managed Canada’s international affairs. Diefenbaker saw Canada fight in two world wars and Canadians suffer through the Great Depression. He proudly saw the passage of the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947. Canadians have much to be proud of in their history.

While Diefenbaker saw all that is good in Canada and being Canadian, he did not overlook the problematic moments in Canadian history. Canadian society was not without issues of unjust discrimination and prejudice. Diefenbaker observed:

From my earliest days, I knew the meaning of discrimination. Many Canadians were virtually second-hand citizens because of their names and racial origin. Indeed, it seemed until the end of World War II that the only first-class Canadians were either of English or French descent. As a youth, l determined to devote myself to assuring that all Canadians, whatever their racial origin, were equal and declared myself to be a sworn enemy of discrimination. (John Diefenbaker, Nowlan Lecture, 6)

Diefenbaker knew of the head tax charged on Chinese immigrants. The head tax, enacted in 1885, remained in effect until 1923. Chinese immigrants to Canada were charged (at its worst) $500 for admission to Canada as landed immigrants. From 1923 to 1947 Chinese immigration to Canada was banned. He knew of the internment of Japanese-Canadians in World War II. He was well aware of the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christendom that existed well into the 20th-century in Canada. I remember my mother telling me that my father had to convert to Roman Catholicism to marry her in 1960. My father’s family is Anglican. It is hard to believe such tribal divisions existed in Canada historically, but it is the reality.

Diefenbaker envisioned Canada as a nation organized according to the values of liberalism and pluralism. In shaping his vision of Canadian society, Diefenbaker was inspired, in part, by the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a Canadian-led effort. John Humphrey, a professor of law at McGill University, became director of the United Nations Division on Human Rights in 1946. Humphrey produced the first draft of the declaration. When Diefenbaker became Prime Minister in 1957, he set out to enact a piece of legislation–following up the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human rights–called the Canadian Bill of Rights. In addressing the historical issues of unjust discrimination and prejudice in Canada’s history, the Canadian Bill of Rights asserts in part:

 It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

  • (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

  • (b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;

  • (c) freedom of religion;

  • (d) freedom of speech;

  • (e) freedom of assembly and association; and

  • (f) freedom of the press.

The Canadian Bill of Rights was superseded by the passage of the Constitution Act in 1982 with the entrenched Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

To his credit, John Diefenbaker laid the groundwork for our national identity as Canadians. Despite what so many people think currently, nationalism is not a dirty word. As I grew up the values of liberalism and pluralism–the proposition on which Canadian identity is built–that John Diefenbaker advocated were instilled in me. I remember the Centennial celebrations in 1967 fondly; the swell of national pride Canadians felt in celebrating Canada’s first 100 years as a nation. I am proudly Canadian. I am not ashamed of my European heritage–my ancestry goes back to the British Isles. In keeping with Diefenbaker’s vision, I view the people with whom I interact as individuals and judge them according to the content of their character. I reject the notion that expressing Canadian nationalism is racist, that it is a declaration of white supremacy. No, Canada is not a “post-national state.” Canadians are well within their rights to stand up for their national interest, and Canadian law guarantees them their right to speak up and do so.

I hope Canadians will not lose sight of the fact that Canada is a great place to live and Canadian citizenship is worth fighting for. Yes, John Diefenbaker got it right when he advanced the cause of Canadian nationalism and Canadians would do well to remember as they face the challenges of life in the 21st-century.

Posted by Geoffrey

 

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Turks were a great nation even before they adopted Islam. This religion did not help the Arabs, Iranians, Egyptians and others to unite with Turks to form a nation. Conversely, it weakened the Turks’ national relations; it numbed Turkish national feelings and enthusiasm. This was natural, because Mohammedanism was based on Arab nationalism above all nationalities. — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938)

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The Hagia Sophia has become the focal point in the current struggle in Turkish society between secularists and Islamists. Currently, the Hagia Sophia is a museum and a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia was the seat of Orthodox Christianity, the Patriarch of Constantinople, for several centuries (537–1204), a Roman Catholic cathedral from (1204–1261) and back to the Orthodox Church (1261–1453) until the conquest of the city by the Turks. It served as the first of several Imperial Mosques for the Ottoman Empire from 1453-1931. The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 as a secular, parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state. It was opened to the public as a museum in 1935 by the Turkish government led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). It was turned into a museum in 1935, presumably in an effort to reconcile the troubled history between Christianity and Islam with the realities of the modern, secular state of Turkey. In the present there is a drive to restore the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in expressing this desire while speaking to reporters said “we currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque… we are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon.” (as cited in Ansa med) Continue reading

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. — Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

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In essays published earlier on this blog the topic of religion in society, particularly the direction the Western world took in gradually establishing a clear separation of religion and state, relegating religion to the sphere of private conscience is discussed. The last remnants of Papal authority in temporal affairs ended with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929. In the present, in the Western world, religious liberty is guaranteed in law and members of religious institutions are free to comment on moral and political issues just as anyone else. In the Islamic world, this distinction between religion and state never emerged, save for the Republic of Turkey which was founded as a secular state in 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The constitutional, civil and common law legal systems in effect across the Western world are rooted in the theory of natural rights, primarily as espoused by the men of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. By contrast, across the Islamic world, the system of law, sharia, a religiously based moral and legal code applies. The differences in the legal systems and the place of religion in society between the Western world and the Islamic world are quite noticeable in comparing responses to the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Continue reading