Freedom is still a distant dream for millions

Sen. Consiglio Di Nino delivered the following remarks to members of the Senate of Canada during the opening session of the 39th Parliament of Canada. Di Nino spoke on March 27, two days after Governor General Michaëlle Jean officially opened the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migration of African Peoples at York (see the March 27 issue of YFile). Jean was also granted an honorary degree at the ceremony, held in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall in Accolade East.

Honourable senators, on Sunday, March 25, 2007, I attended two events at York University in Toronto. The first was a convocation [of] Osgoode Hall Law School, which awarded an honorary doctorate to Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada. The second was the inauguration of the Harriett Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples. These events were also held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament’s abolition of the Slave Trade Act of March 25, 1807.

Left: Consiglio Di Nino

My remarks are inspired by Her Excellency’s address at the latter event. The institute was [named] to honour Harriett Tubman, an exceptionally courageous woman who escaped slavery in Maryland around 1850 and fled to freedom in Canada. In 1851, she began to rescue and relocate family members to St. Catharines, Ontario, where she worked to save money to finance her role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. She is believed to have brought hundreds of slaves to freedom.

Her Excellency’s inspirational remarks included describing slavery as "one of the most barbaric crimes" ever committed, and described freedom as "the most precious gift of our ancestors."

As I listened and watched, a sense of frustration and anger began to envelop me. From the words spoken and the images forming in my mind, it did not take long to realize that freedom is still only a distant dream for millions and millions of our fellow men, women and children in too many parts of the world. In Her Excellency’s words, "the new leopard did not show all of its spots," and "democracy has not flourished equally for all." How correct she is!

As the world watches, 1,000 human beings are still being butchered every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Darfur continues to be a killing field and, as our colleague Senator Segal reminded us with his motion last week, the situation in Zimbabwe worsens, with horrific and heinous crimes being committed every day. 

Honourable senators, this is not an African problem. Democracy is not alive and well in our world. The tragedies of human trafficking, child and forced labour and the enslavement of women are occurring all around us. Anti-Semitism and racism are on the rise worldwide, right under the watchful eyes of governments. Human dignity is trampled on with impunity while the world watches. We are still talking in the hope that our words will shine a light on these issues and that things will improve.