By John Dixon
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you.
It has been, and is, a terrible time. The violent, spectacular, incomprehensible loss of life in N.Y. and Washington has shocked everyone. And everyone is anxious about what is to come in the weeks ahead of us.
Amongst all of this general anxiety, there is for you here the special and particular fear that ignorant people will associate you with the terrorists, and speak or act accordingly. There have been incidents of prejudicial insult and even violence throughout the West in the wake of last week’s events. Perhaps the worst in Canada has the attack on a woman Saudi doctor in an elevator in Montreal. Thank God the assailant fled when the elevator doors opened.
The ISLAM IN CANADA website poll this morning shows 42% of respondents are fearful for their safety.
Let me suggest two positive responses to that all-important question, “what now?”
We are all Canadians. YOU ARE CANADIANS. And as Canadians, you have civil liberties and rights that will be protected with the full resources of the governments of Canada and British Columbia.
Let me briefly outline what this means.
Canada is a democracy, and the single, big idea of a democratic state is that the sovereign political authority always rests with the People, and is never alienated or delegated to any subordinate body or representative.
We may send elected representatives to Ottawa, Victoria, or the town hall, but they do not rule us… they are but among the instruments we use as we govern ourselves.
This is what we mean by self-government. This is what democracy means.
It does not merely mean that, from time to time, we are asked in elections to “consent” to be governed. We never let the ultimate governing authority leave our own hands.
From this fundamental fact of democratic life flow both civil liberties and civil rights. As sovereign rulers, we claim the freedoms of conscience, religion, opinion, and expression. How else could we truly said to rule ourselves if we did not have these freedoms? A ruler is not told what to think, or with whom to communicate, or what must be believed, or who must be worshipped.
So Canadians claim their fundamental civil liberties as the defining condition of their political freedom.
But every citizen wears two hats. We are not only rulers. We are also the subjects of our own laws. And knowing, as all democratic people know, that we must obey the rule of our own laws, we take great care that those laws are fair and just, and that their administration is undertaken with the most scrupulous respect for the dignity and equality of all citizens.
So it is that we claim a range of legal rights – civil rights – such as presumption of innocence, fair and timely trial, immunity from unreasonable search and seizure, and privacy. Because no reasonable person would choose to be governed by laws that did not have these qualities.
That we are one people under law has been reassuringly evident in the response of police authorities to reports of insult or assault against Muslim or other minorities throughout Canada.
Our government, and our police, are not going to victimize you: they are protecting Muslims now, and they will continue to protect Muslims.
So when I suggest that we consider our civil liberties and rights when we ask “WHAT NOW?”, I suggest that we can face the present anxieties with some confidence.
There is only one class of Canadian, and the civil rights and liberties of all Canadians will be upheld with all of the power and resources of our country.
That is a good thing.
I almost hesitate to mention the second positive response to this anxious period. But let me do so with great respect.
It is this. Let us take some comfort in the fact that many, many Canadians, in all walks of life, have come forward on this occasion to reassure and comfort followers of your faith.
Yes, it is true, that some few ignorant persons, full of prejudice and empty of knowledge, have insulted Canadian Muslims and Sikhs in the last few days. There is cause and reason to be concerned.
But on balance—and I think balance is an important quality to seek at this time—our society is coming through. President Bush visited a mosque to provide leadership to Americans. Prime Minister Chretien has visited the Ottawa mosque, and he made a very strong statement of support for Canadian Muslims.
The Canadian Society of Muslims website carries a full record of the messages received by it since the September 11th terror attacks. There are two insulting e-mails, but nearly 60 strong expressions of sympathy and support for the Canadian Muslim community. I will leave a copy of those messages if you wish to look at them later.
Finally, and in closing, I was struck by the justice and beauty of this very apt quotation from your scriptures:
Whoever slays a soul unless it be for man-slaughter [as a legal punishment] or mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men. [Qur’an 5:32]
This embodies the single greatest idea about human life: the idea that, in different ways and languages, has inspired all of the great faiths. It is that we are all brothers and sisters, we are all worth the same, and our lives together must always be animated by this fundamental truth.
In the secular world, human brotherhood has found its best political expression in the struggle to realize democratic life, where everyone is counted in, and no one can be counted out. This is where we stand in Canada.
We must not only just passively hope that this great idea animates our citizens in the weeks and months to come: we must all work together to ensure that it does.