Sunday was International Human Rights Day, marking 70 years since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling for recognition of the equality and rights of all human beings.
It seemed every major political leader in the country issued a statement confirming their devotion to human rights. But how far have we come?
In his declaration, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned the two recent apologies he issued; to victims of Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools and for federal practices that led to systemic oppression of LGBTQ2 individuals.
Apologies are a good thing. Between two people, they are (hopefully) the end of a problem, followed by a handshake or a hug. At the government level, they’re the recognition of an injustice, perhaps followed by atonement in the form of government funds.
That’s fine, as far as it goes. At the government level, apologies really should be the first step of a journey, not its end. Because an apology without action is meaningless. Trudeau recognized this, noting that legislation had been passed against discrimination and hate crimes based on gender identity, and ongoing recommendations.
In the case of residential schools, where is the solemn declaration — enshrined in legislation — that the government of Canada will never again single out a people and try to wipe out their cultures and languages? Where do we have it written down that people will never again be taken from their homes just because they belong to a particular ethnic group?
In a larger picture, where is the plan laid out for how our government is going to evaluate and implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
Internationally, we are still trading with countries that have clear records of human rights abuses. Apologies and statements about how Canada is devoted to human rights are one thing, but there is still a lot of work to do — inside and outside the country — before Canada can live up to the vision of being a just society.