Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SFU - always something new

Photo: Patricia Chochol

"Who Needs Canada?" Audience members at SFU's fifth Public Summit were invited to fill out these post cards. Simple but brilliant. Besides Water drinkers, other good answers included Decency, Salmon, Our friends to the south, Marginalized groups, and Polar bears. Musqueam artist Shane Point opened the evening by requesting that we join hands and open our hearts and minds to each other and the wisdom the evening could provide.

Panelist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and defender of polar people and author of The Right to Be Cold, spoke eloquently about the need to see our environmental challenges in human terms, and expressed her confidence that once people understand the human costs of ignoring climate change, they will do the right thing.

Moderated by Laura Lynch, the panel also included Independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo. Canada is respected for human rights internationally, he said, but we're still somewhat parochial at home. While elsewhere, applicants are chosen for international experience, our immigrant job seekers are frustrated by demands for local experience, as if our nation had a corner on virtue.

Ottawa academic Roland Paris said that our democratic ideals of respecting the Rule of Law and democratic institutions are "bred in the bone" of Canadians. Yet he also expressed concern that we are not immune from the current tide of world pressures pushing against this mode of life.

Shuvaloy Majumdar, Munk Fellow at the McDonald-Laurier Institute, believes that as the world changes with "blinding speed," other nations look to Canada for leadership. He sees the major current threats to world security as Europopulism, predatory states, and overall democratic contraction around the world.

The panel was followed by moderated audience discussion groups. Our small circle brought a wide range of responses to the question of how Canada can do better at championing human rights internationally. We have work to do to integrate marginalized people here in Canada, said some. We must consider what we can do as individuals, said others, and not expect the government to do it all for us. While one young man expressed bitter disillusionment about what he perceived as the university selling out to corporate interests, another spoke of how we must each work at creating peace within ourselves, so that we can experience it in our communities.

On the far side of the circle sat the thoughtful and soft-spoken social worker and women's rights activist, Patsy George. On the lapel of her red vest with its appliqued Inukshuk, I think I glimpsed her well-deserved Order of Canada and Order of British Columbia pins. Well done, SFU. Definitely a worthwhile evening, this left me with food for thought and reason to hope. Lots more events coming up at the Community Summit between now and March 8.

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