January 19th, the Intercultural Dialogue Institute held its first Peace and Dialogue Awards Dinner. This annual event had originally held the title of Peace and Friendship Dinner. It was an exciting night with incredible guests who are thoroughly involved in our communities.
Held in the historic and impressive Royal York, it was an evening to not only recognize the hard work of community participants who work to make Canada a more just place, but also to bring awareness to a number of issues. Among the recipients of these awards, a variety of social issues were covered from Syrian refugees to the living conditions of remote indigenous communities.
We were honoured with the presence of Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, who was described by the MC of the evening, Armand La Barge, as someone who listens and engages with Ontarians. She originally did not see peace as such a broad subject, a view that changed over the time during her work with the United Nations. Of course we are not at peace when we take up arms against each other, she said, but neither when we do not have enough to eat or adequate shelter or medicine. Her Honour affirmed her belief that it is within human capabilities to build a world that is more just, and one of the essential tools to achieve this is through dialogue. The welcoming of Syrian refugees to Canada and Ontario, she described as social cohesion in practice. Another important opportunity for this is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is very much on everyone’s minds. Sustainable community is the path to peace, Her Honour said.
The keynote was given by Stephen J. Toope, director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He began by asserting that to get good at something, one needs to practice. One needs the determination to do good, but also the willingness to do bad. It is the same with learning to play a violin as with learning to live in a multicultural community; we must listen, to be uncomfortable, to practice. First we must admit that there are things we do not know, to build places for safe and genuine conversations on sensitive topics of cultural differences. Identity and citizenship should be reevaluated in a world where we are surrounded by people from so many different places, to change the way we see our neighbours. One of the difficulties is to not to give up active citizenship for the promise of protection against terrorist acts. Can we rise above simple tolerance, but proceed toward a much deeper sense of diversity? he asked.
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Liminality is the threshold when identity is relaxed, Mr. Toope explained, the state of the new immigrant in the country, of the mixed race couple, the artist immersed in creation. The internet encapsulates this as people are in many places at once, choosing to identify themselves in different ways in different places. “There are no borders on the internet, and so you may find yourself in a community that’s actually deeply transnational.”
Since September 11th, we have lived in a ‘security’ culture, but Mr. Toope believes that we should call it a culture of ‘fear’ instead. “We have not escaped the trend to build more on fear, than on hope.” Canada’s multiculturalism, which is doing better than Europe’s, needs active encouragement, not simply smug complacency. This is a time for choice, to choose who we are, what we could be and what we wish to be. Mr. Toope believes that citizens feel disenchanted by naive platitudes about valuing diversity most often put forward by governments who equate sameness with safety. “Difference doesn’t preclude belonging, or loyalty, or safety.” Acknowledging these differences may actually help increase security, to create stronger ties along different communities.
Mississauga’s Mayor, Bonnie Crombie, presented the Interfaith Award to Dr. Hamid Slimi. Dr. Slimi is known throughout Toronto for his work in the interfaith community. He shared the story of his attendance at a recent global conference and saw that Toronto’s interfaith nature is more mature, more advanced. The interfaith community in Toronto are not simply talking about scriptures, about what they say on issues, but are working together to make a difference in issues like poverty. Global citizenship is what Toronto should export to the world, he said. There is a need to take back what Islam means, because to lose humanity is to lose faith.
Toronto’s Mayor John Tory presented the Community Service award to Lifeline Syria. Mayor Tory described Toronto as liveable because of how we have chosen to live, with an active reinforcement of the values of the ways in which we live together. We are proud of our diversity but there is still work to do, there are still others who are on the outside looking in and they are most often from racialized communities or newcomers to Canada. “If we recognize this,” he said, “then we can follow up with action.”
Mayor Tory spoke of when he was present for the arrival of the Vietnamese refugees 37 years ago, who arrived relieved yet bewildered, but had become business people and teachers and integrated citizens over the years. At the time, it was suggested that the regime that had taken over in Veitnam has also snuck in individuals who were subversive to the state among their numbers. Mayor Tory spoke of how ten years in the future, we will see that as with many other refugee crises, welcoming Syrian refugees will have been the right decision. He applauded Lifeline Syria’s work, which began as a grassroots movement, and have perhaps encountered more than what they were expecting due to their excellent work and plans for integrating refugees.
The Media award was presented to Anna Maria Tremonti, who was unable to attend the evening.
The 4Rs Youth Movement was presented with the Youth Award by Andrea Nemptin, President and CEO of the Inspirit Foundation. Project coordinator, Jessica Bolduc accepted the award on behalf of the 4Rs Youth Movement and youth who are thinking of their values in terms of respect, reciprocity, reconciliation, and relevance in relation to indigenous rights. Change occurs among other people, she says, never alone and so they pride individual commitment but collective action.
Brian Desbians, of OISE at the University of Toronto, presented the Leadership Award to Andrée Cazabon. Some people in our society, he said, do not have a voice. Others are able to present their stories and give them a voice. Ms. Cazabon has done this.
Andrée Cazabon explained how she was asked by the Northern Ontario community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inniuwug, K.I. for short, to make the invisible visible. She told the story of how a friend of hers is looking to raised $6000 because there have been too many deaths in her community, mostly due to illnesses and cancer. In this very remote area of Northern Ontario, they had overspent their budget and a short while ago, Ms. Cazabon explained, a ten year old community member took her own life because of cancer and they cannot afford the funeral. “I’m just reminded of all the work there is to do, and all the hope there is,” she said. Her hope is the next time there is a dinner, it is to celebrate the change that has taken place in this country, not for the need to bring awareness to the funeral of a little girl.
The theme for the evening was reconciliation and harmony among diverse peoples, the acknowledgement that while Canada has much to be thankful for, there is work that needs to be done, whether it is social inclusion or improving living standards. The night’s dinner helped those who are striving for better social change to be acknowledged for their hard work, and perhaps even to get a renewed sense of hope from the enthusiasm of the other guests.
Click here to view the letter from PM Justin Trudeau
Click here to view the letter from Primier Kathleen Wynne
Peace & Dialogue Award Recipients:
Andrée Cazabon – Distinguished Leadership Award
Anna Maria Tremonti – Media Award
Dr. Hamid Slimi – Interfaith Award
Lifeline Syria – Community Service Award
4Rs Youth Movement – Youth Award
Hosting and Selection Committee:
Andrea Nemtin, President & CEO, Inspirit Foundation
Brian Desbiens, OISE, University of Toronto
Bruce Rodrigues, Executive Director, EQAO
David Rivard, CEO, Toronto Children’s Aid Society
Deborah Newman, Former Deputy Minister, Training, Colleges and Universities
Debra Cooper Burger, CEO, New Unionville Home Society
Enes Kula, Director, Growth & Transition Capital, Business Development Bank of Canada
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Beth Tzedec Congregation
Rev. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches
Lucy Cummings, Executive Director, Faith and the Common Good
Maxim Jean-Louis, Chief Executive Officer, Contact North | Contact Nord
Muneeb Nasir, President, Olive Tree Foundation
Proceeds in Support of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship