Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
Declaration on the Occasion of the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama
Rideau Hall, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
On March 21, 2007, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in this very place, at Rideau Hall, we held a forum to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in the British Empire.
On that occasion, I listened as young people commemorated that momentous day—March 25, 1807—when trading and enslaving human beings were formally outlawed on Canadian soil.
I listened as they passionately condemned the inequalities that still exist between people who may have “different stories” but who hold “common hopes.”
I listened as they took a stand so that the chains of segregation would not replace the chains of servitude.
And in their words of indignation and hope, I heard the silent cries of all those African women and men in chains, as they passed through the Door of No Return, bound for an America that would reduce them to slavery.
I heard the cries of joy of my own Haitian ancestors, as they cast off the yoke of oppression to establish, in 1804, the first Black republic in the world.
I heard the cries of relief of thousands of African Americans, as they fled from slavery through the Underground Railroad to find refuge and emancipation here in Canada.
Above those many voices, where suffering and freedom intermingled and intermingle still, I heard the voice of the Reverend Martin Luther King who, in 1963, urged us all—brothers and sisters of this continent, sisters and brothers of this world—to dare to dream big.
Who urged us all to dare “to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
That dream, proclaimed by the Reverend Martin Luther King, helped to pave the way for an African American to take office in the White House today.
The inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama, is a historic moment that we are joyfully celebrating.
Because although this event is taking place in the land of our partners, our neighbours and friends to the south, it is filled with symbolic meaning on a global scale.
A new page in the history of civilizations is being written before our very eyes, fulfilling the wishes of so many youth, women and men, from every background and every creed, to see our world become more just and more human.
In these times, when the most fragile among us are threatened by an uncertain economy, by the folly of war and the tension born of prejudice, let us all rejoice in the wave of hope that is filling our hearts.
It is the hope for a world where human beings will at last find their place at the centre of the systems they have created to make life the most wondrous of adventures.
On behalf of all Canadians, we offer our very best wishes for success to the new American president and are thrilled that Canada will soon welcome him here during his first official foreign visit.