Speech on the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Monument to Canadian Aid Workers
Ottawa, Thursday, June 28, 2001
I feel that it is so appropriate for us to be here at the confluence of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers – two arteries into the heart and soul of Canada. A Canada opening to the first European voyagers and explorers. A Canada whose Aboriginal peoples showed the newcomers the way into the very being of this land.
It is where one of the earliest Fathers of Canada – the brilliant, resolute explorer, diplomat and Governor of New France, Samuel de Champlain took pause in his travels. He lost his astrolabe nearby, but never his sense of direction and purpose.
It was Champlain who said – and lived – the lines: "As for me, I labour always to prepare a way for those willing to follow."
So, too, we can say about those whom we commemorate by this Monument – in particular, those who have died in the line of work – that they have "laboured always to prepare a way for those willing to follow".
The Canadian aid workers that we honour were all leaders blessed with deep personal conviction. Overflowing with energy and life. Replete of purpose and determination. Great of heart. Graced with compassion. Yearning to help others. Above all, they were humanists – devoted to human interests, concerned with the human condition. Able to see in others the feelings they had themselves.
This is a Monument to service to the public good of all humanity, to selflessness and to love of humankind.
Canadians have distinguished themselves at home and abroad. In fields of battle for peace and freedom. And in fields of battle for humanitarian and development causes.
So it's not surprising that Canadians have contributed so much to the concept of security in its broadest sense. Where the security of human beings does not mean defending a country's borders only. It means defending the life and the means to life of every individual on this planet. It means aiding the plight of the dispossessed, the sick, the vulnerable. Fighting relentlessly for the dignity of each human life.
As Canadians, we who are so privileged in our country, have an even greater responsibility – to take care that our thoughts, our feelings go out to the rest of the world, to those who are in need.
It's a huge task, and some would say impossible. But that word "impossible" was not acceptable to Tim Stone, to Nancy Malloy, to John Dobson, to Maria Rovers, to Dan Duffy, to Suzanne Séguin-Goertz, to Ron Audette, to Jean-Pierre Prud'homme, to Michelle Spencer-Yates. Nor to the other Canadian aid workers who, over the years, have lost their lives while serving the cause of international development and humanitarian assistance.
Nor is the word "impossible" acceptable to the Canadians who have worked tirelessly across the globe in international development and humanitarian assistance. In the field, where help and succour are desperately needed. Whether they are sponsored by charitable organizations or governmental ones, whether they work for private consulting firms or are people who on their own volunteer their skills and expertise to those who need help overseas.
In serving the people of the world in need, such people have also served our country. The dedication and courage of Canadian aid workers has earned the profoundest respect and admiration of fellow Canadians, and has added lustre to the way other people in the world look at us.
As the Canadian poet – one of our first great Canadian poets, who recently died – Louis Dudek, said, "The measure of a civilization is how much you can take for granted."
In that regard, Canadians are among the most fortunate people in the world. But we are only fortunate if we act to protect and live by the very ideals which lay the groundwork for such good fortune. It doesn't come by standing aloof and indifferent. It doesn't come as a matter of simple inheritance or by being born into it. But only if, as the art of this Monument symbolizes, we identify ourselves in others.
So, too, the measure of our civilization is seen in its acts of true charity and engagement; it is seen in the willingness to take risks to alleviate the plight of others. To apply all one's energies and skills to bettering the condition of the weak and vulnerable. And in that wonderful verse of Isaiah "If we can maintain justice and do what is right." To the victims of what is sometimes a very heartless world. It means going out in the world and manifesting ourselves for what we believe.
The measure of our civilization lies in the wisdom created in us all by such acts and by our public recognition of them.
It is a great honour for me then to dedicate this Monument to Canadian Aid Workers and to be asked to "place the first feather" which is a sign of the sacrifice. The sacrifice of all those Canadians who have contributed to the noble project of international development and humanitarian assistance – and those who have sacrificed their lives in doing so.