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Part Two of the EquiTalks: Bridging our Diversities

On October 25, the second hybrid EquiTalks panel discussion took place in Toronto, the traditional home and meeting-place of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. People also tuned in online from across Canada and the world to catch the conversation on human rights education and how it can bridge diversities and inspire collective action to create more compassionate communities. This event was a continuation of the thought-provoking discussions in part one of the EquiTalks held at the United Nations in Geneva on October 5. 

The panel discussion was moderated by Vinod Rajasekeran, CEO and publisher of social impact digital publication, the Future of Good, and was joined by thought leaders in the field of human rights including: 

  • Marie-Claude Landry, the Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Human Rights Commission
  • Hillory Tenute, Executive Director at Canadian Roots Exchange and Indigenous rights advocate
  • Rio Hada, Chief of the Equality, Development and Rule of Law Section at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 

Throughout the panel, each speaker drew upon their diverse personal experiences and identities to express how human rights education has the power to build inclusive societies. The event opened with words of welcome from Equitas’ Executive Director, Odette McCarthy. This was followed by remarks from Peter Flegel, the Executive Director of the Government of Canada’s Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, who shared his human rights journey. He described early experiences of being bullied based on race and sexual identity as a child, being taken to anti-nuclear protests by his mother, and becoming inspired after reading about the revolutionary history of his birthplace, Haiti. These experiences instilled deeply the importance of human rights education in combatting hate and discrimination, both inside and outside formal institutions, which inspired his support for the EquiTalks. 

Marie-Claude Landry gave a keynote address in which she referred to lessons learned through a career defined by community involvement, spoke about numerous human rights challenges within the global and Canadian context, and the role of human rights education in addressing these challenges. She reflected on the past five years and how much has changed in the world – from the pandemic, to the #MeToo movement, to Black Lives Matter. Despite being a historic period for human rights action and social movements, she urged people to continue the work to keep the momentum going as rights can be called into question at any point. 

One, human rights education is the key to dismantle some of the most deeply entrenched belief structures of racism and colonialism in our society. Two, human rights education is most effective when it hits home for people. And three, human rights education must be lifelong.”

– Marie-Claude Landry 

Human rights education in the Canadian context could not be discussed without touching upon Indigenous rights and the legacies of assimilation-based policies which continue to impede these rights in the country. As highlighted by Hillory Tenute in her contributions, there is a need for the continuous pursuit of reconciliation, and human rights education plays a significant role in advancing this. This is because human rights education enables people to see each other’s humanity and to feel solidarity with other groups such as LGBTQ2I and AsianCanadian communities fighting for their rights. Marie-Claude and Hillory both emphasized a phrase coined during the Truth and Reconciliation Commision by Chief Littlechild, that education [referring to the residential school system] got us into this situation, and education is what’s going to get us out. As pointed out by Marie-Claude, intolerance, racism, and bigotry are all learned and human rights education can help us unlearn.  Hillory emphasized that Indigenous youth are a driving force of social movements in Canada and pointed to accessibility of language as a practice which strengthens participation of marginalized communities, including Indigenous youth, in human rights education activities. 

“Whenever I’m having a really low point, I know my mom always reminds me, remember my girl, you are the prayers of your ancestors. And I feel the same to be true about this next generation, that now they are the future and the seeds that they’re planting and all this work, this is the future of the next seven generations.”

– Hillory Tenute 

Rio Hada also referred to his collaboration with an Indigenous youth activist, who inspired him with her fight for water rights in Canada, Autumn Peltier. Rio expressed that human rights education can take a variety of forms while empowering individuals and communities to be aware of their rights and of who is responsible and can be held accountable for actions or inactions. He also emphasized that human rights should leave no-one behind, a message at the forefront of the global United Nations campaign for water and sanitation rights that he coordinated for the 2019 World Water Day. While there is needed focus on the participation of youth in human rights education, Rio pointed out that elderly people are frequently overlooked by ageist attitudes and suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. A theme in the discussion was that human rights education should not ignore the histories and lessons shared from older generations.  

A phrase that came up in the panel discussion was that empathy breeds action. Human rights education requires having the courage to speak and to act, to get to know one another, to humanize one another, let go of biases, and to be vulnerable. This was beautifully demonstrated by the individuals who contributed to the discussion at the EquiTalks.

To learn from this conversation, watch the EquiTalks in Toronto here:

A big thank you to our generous sponsors who helped to make the EquiTalks event possible