Taking stock of human rights on Canada Day

At 151 years old, St John’s College on the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus is older than both the U of M and Canada. I went to a lecture there recently where the invited speaker, Stephen Lewis, spoke on the erosion of human rights in the 21st century.

Mr. Lewis, former leader of the Ontario NDP and former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, as well as founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, is passionate about helping those less privileged than himself.

Stephen Lewis spoke at St John’s College recently.

And what could be a more appropriate topic considering the recent rise of far right politics throughout the world.

After holding the audience spellbound for more than an hour with his eloquent account of two decades spent working in Africa, he was followed at the podium by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

Although His Worship’s speech was not quite as riveting as Mr. Lewis’, he did raise some rather pertinent local issues.

He pointed out that he was elected as mayor shortly after the inauguration of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. An excellent building and one that all Winnipeggers should see. However his early days in office were marred by a Maclean’s magazine article about Winnipeg being Canada’s most racist city.

The mayor pointed out how this disturbed him greatly and spurred him into action, precipitating a bridge building exercise amongst community leaders in order to break down barriers and pre-conceived notions.

He also pointed out how his Calgary counterpart, Naheed Nenshi, North America’s first Muslim mayor hatched a plan. He called it ‘three things for Calgary’. Mr. Nenshi shared this vision with other mayors across the country and it eventually became known as ‘three things for Canada’.

John F. Kennedy was once hailed for a ground-breaking speech in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

In Canada we’re upping the ante, we want three things.

These things can be simple actions like hosting a front yard BBQ to get to know your neighbours, or becoming a blood donor, or a volunteer, or it could be a bigger commitment like sponsoring a Syrian refugee family.

With Canada’s 150th birthday coming up, it’ll be a great time to celebrate. Like a lot of people you may fire up the BBQ, put the beer on ice, perhaps take in a street party or a fireworks show.

But as you do so, pause for a moment and ask yourself what have you done for Canada?

Trevor Smith


Trevor Smith is an engineering technologist at the University of Manitoba and a local community journalist in Winnipeg MB.

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