Statement made on 16 September 2009 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, last week, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a British journalist and a friend I grew up with in Uganda, was launching her new book here in Canada. She spoke about the different experiences of Ugandan Asians who were lucky enough to be accepted into Canada and those who fled to other countries to escape the oppression of Idi Amin.
When Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau spoke to Ugandan Asians about being welcomed to Canada, he told us he wanted us to truly become a part of this great country and to help build an even greater Canada. Since that time, Ugandan Asians have worked hard to become an integral part of building this country. Rahim Jaffer was a member of the other place for many years and I have had the great honour of working with all honourable senators in this chamber. Ugandan Asians have felt welcome in Canada and are very much a part of Canada's fabric.
Over the last few years, there seems to have been an erosion of that welcome. When I travel in Canada, I am always asked why we have seen such strong examples of our government working for some Canadians stranded abroad, while another Canadian citizen, charged as a young soldier, is left to languish in Guantanamo Bay.
This matter becomes even more poignant when Canadian consular officials were responsible for the detention of a Canadian in Kenya for three months, away from her family, while they were questioning her very identity. It took them three months. There are many questions surrounding why this young mother was forced to endure this kind of ordeal.
There is a growing concern in this country that the extent of the assistance and protection a Canadian citizen abroad is entitled to depends on the colour of his or her skin. As senators, one of our key roles is the protection of minorities. None of us here can accept Canadian minorities being treated as second-class citizens.
I remember taking piano lessons as a child, and how I would annoy my mother by playing only the black keys, or the white keys. It was not good harmony. She would counsel me that you have to play both the black and white keys together to create harmony. When I had the honour of being appointed to this chamber in 2001, I saw that my colleagues on both sides also understood how to create harmony by promoting equality among all Canadians, regardless of their colour.
I know that no honourable senator can accept the perception that Canadians are treated differently overseas because of who they are. I urge all honourable senators to speak out and ensure all Canadians, both at home and especially abroad, can count on being treated equally.