Throughout 2021, the pandemic continued to influence almost every aspect of our daily lives. This health crisis, economic crisis and human rights crisis has touched everyone — it is affecting all of us in some way.
While many have managed to adapt to a new normal, COVID-19 continues to put people living in vulnerable circumstances at even greater disadvantage. Many women, children, people with disabilities, older people, Indigenous peoples, Black people, racialized people, single parents, members of the LGBTQ2SI+ community, and people in our correctional institutions are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.
Efforts to manage the spread of the virus continue to amplify economic and social inequality for millions of people. This is contributing to a sense of fatigue and a growing loss of trust in public institutions. It is fueling divisive, vitriolic rhetoric and aggression in both public and virtual spaces. Healthcare workers, public servants, journalists and politicians are often the targets.
Despite what some people believe, human rights are not absolute. Protecting our individual rights and protecting our collective well-being are deeply connected. Being asked to wear a mask or get a vaccine in order to protect your health and the health of others is not a violation of your human rights. It is part of our collective responsibility to protect others.
Denying others their freedom in the name of your own is a distortion of rights. It is misguided and wrong.
The right to peaceful protest is fundamental to our democracy, but nobody has the right to be violent or threaten others.
Brazen displays of symbols of hate and white supremacy are a threat to our democracy, our peace and our prosperity. Dismissing or downplaying white supremacist rhetoric or hate in any form is reprehensible.
Hate divides us and shuts down debate. Hate is dangerous and has devastating consequences.
Now more than ever, we must look to human rights to guide our values, to promote social harmony, and to protect our peace and prosperity. Human rights are universal and the foundation of our free and democratic society.
Human rights are fragile and we must cherish and protect them and always be on guard. We must never take them for granted. It is in times of crisis that our rights are most at risk of eroding or being lost.
Here, just as in any other country in the world, we must make a concerted effort to uphold our rights and ensure that everyone is treated with equality, dignity and respect. Silence has a profound effect and should never be an option. If we remain silent, we are complicit.
While I am concerned, I remain optimistic. I believe that Canada is a caring, compassionate and resilient nation. Diversity, inclusion and acceptance are the values we hold dear. It is who we are. I am inspired and encouraged by countless examples of people in Canada coming together to help each other. It is a source of hope for a better future. It makes it clear that we are stronger together.
Together, we must call out hate when we see it. We must not tolerate threats, aggression, or violence directed at people because of what they look like, what they believe, or whom they love.
Together, we must confront the deeply rooted systemic racism that has long denied Indigenous peoples, Black people and racialized people a sense of belonging and full and equal participation in society.
Together, we must advance reconciliation. We must learn the truth about our shameful past, and take responsibility for it. Together, we must improve accessibility, eliminate barriers, and build a better world where everyone has full access to work, public spaces, information, services and transportation.
We must do more to promote gender equality and to ensure that everyone receives equal pay for work of equal value. We must ensure that everyone has the right to housing. We must do more to address homelessness and protect members of our society in vulnerable circumstances.
We must continue to push for a Canada where everyone feels welcome, valued and safe. Because when everyone can participate, everyone benefits.
My years as the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission have been some of the best years of my life.
The people who work for this organization are deeply committed to the principles of equality, dignity and respect. They believe in the work they do and care for the people they help.
It is an honour and a privilege to serve as Chief Commissioner, and as CEO, and to lead this important and extraordinary organization.
Please be kind to yourself, and to others.
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Canadian Human Rights Commission