Hon. Dennis Dawson:
Yesterday, when I asked to be put on the list to speak today, I had a very different subject in mind, but we will not be sitting tomorrow, and this is a solemn occasion.
I first came to Parliament 41 years ago as a member of the other place. I believe that nobody, other than my sponsor, friend and colleague Serge Joyal, has been in Parliament longer. When I came in this morning, I took a moment to solemnly acknowledge that this is the last time I’ll have the opportunity, in either chamber of this building, to reflect on those years and to thank the colleagues I’ve worked with all this time.
I was very moved by Senator Brazeau’s speech on distress and solidarity yesterday. The people in this place could sometimes demonstrate a little more solidarity, especially in the spirit of Christmas. That is certainly something we should try to do more often.
I had chosen a much more serious subject, though not a time-sensitive one. Instead, I want to reflect on what’s been accomplished here with respect to same-sex marriage and human rights. This week, I gave a speech to mark the seventieth anniversary of human rights. You know, when I came here 41 years ago, there were only four or five women in Parliament. There wasn’t even a ladies’ washroom in the House of Commons, but women’s rights were a top priority. We were working to achieve parity. We’ve made a lot of progress since then, but we still have a lot of work to do.
We tended to take our rights for granted. Take for example francophone rights in Ontario, which were believed to have been acquired and to be guaranteed, a fait accompli. Last month, we had a setback. To me, rights aren’t something to be looked at through the rear view mirror. We have to turn our gaze to the future. We mustn’t ever take for granted that our rights are guaranteed forever. I work with many of you, including my colleague Senator Ataullahjan, on defending LGBTI rights internationally. Still today in 2018 people are imprisoned and even executed because of their orientation.
Here in Canada, our rights can appear to be a fait accompli, but if we want to continue to be a source of inspiration — as we have been for women, languages, same-sex marriage — and advance human rights around the world, we have to maintain our momentum not only in the progress we’ve made, but also the progress that is yet to be made. We mustn’t ever take our gains for granted, especially when it comes to those of our francophone colleagues outside Quebec whose rights are threatened still today.
To quote our honourable friend Senator Baker, since I said I would be brief, I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone a great break at Christmas. I was going to speak tomorrow, but since we will probably not be sitting, I want to thank you all. I’m glad that when I was sick I could count on your help, and should you be, you can count on me.