MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Diversity and Human Rights in the Legislature

Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Diversity and Human Rights in the Legislature. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.

As I was driving down-Island yesterday, I was struck by the beauty of the season, the licks of red and yellow and orange amongst the varying shades of green, the blue of the sky and the deep texture of the clouds, where even the colour grey can be celebrated. Then I thought about what it might look like if I were colour-blind. If all of the colour was washed out of that great vista, I would be keen to be looking for contrast, to excite the senses, to be alive to differences. That reflection told me that I crave diversity; I do not wish to suppress it. Selfishly, I suggest celebrating diversity in all of its forms is a way to improve our own personal quality of life.

Speaking of blindness, I’d like to acknowledge Michael McLellan, a visually impaired constituent. He’s tireless in his advocacy for better transit service. As he said, you really wouldn’t want him behind the wheel of a car. It’s just not a choice. He was the person who introduced me to the language of diversability, not disability. So as we put our efforts to supporting transit, we’re actually putting our efforts to celebrating diversity.

Last week in Kelowna, a presenter to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services was a father of a child with autism and developmental challenges, a man who knows that his daughter’s diverse abilities means a lifetime of challenges in order for her to thrive as well as anyone. He made a powerful statement when he flipped a common phrase on its head, saying: “My job as a parent is to prepare the world for my child.” Putting our efforts to celebrate diversity will help prepare us for his daughter and others of diverse abilities, and it will also be a positive force for the protection of their human rights.

Of course, our diversity is not limited to our physical or mental differences. The member for Richmond North Centre listed a grand list of ways of being diverse. Celebrating diversity in all its forms is what it takes to make us safe and living in a peaceful world.

I am a woman, which comes with its own challenges, but I know, in the greater scheme of things, I am a white woman of privilege. Sometimes walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is not enough to appreciate the lived experience of people who have been oppressed for generations.

Rosemary Brown, my hero — the first elected black woman in the Legislature, back in the ’70s — recognized that gap in the women’s movement in the 1970s. As she said in her speech to the annual banquet of the Negro Women’s Association of Ontario in 1973, and it’s still true today: “Unless the women’s liberation movement identifies with and locks into the liberation movement of all oppressed groups, it will never achieve its goals…that unless it identifies with and supports the struggles of the poor, of oppressed races, of the old and of other disadvantaged groups in society, it will never achieve its goals. Because not to do so would be to isolate oneself from the masses of women, since women make up a large segment of all of these groups.”

[11:25 a.m.]

Here’s a pretty good example. We are at a crossroads in responding to today’s oppression of First Nations women. The REDress campaign, Walking with Our Sisters and the orange t-shirt campaign are all good works that mark the constant vigilance Indigenous women have undertaken to overcome the discrimination and oppression they have and continue to experience. In celebrating diversity, this House can go a long way to supporting their efforts to protect their human rights and ensure they receive the dignity, respect and equal treatment they should come to expect.

I would like to mention the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre’s work on countering racism, homophobia and hate activity, and acknowledge chief administrator Bruce Curtis, who is the driver of many strong initiatives that have grown support for the protection of human rights and the celebration of diversity so needed in our community. One of his efforts brought to life the critical incident response protocol, originally signed by 43 organizations in 2009. More recently 126 organizations have signed on to the second iteration of the protocol in 2016.

This is what it takes to make a difference.