This year marks the 25th anniversary of the B.C. Multiculturalism Act. For me, this anniversary is a chance to reflect on how well we’re living up to the principles of equality and respect enshrined in the Act, and where we’re headed together as a society.
In 1993, when the Act was first created it seemed it was needed more than ever. Residential schools remained opened in Canada. A ban preventing Sikhs from wearing turbans in the RCMP had only just been lifted. The provincial cabinet included just one person of colour. We have made significant strides in the past 25 years, seeing the arc of history bend towards justice.
However, like many of you, I feel and observe an unsettling change in our society. This change is occurring in daily life both off and online. Peoples’ symbols of faith are being challenged in Quebec. A new Canadian political party is using the issues of public safety and immigration to stir up its base. Here in British Columbia, we have seen people targeted on public transit for who they are and how they dress. And sadly, racism has led to recent horrific hate crimes both south of the border and here in our own country.
As the traditional territory of more than 200 First Nations, B.C. has always been a highly diverse region. This ethno-cultural, racial and religious diversity grows each year with vibrant urban Indigenous and Métis communities and long-term and new residents who now trace their origins to more than 200 other countries or regions.
In my role as Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Multiculturalism, I participated in recent consultations our government undertook to inform the new B.C. Human Rights Commission and the B.C. Poverty Reduction Strategy. The consultations revealed personal stories from so many British Columbians about the impact that racism and discrimination has on their everyday lives.
We heard from people about the need to build trust and understanding between our communities and to do more to ensure that all British Columbians are able to fully and freely participate in the economic, social, cultural and political life in the province.
This is a critical moment as a society. It’s up to us as individuals – as human beings – to build these bridges. We must reach out to each to each other, learn each other’s stories and histories and stand together against hate. Tolerance is not enough. Instead, we must strive for equity, acceptance and inclusion.
Our government takes this responsibility seriously. One of our first actions was to begin the process to re-establish the B.C. Human Rights Commission. Our communities will be stronger when all British Columbians – no matter where they live or what they can afford – have access to effective human rights support and services.
The Province aims to create a commission that is efficient, effective and equipped to protect, promote and defend human rights in British Columbia through proactive education.
As part of our commitment to true, lasting reconciliation with First Nations in British Columbia, our government will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We’ve also invited British Columbians from all backgrounds to participate in a Multicultural Advisory Council, a legislated body created to provide advice to government on ways we can promote multiculturalism and address racism.
These are a few of the first steps our government has taken. But they won’t be the last. Our pledge as government is to meet hate and intolerance head-on, for the sake of our beautifully diverse society. I ask all British Columbians to do the same.
Ravi Kahlon is MLA for Delta North and parliamentary secretary for sport and multiculturalism.