at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance

Durban ,South Africa

Thank You, Madame Chair.

I would like to begin, on behalf of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, by thanking the Government and the people of South Africa for hosting this conference. No other country in the world would be as fitting - or as inspiring - a place for a World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

This Conference brings together some 15,000 representatives of governments, NGOs, indigenous peoples, members of Parliament, the private sector and national human rights institutions. We need to ensure that all can find a place at this conference to express their views and tell their stories. Far too many are still victimized because they belong to a particular group or because of a complex interplay of multiple discrimination, whether on the grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, gender, disability, sexual orientation or social and economic status. Every country in the world experiences racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the final documents from this World Conference need to reflect the full diversity of experience of people around the world.
Within Canada, although we are justifiably proud of the legal and institutional framework designed to protect human rights, we are not immune to racism. Instances of racial discrimination - including individual complaints of overt or covert racism and evidence of systemic racism - occur all too often. Cases involving hate messages over the Internet are multiplying. Aboriginal peoples, as a group, remain among the most disadvantaged of all Canadians. Visible minorities, particularly African Canadians and members of the Asian community still face barriers to full participation in society.

Madame Chair,

The Secretary General of the United Nations opened this conference by reminding .us. tl ~ we must not leave this city without agreeing on practical measures to address racism and related intolerance. National human rights institutions have worked hard over the past few days in their pre-meeting in Johannesburg and in Durban itself, to do just that. For the first time ever, national human rights institutions have agreed on a common plan of action, with a range of concrete measures to address racism and related intolerance. These range from efforts to foster positive representations in the media and take action against hate speech, to ensuring effective remedies for victims of racism and developing educational programmes which instill tolerance. National Institutions also pledge to protect human rights defenders and to conduct public inquiries into human rights violations. Consistent with the Statement adopted here, the Canadian Human Rights Commission calls on the Government of Canada to develop a National Plan of Action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Madame Chair,

Included in the draft Declaration and Programme of Action and in the National Institutions Statement are a range of positive, forward-looking measures which could make a difference for victims of racism and related intolerance. These measures are not necessarily the big issues which are attracting all the media attention at this Conference. They include teaching tolerance in our schools, positive reflections of diversity in our media and ensuring that covert or systemic racism in the workplace is addressed - smaller issues perhaps, but vital to the daily struggle against racism.

The results of this World Conference risk becoming hollow words on paper unless governments, NGOs, indigenous peoples and human rights institutions are vigilant in working together to ensure concrete follow-up. National Human Rights Institutions agreed on a plan of action and a process to follow-up on the World Conference by meeting this coming year to share best practices and lessons learned in addressing racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We hope that governments will be able to do the same.