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Reaching for the Stars: Creating the Canadian Brand for Human Rights Leadership

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Charlie Coffey, O.C.
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) Summit
"Human Rights: Everyone's Business"

Windsor Arms Hotel
Toronto, Ontario

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Adine, thank you for the marvelous introduction and for inviting me to participate in this important Summit devoted to business and human rights. I highly respect your skill and determination in pushing the envelope on corporate responsibility and in nurturing the corporate sector's relationship with CBSR, including RBC. Although your success in financial services and commitment to community leadership also stand out in my mind, I especially admire the way you think. For example, when asked by the newspaper Business in Vancouver: "What remains the biggest challenge to women in business", Adine's response was "changing the corporate climate to value intuition on an equal footing with rational decision-making."

And Adine's right on the mark…in many cases and on many landscapes, it's very much about changing the climate or the culture. This is certainly true in terms of corporate responsibility - it's reflected in the growing recognition by investors, analysts, non-governmental organizations and various industry sectors at large (most notably the financial services sector), that there's more to a company's health than quarterly results. As you all well know, any company or organization can be vulnerable to a whole host of diverse influences that just aren't found on a traditional balance sheet. And human rights, is a good example of what I mean.

So for the next few minutes, I want to share some thoughts about the business of corporate responsibility and human rights, with a special focus on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights - a magnificent meeting place for human rights leadership, to be built in the geographic centre of Canada - in the great city of Winnipeg. And then, we'll open the floor to questions, as I really want to hear from you.

At RBC, we define corporate responsibility as operating with integrity at all times, sustaining our company's long-term viability while contributing to the present and future well-being of all of our stakeholders, not just our shareholders. We believe this balance is not only possible, it is imperative for our ongoing success. It's not a matter of whether a company can be both profitable and responsible, because in the long term, you can't have one without the other. The bottom line is that corporate responsibility is about how we operate our business, support economic prosperity and contribute to communities - it's about relationships with all stakeholders.

Increasingly, researchers, analysts and shareholders are asking companies to report on their environmental, social and ethical performance as well as on their financials. This "sustainability" or "non-financial" reporting is an emerging discipline. RBC's Sustainability Report and Index to Sustainability Information (which is available on our web site) provides the most detailed reporting on responsibility performance. And human rights is a significant component of this Report, in terms of our code of ethics and business principles, financial products and services, environmental concerns, supplier relations and engagement, not to mention human resource policies.

All companies and organizations have a fundamental responsibility to respect human rights in their own operations. Perhaps the business community also has a broader responsibility -- to use its influence to promote respect for human rights. How many of you are aware that April 17, 2005 marked the Twentieth Anniversary Year of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How many of you are aware that Section 15 revolves around equality rights - that it reads as follows: "Every individual is equal before the and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability."

In order to protect human rights, we must know and understand our rights, as well as be determined to preserve them. It's become increasingly apparent that not enough Canadians are aware, as citizens, employees and employers. I for one, continue to learn each and every day.

Speaking of learning….in January of this year, POLLARA Public Opinion polled 2,360 Canadians for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Here are some findings: "A substantial majority of Canadians (81%) believe that human rights violations have taken place in Canada in the past, while almost one-in-five Canadians (19%) has personally been the victim of a human rights violation based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation."

"When asked to think of human rights issues or events that have happened in Canada, Canadians recount violations against Canada's aboriginal peoples (17%), against Japanese-Canadians during World War II (7%), against new immigrants to Canada (6%), as well as against visible minorities (5%) and women (5%), against gays and lesbians (4%), wrongful convictions (3%), general racism and discrimination (3%), against organized labour (2%) and twenty other instances with 1% or fewer mentions. Only a third of Canadians (34%) could not immediately name a human rights violation when asked." According to Michael Marzolini, Chairman & CEO of POLLARA, "Canadians believe it is important to build the Museum for Human Rights - they believe that remembering our past is good insurance against such events ever being repeated."

Another Canadian also thought it was important to build the Museum - none other than the late Israel Asper, who established the Asper Foundation in 1983, the foundation that also sponsors the Holocaust and Human Rights Studies Program. It's this program that largely inspired Izzy's dream - his vision - for the creation of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights - "the only human rights museum of this scale in the world." It will be a people centre to tell Canadian human rights stories, celebrate our heroes and capture Canada's human rights essence. It will also be an action centre to equip Canadians and others to be steadfast advocates for human rights and a meeting place for human rights leadership.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is an opportunity for Canada to brand human rights leadership on both the national and international stage. The Museum is an opportunity to put children, young people and education at the forefront of the national agenda. And the Museum is an opportunity to put a Canadian stamp on building effective public and private partnerships.

  • Why must Canada enhance its international leadership reputation on human rights? Because that's how Canada will help effect change. We want a world that respects basic human rights for all peoples - we want this for North America - we want this for Afghanistan, India, Africa, China, Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan and countries around the globe. We recognize that human rights are the foundation of freedom, dignity and democracy. Yet none of our national institutions explain Canada's historical journey or celebrate Canada's successes - our stories, our heroes, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's about creating the Canadian brand for human rights leadership.

    On September 11, 2001, the world was transformed immeasurably and irrevocably. As Prime Minister Paul Martin said, "the ultimate human right is the right to personal security." The attacks on North America were fueled by hatred and intolerance… The Prime Minister repeatedly claims that, "the time has come for us to act…the fight against terrorism will only be won if in fact the rights of individuals are respected at the same time." If the United Nations is our "moral conscience" for action, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights can be our moral compass for action. It's about creating the Canadian brand for human rights leadership.

    In his reply to the Speech from the Throne on October 4, 2004, the Prime Minister asserted that "the satisfaction with which we present ourselves to the world as a country of inclusion (and tolerance), will ultimately erode and be lost if we are not vigilant, if we do not vigorously combat racism and exclusion, if we do not together stare into the face of hate and declare: This is not our Canada." The meeting place where Canada and the world can come together to stand united against the face of hate is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It's also a tangible symbol - an icon - of Canada's international and innovative leadership in the world arena - our call to action.

  • Why must Canada focus on human rights education for children and youth? Because that's how Canada will help to effect change. Publisher and champion of Canadian history, Lorne Pierce, wrote in 1930: "We must teach history better in order that we make better history to teach." Since teaching is hardly limited to a local classroom in a local school, we can advance education for children, youth and adults in a global classroom, in a global school. It's about creating the Canadian brand for human rights leadership.

    Toronto historian, commentator and author Jack L. Granatstein says: "Whether society can function without common cultural capital, is uncertain. For example, how can Canadian voters - and 18-year-olds are voters - make rational political choices (in the 21st century) without understanding such terms as 'British North America Act,' 'Charter of Rights and Freedoms,' 'provincial powers' and 'Social Union'?" Again, teaching is hardly limited to the classroom. From the early years on, Canadians need a better understanding of our history - of human rights history - to better propel our country's future. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be the home for compelling Canadian stories and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The Museum will also help, in an extraordinary way, to prepare and encourage a powerful generation of human rights leaders and advocates. It'll promote human rights from coast to coast, educating Canadians about our obligation to uphold the principles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    And through signature architecture, galleries, collections and programs (including virtual learning technology), the Museum will foster more awareness about the challenges of building bridges and strengthening relationships among communities. It will be a meeting place for understanding the importance of respecting human rights, a tribute to those who have died defending human rights and a model for all humanity, especially children and youth. The message of universal rights can be Canada's legacy - and the creation of this legacy rests with our young people - their ability and perseverance to make it happen. In the years ahead, these students and thousands more, can look forward to a more global classroom on visits to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. What better way to capture the imaginations of young Canadians than to give our future a past and to give their future greater hope…

    Young Canadians across the country are already involved in human rights. While reading through the names/backgrounds of the high school students who earned the RBC Royal Bank Financial Lifeskills Scholarship this year, I noted Stephen Geoffrey Aylward, from St. John's, NL - not only is Stephen studying arts en route to law at McGill University, he's also involved with Amnesty International, an organization that works to protect human rights. It's simply amazing and quite literally a small world - I'll be in touch with Stephen this month to talk about human rights.

    On January 24, 2005, during a special session of the United Nations on the Liberation of the Concentration Camps, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew quoted the Reverend Martin Niemöller, a German pastor, when referencing the evil of indifference: "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me." Minister Pettigrew may just as well have made the education case for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

  • Why must Canada pursue public/private partnerships for a human rights museum? Because that's how Canada will help to effect change. The pursuit of human rights is an intrinsic part of Canada's identity - of who we are as a people and a country. That's why the Museum was originally proposed as a public/private sector partnership initiative - an institution supported by federal, provincial, municipal and private investment. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights enhances Canada's national and international leadership reputation as a power broker, peace keeper and upholder of human rights. We can show the world how partnerships are done. It's about creating the Canadian brand for human rights leadership.

    The private sector and individuals have stepped up to the plate, including several aboriginal, cultural and ethnic groups. Premier Gary Doer and the Province of Manitoba, plus Mayor Sam Katz and the City of Winnipeg, have stepped up to the plate too. And on April 15th, the Government of Canada confirmed a total investment of up to $100 million for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The announcement was made by President of the Treasury Board and Member of Parliament (Winnipeg South) Reg Alcock, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister Responsible for Status of Women Liza Frulla, and Minister of Western Economic Diversification and Minister of State (Sport) Stephen Owen. We still have a distance to go in reaching a project fund-raising goal of close to $300 million, but the value of partnerships is abundantly clear, as CBSR knows so well, in addition to many of you in this room.

Before I wrap up my remarks, I want to share some marvelous information and stories about human rights with you. First of all, I was delighted to discover that the work of scores of Order of Canada recipients (over the years) is connected to human rights. Out of the 48 individuals invested into the Order on September 1st, three of them are involved with human rights: Diane Richler, C.M., of Toronto, Renée Dupuis, C.M., of Quebec City and Anne Hart, C.M., of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Very impressive!

Secondly, last month "a new era in human rights scholarship" got underway at McGill University, following a tremendous gift by law school alumnus, David O'Brien (who also happens to be chair of RBC Financial Group). "His $3-million donation has created five major fellowships that will be awarded every year to top graduate students from around the world. The O'Brien Fellows will be a pivotal source of ideas and energy for the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, a major new research group. The centre will see professors and students from the faculties of law, arts and education working together to study the legal and cultural aspects of human rights. As the news release read: "The fellowships gift comes at a time when human rights issues are taking on paramount importance to a world community repeatedly confronted with genocide and conflict." It's evident that David O'Brien's decision to contribute on such a large scale has a good deal to do with his strong interest in human rights and support of education. Again, very impressive!

Thirdly, congratulations to Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal (who are represented at this Summit and luncheon) for their significant contributions to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In fact, the banking community has truly come together on this project, including RBC Financial Group through our Foundation. The "big 5" have made contributions ranging from $750,000 to $1.5 million which is also very impressive! On this one and rare occasion, I feel comfortable in speaking for my banker colleagues when I say that our investments are about a commitment to education, youth, diversity and corporate responsibility. On this note, I'm pleased that Frances Bedford-Jones (RBC Foundation) and Gord Kerr (RBC Human Resources) have joined us today to learn more about the business of human rights and to help spread the word about the Museum. By the way, if I missed a company or organization in this group, please speak up as it would be remiss not to mention all contributors to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The bottom line is that we (YOU) can make a difference…

In closing, I ask you to picture 2010 - you've traveled to Winnipeg for the grand opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As you enter the doors, you see or meet Gail Asper, the powerhouse spearheading this project (and daughter of Izzy Asper). Making your way through the crowd, you're drawn to an exhibit - a story that you heard at the CBSR Summit five years ago. It's a story celebrating the national historic significance of Mary and Henry Bibb - two people who "left an indelible mark on south-western Ontario and on Canada as a whole." It's a human rights story about remarkable individuals in Canada's history, "especially for African Canadians and for all other immigrants who, fleeing persecution and slavery, came to this country on the promises of liberty and opportunity. Mary and Henry Bibb produced The Voice of the Fugitive, the first major newspaper to be published by and for African Canadians. Despite discrimination in the public school system, the Bibbs established their own schools improving the education of African Canadian children and adults. One of their most important contributions was the role in organizing the North American Coloured Convention, held in Toronto in 1851. During this convention, people of colour vigorously debated emigration without the involvement of well-meaning Whites and other outside forces, thereby taking command of their own destiny." Henry and Mary Bibb have a place at the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada - now they can have a place, as part of Canada's legacy, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As you picture 2010, just know this is one of countless hero stories!

You won't be surprised to hear me say how proud I am, as a Canadian, to be chairing the advisory council for the Museum. I urge all of you to reach for the stars when it comes to the business of human rights - and if you need a little encouragement along the way - to help your imagination picture 2010, I also invite you to read or revisit the National Post's June 22nd insert on Canada's Museum for Human Rights. We have copies of this "inspiring journey of hope" for everyone. Talk up the Museum across Canada - create anticipation about the Museum in your workplaces and communities. And stay tuned for exciting announcements in the weeks ahead. It's time to create the Canadian brand for human rights leadership!

Thank you Adine and CBSR…and thanks to one and all. Now let's hear from you!