Second reading of Bill S-223, An Act respecting Kindness Week

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Could wearing a Canadian flag, Toronto

Hon. Jim Munson moved second reading of Bill S-223, An Act respecting Kindness Week.

He said: Honourable senators, this is the first time I have attended a hybrid sitting from home — I’m usually sitting in the Senate. This is such a kind thing to do on Kindness Week, on my bill.

In the spirit of kindness and reconciliation, I recognize that we are gathered here tonight on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. It’s important, in terms of kindness, to say that each and every time.

Honourable senators, I am proud to speak tonight at second reading on An Act respecting Kindness Week. This is the second time I’ve introduced this bill, and I’m happy to do so in honour of Rabbi Reuven Bulka, founder of Kind Canada and the architect and inspiration for this Senate public bill. I look forward to helping his vision for a national kindness week be realized and to see Canadians celebrate kindness week in communities across the country during the third week of February.

The first Kindness Week took place 14 years ago in Ottawa. The rabbi shared his original motivation for initiating the week when he appeared as a witness for the bill at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in 2018. He said:

My motivation in establishing Kindness Week in Ottawa was to counter the bullying epidemic that had invaded our schools. The logic was simple. Telling children not to do something does not help that much and at times can be counterproductive. But helping children do nice things and say nice things to others creates the type of positive energy that suffocates bullying.

Colleagues, this was why I was motivated to get involved and help. My work over the years on children’s rights, with the disability community, Special Olympics Canada and families with autism has opened my eyes to the realities and effects of bullying. Kindness week can make a positive contribution to inclusion and lead to better experiences for many people and adults alike.

I’m grateful to all senators who spoke in support of the same bill through committee and in the chamber during the last Parliament. I was disappointed it wasn’t even introduced in the other place before the election, but I hope this parliamentary session will afford a different outcome for kindness week.

Colleagues, I was encouraged by your observations on that bill and by the stories of kindness happening in our communities. To quote Senator Mary Coyle’s thoughtful speech on this bill, she reminded us of Dr. Brian Goldman’s work on kindness and lessons from his book The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy Is Essential in Everyday Life. It couldn’t be more true during this pandemic. It’s a recommended read.

One of Dr. Goldman’s observations in the book is that kindness is most easily learned by children when their role models are kind. This is an important reminder for us as policymakers, particularly now that we are televised. Young people are watching and learning all the time, and we are their teachers.

Senator Martin, during the last session and the last bill, reflected on the kindness experience through the eyes of the Korean community in Canada. She also discussed the inclusion of kindness in school programming. Senator Martin gave the important perspective of an educator and a champion for the rights of the child. It’s true, this bill will make the most difference in the lives of children and young people in this country. Some teachers are now incorporating kindness into lesson plans, and they notice a change in kids’ performances and interactions when they do.

A nationally recognized kindness week will add resources for educators and new opportunities for young people to practise kindness in their schools, communities and at home.

At the time the Social Affairs Committee met on the bill we heard from Jennifer Levine, a teacher and volunteer with Kind Canada who helped create and deliver kindness curriculums for Grades 3, 4 and 6. In addition to receiving great feedback on the programming from parents, educators and students, she said students were excited to share stories of partaking in kindness. Some even said kindness classes were the highlight of their year.

She also noted this:

Regular kindness education is so important to the overall positive growth and development of all children. A dedicated kindness week often sparks this enthusiasm and motivates teachers, administrators and students to keep up the culture of kindness in schools.

We see kindness clubs develop and student leaders emerge. Children, like adults, reap the benefits of doing and receiving acts of kindness in the same way. It simply makes them feel good, which inspires them to keep on going. Imagine the inspiration that will come from an entire country doing acts of kindness at the same time. I know first-hand that the impact of a nationwide kindness week will be powerful and transform the culture of our schools.

So, dealing with kindness, we can get benefits, and social and economic development, emotional development and improve peer relationships. Kindness promotes inclusion. Connecting all the kindness initiatives from coast to coast will encourage more and bring a collective benefit to all Canadians.

Speaking of kindness, I received so many letters. I had an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen last week, and in the city of Ottawa I just received dozens of letters from students. I want to quote a bit from this letter from Eva, and she says:

Hello Senator Jim Munsen,

I hope you’re doing well during this time. My name is Eva, a grade seven student at Vincent Massey Public school. My class and I had found you after reading an article about Kindness Week and how you worked with Mr. Rabbi Bulka a couple of years back.

And she says, in bold letters:

We are SOLVE, Students On the Leading Virtual Edge. We are a student philanthropy group hoping to encourage residents of the nearby community of Russell Heights to get through the current challenging times.

She goes on to explain what they have done through their teacher, and talks about the virus and how it quickly shut down any hopes of being able to physically visit the community for the time being, but that didn’t disappoint them. They just kept moving on, so she says that they are taking the concept of a “Random Act Of Kindness” and applying it to social distancing and mask wearing. She then says:

After talking it over and going through possibilities, we decided to include a mask per kindness bag since we have a student that made masks, a math game created by a student, a little candy to enjoy, logic puzzles to get your mind moving, and a colouring page for de-stressing, along with a couple of other items.

So they had a sled-a-thon and they worked really hard. These are Grade 7 students in this city. I can see this happening all across the country. They had a sled-a-thon; they had pledges. She said that they just counted up the money and they raised $1,700.

She then says:

Soon, we are going to receive all of the materials and orders to begin the creation of the Random Act Of Kindness Bags. Hopefully we’re able to make a positive impact, no matter how big or small.

And she says at the end:

It would be greatly appreciated if you’d be able to contact us to give us some feedback, we look forward to hearing from you!

Well, Eva, I just made that connection, live on television, in the Senate of Canada, on a Wednesday night, in the middle of a pandemic, and I just think that what you’re doing is so important and is an example that this is not just about awareness. This is about doing and being involved in what we do as a nation, and what we can learn from our children. I have always said you can seek the wisdom of the ages, but you always have to look at the world through the eyes of a child.

Kindness has impacted all of us in some way. The impacts can be indirect and sometimes go unnoticed. Rabbi Bulka said this at the last time he appeared before the committee:

There is much research on kindness and its impact that are vital to our appreciating its wide reach. We know that kindness in hospitals reduces the length of time spent in hospital for similar relatively long-stay issues by a full day on average. The savings implications are obvious.

The idea of Kindness Week, honourable senators, may be new to some of you, but in Ontario, Kindness Week was designated for the first time a decade ago, and the City of Ottawa has celebrated Kindness Week since 2007. British Columbia has marked random acts of kindness in the months of February as well. The UN has declared a World Kindness Day in November.

For others, kindness has been their family motto for generations. I’m reminded of one of my favourite stories of kindness from the committee meeting. It was offered by one of our own senators, and I’m not going to do his accent tonight. I just wouldn’t do it justice, but I have travelled with Senator Fabian Manning, and I have acted as his interpreter from time to time. He’ll get that. But he said this when he spoke about kindness, he said this to the Senate about his own mother:

She was a very kind and generous lady. I have a card, as a matter of fact, in my office, and one of her quotes was, “You may forget somebody’s telephone number and address, and you may even forget their name, but you won’t forget their kindness.”

Senator Manning’s mom.

I want to thank you, Senator Manning, for sharing that. I have had the opportunity to work and travel with the senator on the Fisheries Committee and other committees, and I can tell you, he has followed his mother’s advice on kindness even though he makes fun of me from time to time. I won’t get into that. But that’s just Fabian.

Senators, I’m eager to hear from many of you again about how kindness has impacted your lives and about the kindness initiatives taking place in your provinces, especially considering the new realities we face daily during a global pandemic.

Truthfully, we shouldn’t need a reason for a special week, but the evidence is clear that campaigns and reminders encourage people to act. So why not create opportunities to learn and practise kindness during the shortest, but arguably the coldest and snowiest month of the year, at least here in Ottawa?

I know many people think, “Why do we need a special week, month or day?” But many of us love our birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. For the most part, we use these dates to reflect, connect and celebrate with others. Setting specific days aside motivates us to follow through on special occasions, making memories and traditions that can last forever.

And I know I’ve said it many times, but the creation of Autism Awareness Day, a bill I introduced so many years ago — and it took about three years to pass, by the way, so we have to be patient sometimes — rallied the autism community in this country. It was more than just raising a flag. It was about programs on autism. It was about governments paying attention. It was about building a community of autism. It was about building inclusion. So I know that a designated day or week, in this case, can make a difference in the lives of people we are here to represent.

In addition to marking Kindness Week on your calendar the third week in February, the short preamble of the bill also states that kindness encourages values such as empathy, respect, gratitude and compassion; kind acts lead to the improved health and well-being of Canadians; Kindness Week is already celebrated in some Canadian cities; designating and celebrating a Kindness Week throughout Canada will encourage acts of kindness, volunteerism and charitable giving to the benefit of all Canadians; Kindness Week will connect individuals and organizations to share resources, information and tools to foster more acts of kindness; Parliament envisions that Kindness Week might encourage a culture of kindness in Canada throughout the year.

This preamble was chosen in collaboration with the kindness community. I think it encompasses Rabbi Bulka’s vision for the week, which he shared to the committee as well. Here is what he said at that time in 2018:

This bill, if passed, as I fervently hope it will be, can potentially raise the Canadian consciousness of the importance of kindness, and the ensuing commitment thereto, to levels that will make our great country even greater and make a large dent in some of the critical issues we face, including mental health, the cost of health care and bullying, among others.

In closing, honourable senators, I thank you for being patient with me and being a little long on this, but I really want to get this right because I think it’s so important. We are at second reading, which is on the principle of the bill. The bill is in the same form as it was in 2018 when this chamber moved it through all stages, and passed it unanimously at third reading, in nine months. That’s a short period of time — including a summer break, by the way.

This time, I would really like to see Kindness Week move swiftly through both houses before another election. Elections seem to get in the way of kindness.

I would like this to happen in the name of Rabbi Bulka. I don’t want to get too emotional here, but he has given so much. We will always remember the rabbi speaking at our National War Memorial ceremonies, but he’s done more than that in this city of Ottawa and in this country.

Some of you may not know that Rabbi Bulka, while he’s affectionately known for his spiritual guidance to many of us, regardless of religion, has been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer of the pancreas and liver. I know he is fighting and that we are all praying for him. I also know what kindness week means to him, and I would like to give him this gift.

Rabbi Bulka is a bridge builder. During a recent prayer vigil for the rabbi here in Ottawa, former Governor General David Johnston gave him the title “champion of inclusivity,” which suits him perfectly. Kindness is about inclusivity, and the rabbi is about kindness.

I hope I can count on your support, colleagues, to make national kindness week a reality.

In conclusion, I simply want to say that there are no negatives to kindness — none, zero. Kindness week will cost no money. It takes only our time and energy. Teachers, youth, charities and community groups stand to benefit the most when kindness week is celebrated across this country. In the long run, it will result in happier communities, healthier people and better relationships. Kindness is the Canadian way. Collectively, it’s our best quality, and I would love for Canada to be the first country in the world with a national kindness week.

Thank you, meegwetch.

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