Second reading of Bill S-259, An Act to designate the month of March as Hellenic Heritage Month

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

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Whale tail breaching water, Newfoundland

Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Colleagues, I’m honoured to discuss today Bill S-259, which will bring into effect Hellenic heritage month in Canada. I thank Senator Loffreda for introducing this bill in the Senate.

I am of a fan of heritage days and months in Canada because they focus on a community’s presence in Canada. It is an annual occasion to highlight the history of — and more importantly, the contribution of — particular communities. Personally, I prefer celebrating the cultural group in Canada rather than celebrating the national day of another country, its flag and its history.

That is why I would like to draw your attention to this paragraph of the bill’s preamble, which reads as follows:

And whereas the celebration of Hellenic Heritage Month would encourage Greek Canadians to promote their culture and traditions and share them with their fellow Canadians;

As a mature multicultural country, there are many things to recognize and celebrate in our various ethnocultural communities.

Canadians of Greek origin are well-established in Canada and make a contribution in many sectors. To demonstrate this, let me list 10 people in very different sectors, and colleagues, let’s see how many of these Canadian nation builders you will have heard of. Please keep your own score, and if you have gotten at least 9 out of 10, you can earn the title of honorary Greek Canadian for the day.

In sport, I want to mention the NHL’s Nick Kypreos, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers.

There is the innovative Mike Lazaridis, who was founder and co-CEO of Research in Motion.

In media, Vassy Kapelos is a chief political correspondent with CTV, who keeps a sharp eye on all of us lawmakers in Ottawa; and George Stroumboulopoulos, who is surely the hippest and most provocative journalist in Canada. Nik Nanos is the founder of the venerable Nanos Research, who regularly appears in many media to discuss his public opinion research.

In politics, Gus Mitges, who I had the good fortune to work with fairly closely, was a Progressive Conservative MP from Ontario. He was perhaps the first Greek Canadian elected to Parliament, and he chaired the House Multiculturalism Committee. Eleni Bakopanos, a Liberal from Montreal, served for nine years in Parliament, and has continued to play a leadership role in Equal Voice promoting women in politics. Niki Ashton from Manitoba has been in Parliament for 15 years, and sought the national leadership of the New Democratic Party in 2017.

In law, Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis serves on the Supreme Court of Canada.

And surely the most beloved Greek Canadian has to be — any guesses?

An Hon. Senator: Leo Housakos.

Senator Cardozo: No. Nia Vardalos, leading actor in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a story that most ethnic communities can closely relate to.

Indeed, there have been at least four senators, I should add, who are of Greek origin.

I would like to take a moment to read a short excerpt from my friend the Honourable Eleni Bakopanos, who sent me these words as I prepared to speak on this bill. She wrote:

I am proud that Canadians of Hellenic origin have contributed in every sphere of activity, both in the public and private sectors, in Canada. And, I would pay tribute to the first generation of immigrants, like my 93-year-old parents, who left behind everything, their home, their families, their friends and their jobs, in order to give their children a better future.

There are very few countries in the world where a woman, born in another country, Greece in my case, would be elected as a Member of Parliament. It was a great privilege and honour to be elected and serve my fellow Canadians. I thank my parents every day for choosing Canada!

Indeed, Ms. Bakopanos speaks to the story of most Canadians of Greek origin.

That said, I want to take this opportunity as we talk about Hellenic Canadians to reflect upon our changing world, how the affairs of the world play out here in multicultural Canada and why a heritage month is an important idea.

I take this opportunity with this community because Canada has very good relations with Greece, and there is relatively little controversy in Greece these days. It is a safe time and safe space to raise these issues without having to tread on eggshells.

Colleagues, as our Canadian multiculturalism matures, I want to challenge us to think about some contemporary issues. Our diversity and links to other countries and regions across the world come with benefits as they come with challenges. The benefits include building positive linkages between Canada and the world in the increasingly interconnected world. We can more easily learn about other economies, cultures, art, literature and food. We can build more easily economic linkages in areas like science, technology and trade.

We can also gain a more in-depth understanding of countries in the world. We have certainly gained much from all the communities that come here. In the case of Greece, I would add that we have also stood to learn about philosophy and democracy.

As diaspora communities in Canada become larger and more politically mature, they naturally press to have more influence on Canada’s stand in international affairs. Honourable senators, this is where it becomes more interesting, more beneficial and more challenging. As our diversity has increased over the last century, we not only have supporters of various countries and perspectives abroad; we have supporters of different sides of controversies within specific regions. They each demand that the Canadian government do more for their side and less for the other side. This is all natural.

While these issues have been present for decades, we have seen these issues play out most recently in matters relating to Ukraine and Eastern Europe, China, India, Iran and the Middle East, just to name a few. In a democratic country, we may all agree that Canadians of all origins should be able to interact in the public sphere about the perspectives they have, and they should be able to hold lawful demonstrations to press their point, even if those protests might sometimes be very large and inconvenient to citizens — hopefully, for short periods of time.

Sometimes, we have all been on the same page and had a national consensus around certain issues, such as the invasion of Ukraine or the ending of apartheid in South Africa, but those are the rare ones. What we cannot agree to is violence of any kind — violence directed at the Canadian government or politicians or toward Canadians who may be perceived to have different views or people of different religions and ethnicities. People of opposing perspectives should be able to have peaceful demonstrations, even if they end up in similar locations at the same time.

Importantly, Canadians of all backgrounds must feel free to live their lives freely and never have to face violence or threats of violence in or near their homes, in public transit, schools, colleges and universities.

We have a serious problem in Canada when Canadians are concerned about their safety if they wear a yarmulke, a shtreimel, a tallis, a hijab, a sari, a turban or a braid.

Lest it not be forgotten, I want to add that foreign influences of a negative sort don’t only come with diaspora communities from Europe, Asia and elsewhere. They come from the United States, where the convoy occupation that descended upon Ottawa early last year had strong influences from radical political forces south of the border, most notably the folks who carried out the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Such forces are rapidly spinning out of control in the United States, and we must be crystal clear that occupying our beloved capital or border crossings by these radical elements must never be tolerated. There must be no place for culture wars and warriors in Canada, especially those who seek to whip up political rage, anger or violence. Going forward, with the advancement of social media and artificial intelligence, sadly, Freud’s idea of narcissism of minor differences is becoming an obsession of intolerable differences.

As I sum up, I want to invite us as Canadians — those from various diaspora communities, parliamentarians and the general public — to rethink some of the things we do. Perhaps it’s time to think about moving away from celebrating national days of other countries, having flag raisings and other events that relate to those other countries. Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus heavily toward made-in-Canada heritage days and months, celebrations and commemorations.

Coming back to the Hellenic heritage month in Canada, I welcome it. I urge us as Canadians to think generously but carefully about how we focus our energies on celebrating the history and presence of various communities in Canada and that we keep disruptive or violent foreign influences in check.

I commend all of the Canadians who have been working for years to make Hellenic Heritage Month a reality. We are about to make that happen. Thank you very much for this gift to Canada. Thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

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