”Once we close down our imaginations, no one belongs in our country. Not even us.”
These words of wisdom come courtesy of Adrienne Clarkson as she communicated what she has always felt about Canada: in a country that is a mosaic of cultural, religious, and ideological differences, “imagination allows us to be a part of it all because we can assume the existence of others whom we will never know.”
The former governor general spoke last Thursday evening about the power to overcome our differences and grow more accepting and tolerant of others. In front of over 250 people in the Hall auditorium, Clarkson praised the nation’s diverse society in slowly breaking down the barriers that so clearly divided us in the past.
”Imagination also counts because we can think of the other as someone outside ourselves,” she said. ”And therefore, if we develop the right attitude that our history is leading us towards, we will say that it doesn’t matter that the other is Inuit, or a Croatian. Those origins lose their electricity, because the imagination should be enough to complement all the people.”
For Clarkson, there exists no other society in the world like Canadian society, where people hail from over 100 different countries, some having been here for generations, while others only a few years. But for her, what really helped bring people closer together, especially during the post-World War II immigration boom, was the inherent need for human beings to look after each other.
”I don’t believe that people only care about themselves,” she stated. ”And [our intuitive reactions] eventually overcame structural indifference and fear which had guided our government in immigration policies in the past.”
During her hour-long presentation, Clarkson highlighted the importance of starting the process of integration as soon as immigrants arrive in Canada and ensuring that they know that the history of Canada is also their history, something that her Institute for Canadian Citizenship has worked on since she left the governor generalship.
”We cannot wait a generation, even 20 years, for new Canadians to be part [of the country], to be political fighters, to be given an advantage,” she urged. ”We don’t have that time, we don’t have that luxury. We have maybe 10 years to help people become citizens. If we can’t help them, then we’re going to have trouble.”
But there is one people who have been in the country for thousands of years that Clarkson said need to be better understood in order for Canada to finally overcome difference. She stated that Canada’s Aboriginals, one of the country’s three founding people, have yet to attain their rightful place in society.
”I believe we cannot continue to deal with difference in our country without dealing with the original promise with the Aboriginal peoples,” she noted. ”As students, with your lives in front of you, you must promise to yourselves that you will look into this and try to understand it.”
Clarkson was this year’s first speaker in the CSU’s Speaker Series. Adrien Severyns, the CSU’s VP External and Projects, found that Clarkson’s presentation addressed many taboos and was also impressed with her plea for students to get more involved in their society.
”I especially liked her analysis of the Canadian identity being a mindset, rather than a physical creation,” he said. ”The message that the CSU wanted to communicate to students, and something very well encouraged by our lecturer, was that as university students, it is our duty to advocate for a more vibrant civil society.”