Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
It's Time to Fix It
The World's Meeting Place for Human Rights Leadership
|Charles S. Coffey||31 March 2005|
“A man who will not labor to gain his basic human rights, is a man who would not,
if he had them, prize and defend them.”
~ Frederick Douglass
Charles Sheridan Coffey, O.C., is Executive Vice-President for Government Relations and Public Affairs of RBC,, an unparalleled leader in community and social action and a valued and trusted advisor to the Institute. But that hardly says it all.
He may be singularly unique in this country’s business community in his endeavours reconciling private interests and public rights. He is as much at ease working with labor leaders like Buzz Hargrove on child care issues as he is in corporate boardrooms. From the agenda of the First Nations to the problems of poverty, hunger and homelessness, Charlie Coffey gives selflessly of himself.
He has recently taken on another challenge in an already packed schedule. He is the Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Friends of the
Mr. Coffey has asked us to share his passions and prospects for this project with all of you. It is a document worthy of your time for its speaks not only to a specific time and place, but to the character and conscience of what we should be about as a people.
The late Israel Asper would have shared Hannah’s sentiment, cheered her bravado and been gratified by the impact of her experience. He established the Asper Foundation in 1983, the foundation that sponsors the Holocaust and Human Rights Studies Program that Hannah participated in last spring. It’s this program that largely inspired Izzy’s dream - his vision – for the creation of the
I’ll always remember Izzy’s words to me after the groundbreaking announcement on April 17, 2003 (the date that coincided with the twenty-first anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms): “Well, the monkey is finally off my back after three years of scratching, searching, lobbying, cajoling and all the other things one does to stay alive. The Museum will not be a
What would Israel Asper say nearly two years later, with the project in a financial crunch, and no shovel in the ground on the downtown site (The Forks) in his beloved
So the lobbying to secure increased financial investment continues…and the message is clear. The
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.
National and International Leadership Value
On September 11th, 2001, the world was transformed immeasurably and irrevocably. As Prime Minister Martin said: “the ultimate human right is the right to personal security.” The attacks on
During his United Nations address on September 22, 2004, the Prime Minister said: “we have a duty...to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable…that duty will not be discharged, unless we, as governments speak to the dignity and freedom of every human being on earth.” This is why the world needs a meeting place for human rights leadership.
The Prime Minister also spoke his mind about the human tragedy in
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
Through recent visits to
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
Children and Youth Education Value
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 build more awareness around 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
This is all great news to Grade 8 students at
On December 10, 2004, International Human Rights Day, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew declared: “As Chair of the Human Security Network, Canada (delivered) a statement on the importance of human rights education as a tool for preventing human rights abuses…(this day) not only reminds us of the progress made in the last 60 years, it also forces us to recognize how much remains to be done.” And on January 24, 2005, during a special session of the UN on the Liberation of the Concentration Camps, the Minister 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
Public/Private Partnerships Value
The private sector and individuals have stepped up to the plate, including several aboriginal, cultural and ethnic groups. Premier Gary Doer and the
Frank McKenna, a supporter of the advisory council for the
The bottom line is that strategic and financial issues won’t eclipse human rights leadership or the construction of this Museum. Gail Asper, who’s also Chair of the Fundraising Campaign, Friends of the