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We Face Fresh, High-Placed Challenges To Human Rights

12/07/2016 02:27 EST | Updated 12/07/2016 02:38 EST
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a USA Thank You Tour event at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

International Human Rights Day should be a chance to celebrate the advances we've made to make the world a safer place for those suffering the threats of hate, racism and division.

We should be marking our successes, and showing the world how much we embrace and celebrate our differences rather than being afraid of them.

But this year there is much to worry about as we recognize December 10, the anniversary of the day 68 years ago that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United Nations this year is encouraging us all to push back against division and intolerance. The slogan for the 2016 Human Rights Day is "We the People." This sounds pretty American-oriented to me. It may not be deliberate, but it's certainly appropriate, given the state of affairs in the United States.

A month ago, that country elected a racist misogynist, and an admitted assaulter of women.

Donald Trump built his campaign on fear and intolerance. He spread division when his country, and the world, needed someone to bring people together. He promised a wall to keep some people out, and special forces to round up others and forcibly expel them.

He put white supremacists in charge of his campaign, and tacitly accepted endorsements from leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. Now setting up his administration, Trump is putting white supremacists and Islamophobes into senior leadership posts.

The intolerant and divisive Trump campaign is becoming an intolerant and divisive White House. As we approach December 10, it is more vital than ever that the world reflects on the purpose of International Human Rights Day, and why the nations of the world first felt the need for it back in 1948.

Like the United Nations itself, the Declaration of Human Rights came out of the horrors of the Second World War and the hope that through tolerance and acceptance, the world could avoid such conflict in the future.

We must make sure the cynical politics of division are not allowed to take hold here.

The declaration was and remains non-binding, but it sets a strong standard of ideals that most countries and leaders have at least aspired to achieve. The United States and its presidents, despite that country's own historic challenges with racial inequity and intolerance, have traditionally been among those who stood up for the human rights of others.

Today, we seem to be taking steps backwards and face some very real and high-placed challenges to human rights. The president-elect of the United States, soon to assume the most powerful political office in the world, got to that office by unleashing and lending legitimacy to the hatred and xenophobia that we normally look to our political leaders to push back against.

The good news is that there are those in the United States who have vowed to continue their work to advance human rights, build better lives for all people and resist the politics of white supremacy. Those people deserve our thanks and our support.

We must also make sure the cynical politics of division are not allowed to take hold here. Conservative Party leadership contenders who call for strict immigration standards based on "Canadian values" must be called out for pushing such racist policies to advance their own careers. Those who stand by silently and smile as crowds chant "lock her up" and spew sexism about Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (an echo of the divisive Trump campaign) must be called out for the cowards they are. There is a need to both name and speak out to stop such forms of hatred and violence.

Canadians rejected such policies of division in the 2015 election with a loud, clear voice, and I believe they will continue to do so. Trump showed us how easy it is, however, for the politics of hate to take hold. We must remain vigilant at all times.

A year ago, the first Syrian refugees began to arrive from the refugee camps to which they had escaped after war tore apart their homeland. Canadians felt proud of what their country had done, while other countries built walls to keep refugees out. We need to hold on to that instinct as Canadians to help others, and build on it.

This past weekend, Unifor's Ontario Regional Council heard from a Syrian refugee family rebuilding their chocolate business in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They turned their first profit last spring, and donated the money to those fleeing the fires in Fort McMurray, saying they knew what it was like to be forced to escape their home for an uncertain future.

This sounds like a very Canadian value to me, it is one that I will continue to work to uphold.

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