Toronto, 28 May 2015 — “To live harmoniously in a diverse pluralistic society demands great generosity of spirit and openness of mind — a willingness to accept difference and indeed to celebrate it,” said the Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada.
Speaking at the Aga Khan Museum, she was delivering the 2015 Annual Lecture of the Global Centre for Pluralism in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam and numerous Canadian dignitaries.
“Tolerance in this broad sense, and the need for it, is my theme tonight.”
An independent centre for research and education, the Global Centre for Pluralism was jointly established by Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Government of Canada. Its annual lecture series features leaders in pluralism, who are making a difference in their chosen fields.
In his introductory remarks, Mawlana Hazar Imam commended Beverly McLachlin, who is Canada’s longest serving Chief Justice and the first woman to hold this position.
“By working to uphold the rights of all Canadian citizens, the Chief Justice has contributed in a major way to Canada’s robust pluralism,” said Hazar Imam. He noted that in the more than 25 years that she has sat on the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin has encouraged greater consensus building among the justices and helped to nurture respect and a better understanding among Canadians for the role of the court.
“On the world stage there is a great need for experiences of pluralism that work,” Hazar Imam noted. “Canada is providing a powerful example.”
Among many populations, diversity of culture, religion and viewpoint is a fact, said the Chief Justice. Societies have a choice in how they respond. Rejection of diversity “is the response of segregation and the ghetto, the response of marginalising discrimination, the response in extreme cases of exile and genocide,” she said, but these responses “cause too much pain, and in the end history teaches they do not work.”
“The only way forward,” said Chief Justice McLachlin, “is to move forward together in all our diversity.”
Laying out Canada’s experience and history of both intolerance and tolerance, the Chief Justice also acknowledged the limits of tolerance, which can pose a challenge to the modern state. She concluded by offering three conditions required to maintain the norm of tolerance in a pluralistic society: a respect for human dignity, fostering inclusive institutions and cultural attitudes in civil society, and maintaining rule of law.
Following her speech, Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley moderated an audience dialogue with the Chief Justice. Former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson delivered closing remarks.