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Lighting the Lamps of the Globe

Notes for remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, Secretary of State (Latin America & Africa), M.P. Edmonton Southeast
to Divali Nagar and Festival of Lights, Shakuntule Benevolent Foundation
October 16, 1999, Ukrainian Hall, Ottawa

It is a great pleasure to join you in celebrating Divali and Festival of Lights, the defeat of evil by good. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I bring greetings to members and friends of the Shakuntule Benevolent Foundation.

I am struck not only by the very ancient origins of this Hindu celebration, but by its international aspects. Although its beginnings are in India, it is celebrated by other nationalities, cultures and creeds in a number of ways.

Divali has travelled with Hinduism from India to communities in the Caribbean, notably to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and other countries with East Indian populations. A South Asian culture has percolated for generations in the Caribbean and now comes to Canada in an even richer expression. What could be more Canadian than a Divali celebration in a Ukrainian Hall?

There are, of course, commonalties in all the great faiths of the world. A sense of community and a spirit of charity are common threads among all major religions. Whether prays in a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, a Sikh gurdwara, Buddhist shrine or Christian church, we are all connected to each other by common bonds – our sense of the importance of family and community, our belief in the sanctity of human life, and our love for our common Creator.

Your foundation, through its charitable work among disadvantaged peoples in the Caribbean, especially children, embodies these shared religious values. The Divali celebration signifies the triumph of light over darkness. By helping the orphanages, underprivileged and disabled children in Trinidad and Tobago, tonight’s event is lighting lamps of the globe and making our world a little brighter.

These days we often hear the expression "globalization" in reference to increased international trade and investment, and the mobility of capital, people and culture. In this hemisphere, the countries of the Americas are increasingly tied to one another. I welcome Canada’s participation in the hemispheric project of developing a Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005. Through such initiatives, I believe, we can raise the standard of living throughout the hemisphere. For smaller countries of the Caribbean especially, we are helping to shift the emphasis from aid to trade.

Globalization, if it is to benefit all of us, must mean far more than merely increased economic ties. There must also be a shared sense of community between peoples, and an outward-looking orientation of Canadians toward fellow citizens of the hemisphere. Canada is greatly enriched by many immigrant communities who help us to build these global links. The internationalism displayed by your foundation – its charitable work and promotion of international culture – is an excellent expression of this human side of globalization to which I refer.

In a very short time, we will be entering the 21st century. I say that knowing full well that in the Hindu calendar this important milestone was passed a number of millennia ago. Nonetheless, January 1st will mark a psychological turning point for many and is a time to look ahead. Last week the Government of Canada set out its vision of the future in the Speech from the Throne. I was happy to see that speech reaffirm some of the internationalist principles I have just mentioned.

To quote just a few lines: "Canada is an outward-looking country, with a trade-oriented economy and a population drawn from every corner of the globe … Canadians recognize that their quality of life depends in part on the quality of life of their neighbours – those who share this planet with us. A world where people are secure is a world where fewer people are forced to flee their homes, where there is less crime and terrorism, and where there is a reduced threat of disease and pollution."

This is not the expression of an inward-looking country withdrawing into isolationism. Rather, it is a Canada prepared to meet the challenges of international human security, and to face up to such global threats as conflict, economic crisis, natural disaster, the exploitation of children, illegal drugs, threats to human rights, disease and environmental degradation.

The government has now pledged to increase Canada’s international development assistance and to work in innovative ways to enable the poor countries to improve the quality of life of their citizens. We are also committed to supporting the diversity of cultural expression in countries around the world. These are aims, I am sure, with which you can all identify through your own great efforts.

International participation is not built at the level of government-to-government relations alone. Challenges to human security are multi-faceted, and therefore must involve a wide variety of participants – especially non-governmental organizations and other citizens’ groups. By engaging in international development, poverty alleviation and expression of cultural diversity, the Shakuntule Benevolent Foundation is in harmony with Canada’s own international goals.

Divali signifies the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil, justice over injustice and intelligence over ignorance. These are aims with which we can all share – regardless of our cultural or religious backgrounds. May Mother Lakshmi bring prosperity, abundance and generosity to all of you. Let us together light the lamps of our common and ever-shrinking globe.

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