Former Canadian PM praises teachers and new human rights initiative

By Pauline Théoret
October 4, 2012

In his February 2012 article titled Human Rights – Whose issue are they anyways?, CTF General Secretary Calvin Fraser suggests there is a trend within society of denial or even backlash against human rights when economic hard times hit.

Some people start to consider that social benefits are “earned” from a monetary rather than a humanistic perspective.” He’s right. We read or hear about circumstances, and live through some, which support that sentiment on a regular basis. Think of the Republican backlash on the Affordable Medicare Act and the legislation to freeze salaries and negate collective bargaining with Ontario teachers. Those appear to contradict the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Think of the underfunding of education for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students – are they not Canadian children and citizens? Should the Canadian deficit continue to enable inequitable education funding?

To discriminate one Canadian against another is an absolute act of discrimination.
- Paul Martin

Last July, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation invited the Honourable Paul Martin to have a discussion with teachers at our Annual General Meeting. Mr. Martin’s post-politics passion is devoted to righting the wrong of education funding for Aboriginal students. Through the process of dialogue with delegates from coast to coast to coast, Mr. Martin was seeking to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience in the room. He didn’t need to shock us with statistics, and he didn’t need to help us build empathy to the cause – teachers are already there. However, his stories and his passion floated through the room and an affinity was overwhelmingly felt that day by every delegate: the realization that teachers’ passion, knowledge and experience, coupled with Mr. Martin’s extensive networks and commitment, could develop into a moving force able to propel policy decisions and legislation in support of equitable funding for education for all Canadian children.

The underfunding of primary and secondary First Nations schools is a continuation of the act of assimilation.
- Paul Martin

Classroom teachers in the public education system understand that a child coming to school to continue his or her education because it’s not available on-reserve is at a great disadvantage remedially, socially, and culturally. Teachers also understand that this disadvantage can trump the completion of one’s education. They understand especially that if children do not have access to the best first years of education to enable strong reading and writing skills that those children will always end up disadvantaged. Mr. Martin blatantly states that these are acts of discrimination imposed by our federal government allegedly due to deficits, and unless they’re dealt with immediately, the fastest growing segment of our Canadian population will continue to be educationally disadvantaged, thus creating a massive deficit in the future. Where is there justice in that – for any Canadian citizen?

The basic mantra of colonization was ‘we are the colonial power and because we have bigger armies and because we have guns that shoot, everything we believe is right and everything you believe is wrong.
- Paul Martin

Mr. Martin mentioned CTF’s project, Canadian Defenders for Human Rights, as possibly the ideal vehicle to deal with the issue of education funding discrimination in our country. We certainly hope his assumption is accurate. The Canadian Defenders is a multi-year and multi-partner initiative that seeks to redress human rights in Canada by enabling our youth to identify Canadian Defenders for human rights – historically and in real time – nationally, culturally and locally.

Through this process, we hope this generation of youth will self-identify as defenders for human rights: that their eyes, ears and souls will be opened to daily injustices within their own communities. From issues of homelessness and poverty, to issues of bullying and safety, mental illness and inclusiveness, we trust that within this program youth experience of critical thinking, engagement, and responsible citizenship leads to an understanding that discrimination, in any form, is not acceptable in any manner.

Our world would come to a halt without you [teachers]. Thank you for all that you do.
- Paul Martin

Mr. Martin urged us not to underestimate the influence teachers have on matters that are of great importance. As Canadian citizens who have dedicated themselves to the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another, Mr. Martin reminds us of the great respect that Canadians have for teachers. That respect is earned and merited.

With respect to CTF’s Canadian Defenders for Human Rights, we’d love to hear from you. If you have any stories, resources, programs that you firmly believe espouse human rights in Canada, please do feel free to share them with us. Send us a link or attachment to:

To hear the Honourable Paul Martin’s discussion with teachers at the CTF AGM in July 2012, click here:

To read Dr. Fraser’s full article, click here.

To find out more about the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative.

To find out more about the Canadian Defenders for Human Rights project.

Pauline Théoret is a program officer of CTF’s International and Social Justice Program. She is currently on leave.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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