Current Conditions

4.1°C

Malala Yousafzai, honorary Canadian, challenges Canada to lead on education

Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, left, is presented with an honorary Canadian citizenship by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
April 12, 2017 - 1:30 PM

OTTAWA - The irrepressible Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner who famously survived a Taliban bullet in 2012, delivered an enduring message of hope, perseverance and inspiration Wednesday — and did it as an honorary Canadian citizen.

Yousafzai received the honour during a long-awaited and anticipated ceremony on Parliament Hill alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, before an audience of dignitaries, MPs, cabinet ministers and diplomats.

But it was during an eloquent, touching and thoughtful speech to a joint session of Parliament that the 19-year-old Yousafzai — known to all and sundry these days simply as "Malala" — very nearly brought down the house.

She took the podium to the first of several sustained, thunderous ovations, acknowledging the fact that her initial trip to Canada in 2014 was essentially cancelled by a gunman's rampage through the very building where she now stood.

"The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim — but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and a half billion Muslims, living in peace around the world. He did not share our Islam — a religion of learning, compassion and mercy," she said.

READ MORE: A QuickSketch of Nobel winner and honorary Canadian Malala Yousafzai

"I am a Muslim and I believe that when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim anymore."

The gunman "shared the hatred" of the man who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago, who killed 132 school children at Pakistan's Army Public School in Peshawar, she said.

"The same hatred as the man who shot me."

Malala sang Canada's praises throughout, even offering a subtle jab at the shifting political landscape in the United States.

Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addresses the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addresses the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

"'Welcome to Canada' is more than a headline or a hashtag," she said.

"It is the spirit of humanity that every single one of us would yearn for, if our family was in crisis. I pray that you continue to open your homes and your hearts to the world's most defenseless children and families — and I hope your neighbors will follow your example."

Equal parts humour and humility, Yousafzai appeared at times even younger than her now-famous activist countenance as she related how much excitement there was at home over the prospect of her meeting Trudeau himself.

They say: 'He's the second-youngest prime minister in Canadian history! He does yoga! He has tattoos!' she grinned.

READ MORE: Text of Malala Yousafzai's speech Wednesday to a joint session of Parliament

"While it may be true that he is young for a head of government, I would like to tell the children of Canada: you do not have to be as old as Prime Minister Trudeau to be a leader. I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I've learned that even a child's voice can be heard around the world."

She added, to the "young women of Canada" in particular: "Step forward and raise your voices. The next time I visit, I hope I see more of you filling these seats in Parliament."

And she urged the federal government to put its upcoming presidency of the G7 to good use.

"First, make girls' education a central theme of your G7 presidency next year," she said.

"Second, use your influence to help fill the global education funding gap. You raised billions of dollars and saved lives when you hosted the Global Fund replenishment in Montreal last year. Show the same leadership for education."

Wednesday's pomp and pageantry comes more than two years after an initial plan to honour Yousafzai was interrupted by a gunman who took the life of a Canadian soldier and stormed Parliament Hill before dying in a hail of gunfire.

Malala Yousafzai stands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and her parents after arriving on Parliament Hill for her Honorary Canadian Citizenship ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Malala Yousafzai stands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and her parents after arriving on Parliament Hill for her Honorary Canadian Citizenship ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The day Yousafzai was originally to be honoured, Oct. 22, 2014, marked a moment replete with irony for Rona Ambrose, a former status of women minister who is currently serving as the Conservative party's interim leader.

"This irony didn't escape me: the fact that this kind of Islamic extremism, (which) takes the shape of anti-girl, anti-women rights in every possible way ... also arrived that day," Ambrose said in an interview.

The groundwork to make her an honorary citizen began several months after she was shot in the fall of 2012.

The honour was part of a political initiative tied into the Conservatives' foreign aid focus on maternal, newborn and child health, said Rachel Curran, Harper's former director of policy.

"It was just really a sense that this young woman is doing really important work, it's going to be increasingly important, we want to highlight it in Canada and highlight it internationally as well," Curran said in an interview.

"'How can we bestow one of our greatest honours on her?' We landed on that because it was the most significant thing we could do to draw attention to her work."

The other five honorary citizens are the Dalai Lama, the Aga Khan, Nelson Mandela, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

What binds them all together is that they are leaders who have played iconic roles in world history, said Chris Alexander, the former Conservative immigration minister who oversaw the technical process behind getting Yousafzai citizenship.

"Malala is both a symbol of the setbacks and the daunting barriers that girls can face," he said.

"But also of the ability of strong people to overcome them."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

  • Popular vernon News
  • Comments
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile