Vancouver human-rights march celebrates 35th anniversary of Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Alfred Woo, Pacific Unit No. 280, British Columbia, with flag leads a group during the Rights and Freedoms March in Vancouver, April 16, 2017. Canadians rallied in support of the third annual Rights and Freedoms March. Participants will march in solidarity with millions around the world fighting for human rights in a politically turbulent time. (Arlen Redekop / PNG staff photo)
A small group of enthusiastic human-rights supporters showed up Sunday at Vancouver's David Lam Park for a celebration commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
King Wan, president of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum, who has organized the Rights and Freedoms March over the past three years, said that with Sunday being Easter and with Vancouver's Vaisakhi parade being held the previous day, it was "a struggle" to get people out to the event. But dignitaries including retired Supreme Court Justice Randall Wong, city councillor Raymond Louie, former MP Ian Waddell and honouree Steve Chung of Arizona, president of the U.S.-based Tuskagee Airmen, were on hand to speak.
Wan said that although Canada enjoys a stable democracy, recognition of the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is more important than ever. Tumultuous political events around the globe are creating anxiety for everyone, particularly within ethnic communities, said Wan. "Nationalism is taking hold in many countries, but we live in a very peaceful system in Canada. Our democracy is working and we need to ensure that everyone is given the equal opportunity to have a peaceful existence in the world. Our charter of rights and freedoms guarantees that."
Wan said that as an ethnic Canadian — "Canadian first" — of Chinese heritage, it's important to remind people that Canada is a nation of immigrants.
"It doesn't matter what race we are— yellow, white, red, black —we are all Canadians living in a small world. We need to embrace what we have and not be sidetracked by a few people who are not representing who we are."
This year's march began at Olympic Village, and ended with speakers and presentations at David Lam Park.
Chung was invited to represent the Tuskagee Airmen. The so-called "red-tail" airmen were black American servicemen who were initially denied the opportunity to become aviators in the Second World War. Only after peaceful protest and the intervention of civil rights leaders and the U.S. Congress were they allowed to train and serve as airmen. Their story has a unique parallel, said Wan, to the Chinese Canadians who served in the war on behalf of Canada.
"In World War II, these Chinese Canadians fought for Canada in spite of not being recognized as full citizens. The Chinese Canadians were not citizens until 1947 when the Canadian Citizenship Act was introduced. Even though they were born in Canada, their birth certificate said this does not confer the right to citizenship in this country."
Now, said Wan, it is time to turn our attention to indigenous communities, who are still suffering from the effects of historical discrimination. To commemorate their shared struggle for equal rights and freedoms, Kelly White of Musqueam First Nation attended the march on behalf of aboriginal veterans, and held a blanketing ceremony in honour of the Tuskegee airmen.
White draped Chung in a hand-crafted blanket. "Our blanketing is to cover the heart of the recipient thereby covering the realm of their work. When we cover the veterans it is to protect them and thank them for the highest honour. They stood up when the time counts, and not at their option. We honour them to represent all that we are and all that they do."
On behalf of the city of Vancouver, Louie proclaimed Monday, April 17 — the anniversary of the signing of the charter — Vancouver Charter of Rights and Freedoms day.