During the Canada Day long weekend, we celebrated this beautiful country with live music, beaches, barbeques, and a cold drink or two. But as we come off the weekend’s celebrations with family and friends, it’s important to reflect on who we are and how far we’ve come as a country, but also how far we have yet to go.

We came together in droves recently, from coast to coast to coast, to celebrate the Raptors’ win. The Raptors’ taking home their first-ever NBA title brought together Canadians from all walks of life, sports fans or not, basketball fans or not. It was rare to talk to someone, anyone, and not at least mention ‘last night’s game’. But was it even rarer that we were, in fact, talking to everyone and anyone?

As with most such events, we came together to celebrate a wonderful victory and then quickly went back to our own divided lives. And as Ottawa reaches its own milestone with a population of 1 million, we have to ask ourselves, how do we create a more inclusive society right here in our own part of the country?

Ottawa has come a long way since my Haitian parents arrived in the 1960s, there’s no doubt about that! It’s important to recognize how diverse and vibrant we have become! But we would be remiss to overlook unfortunate incidents that still take place in our mini-metropolis; for example, the carding incident that took place on the University of Ottawa campus just last month. A Black student, Jamal Boyce, was arrested and handcuffed on the side of a busy street for two hours for skateboarding on campus without ID (The implications of what requiring ID on an open and public campus means for racialized people is well described by Nicole Tumaine, co-president of the university’s Black Law Students’ Association, in this CBC article).

We have to decide, in moments like this as well as during times of celebration, who we want to be as Ottawans and Canadians. The University of Ottawa President and Vice-Chancellor Jacques Frémont released a statement announcing a wide-ranging approach to addressing racism and discrimination on Campus. You can read his full statement here.

I cannot begin to express how saddened, and angry, I am that this type of targeted incident took place at my own Alma Mater. To me, a university is the ultimate place of learning and youthful hope. The goal is to open minds, provide a path to big opportunities and a bright future. What happened to this young man is unfortunately reflective of the times we do still live in.

As leaders in our community, we have power in the decisions we make to create positive change. How do we create a sense of community for everyone? Shopify, as another example, is quickly growing into a global powerhouse, and by keeping their office located in the downtown core, they can (and do) attract a diverse workforce. It may seem inconsequential, but these types of decisions build upon one another to help keep Ottawa moving forward.

This year, in the aftermath of another Canada Day and a celebration of all things Canadian – including multiculturalism, and yes, the Raptor’s too!  – I encourage you to not only celebrate and recognize how far we have come, but to also stay focused on the journey ahead of us as well. Let’s remember that we still have work to do to make this city and country welcoming and safe for everyone.

My vision is for Canada to become an example of what it’s like to live in harmony and prosper together. We should continue on the path of truth and reconciliation, and align with countries, like New Zealand, who show compassion and value humanism.  We can resist the fear mongering and calls for hate and intolerance coming from other countries around the world.

We’re in a unique time in Ottawa’s history as a growing city, and have an opportunity to carve our own path forward. Our diversity only makes us stronger! By choosing to move forward with hope for change, we can continue to make small differences that can, and will, add up to big changes for the common good.

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