I think we can all agree that with the reconvening of the Tirgan Festival, all members of our community can walk somewhat taller with pride. We all deeply appreciate that the tireless work of hundreds of volunteers will permit us to dazzle a great multitude of individuals that will partake in the spectacle of Tirgan.
This year’s Tirgan Festival will unfold against the backdrop of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. As we proudly mark our sesquicentennial, it’s important to bear in mind that this historic occasion was anything but inevitable. The Canada that we know now – vast, innovative, peaceful, diverse, and inclusive- was the result of some good fortune, but also extraordinary hard work on the part of successive generations of Canadians that laid the foundations. We are not a perfect country – far from it – but what makes us unique is an overwhelming desire to continuously strive towards greater tomorrows. One would hope that we will meet the challenges that await us on the horizon with the same determination, generosity of spirit, and decency that we have demonstrated over the past 150 years.
Elected officials, myself included, tend to favour phrases that resonate on a personal level. Since being elected in October of 2015, I have often quoted one of my favourite Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfred Laurier, who memorably stated in a 1905 address, that Canada is a place where we can
Let them look to the past, but let them also look to the future; let them look to the land of their ancestors, but let them look also to the land of their children.
This ability to celebrate our multitude of backgrounds, languages, religions, and cultures, while also forging a uniquely-Canadian path forward, is one of our greatest achievements. In that spirit, the Tirgan Festival serves as a powerful reaffirmation and celebration of our community and its unique place within the larger Canadian mosaic. It is through arts and culture, after all, that our core values of equality, openness, and inclusivity often find their most meaningful articulations. The celebration and promotion of arts and culture is, in fact, a celebration of multiculturalism itself.
Not coincidentally, as we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, our Government has chosen to highlight diversity and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, the environment, and youth, as a key theme of Canada 150. As Canadians, we intrinsically understand that our diversity is a source of great strength and pride. It is, in many ways, our defining feature. As proof, allow me to cite another great Canadian, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who memorably stated that
There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian…A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate. What the world should be seeking, and what in Canada we must continue to cherish, are not concepts of uniformity but human values: compassion, love, and understanding.
As an immigrant to this country, I take tremendous pride and comfort in the sentiments underpinning those words. Like many of you, I understand what Canadian citizenship represents, both here and abroad, to generations of families who have come to this great country seeking better tomorrows. After all, the love of country one has for a place where you were not born, but which has nonetheless provided you opportunities, is distinct from the affinity one feels for the nation of one’s birth. It occupies a place in one’s heart that is not blinded by history or blood but is immersed in deep gratitude. We all marvel at Canada’s prideful place in the world, its deep respect for all persons, its quiet dignity and determined spirit.
While inalienable, however, the rights we cherish and hold dear are not unassailable. Recent tragedies marking London, Paris, Baghdad, Tehran , as well as the troubling rise of inflammatory rhetoric and divisive politics both here in Canada and abroad, demonstrate yet again that openness, tolerance, and diversity are far too often contested and face resistance from some.
The best response, perhaps the only response, is to remain vigilant in the defence of our highest ideals. That is why I am proud to be part of a Government that since coming to power, has steadfastly and repeatedly advocated for a more tolerant, pluralist, and just society. From welcoming over 40, 000 Syrian refugees and Yazidi survivors, to modernizing our immigration system and revoking an unfair system of two-tiered citizenship instituted a few years ago, to making historic investments in transit, infrastructure, and green technologies, to serve as a global model for open and progressive liberal democracies.
This hard work remains ongoing and would not be possible without the engaged involvement of our families, and communities. The Iranian-Canadian community, of course, has a long and accomplished tradition of civic engagement.
The Tirgan Festival falls squarely within this tradition, as evidenced by its expressed mandate of “…promoting cross-cultural dialogue between the Iranian-Canadian community and the larger Canadian community.” Now in its Xth edition, the festival has grown into the world’s largest celebration of Iranian arts and culture. With over 150, 000 expected guests, 200 artists, and 100-plus performers, Tirgan offers us the chance to simultaneously celebrate the richness and diversity of Persian culture and the unique vibrancy of Canadian multiculturalism within which it is embedded.
A landmark festival of this kind, of course, would simply not be possible without the hard work of countless organizers, staff, and volunteers. To all who worked tirelessly to make this event a success, please accept my most heartfelt and sincere thank you.
This article originally appeared in the 2017 edition of Tirgan Magazine.
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