During his tenure as President of the World Federalist Movement – Canada, renowned human rights activist, former Cabinet Minister, and Montreal native, Warren Allmand, declared that “The task for Canadians and all humanity is to work together to advance the cause of peace, justice and human rights and this can only be done as a universal effort and not by individual states or a coalition of allies”. Fostering and imparting leadership in such endeavors constitutes a crucial task of our time.
Across the world, it is a challenging time for human rights. The rise of right wing nationalism and Islamaphobia in Europe and the US, increasingly authoritarian governments in Russia and Venezuela, and imprisonment of activists in Turkey all point to a dangerous shift in governance for many countries. Amidst this frightening trend, Montreal is in a favorable position to respond through defending human rights and promoting diversity and acceptance. The city is not only a preeminent example of a city which has successfully fostered a multicultural, diverse, and economically thriving environment but is also home to a large network of domestic and internationally engaged organizations that focus on advancing social justice. In many ways, these characteristics lay the foundations for Montreal to become a global human rights hub.
Montreal has cultivated tolerance and inclusivity over its history. It was McGill University that housed the headquarters of the International Labour Organization (ILO) when its leadership fled Geneva during WWII. Many Montrealers are individuals who fled their homelands to escape war, genocide and major human rights violations. The city has offered victims of war and oppression a sanctuary in which they can live free of fear and contribute their skills to society, regardless of their cultural background. After 1970, for example, immigration to Montreal was characterized by the shift in source countries from Europe to various parts of the developing world, especially to former French colonies like Vietnam Haiti, Morocco, and Algeria. Today, one in five Montreal residents was born outside of Canada.
Montreal is openly committed to values of justice, democracy, human dignity and equality as seen by the Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. Created in 2005, the document signifies the municipality’s ambitious commitment to promoting civic peace and opportunities for all Montrealers regardless of their origins. The first of its kind in North America, the Charter was modeled on the UN Charter and establishes rights fundamental to those of the municipality’s citizenry.
Montreal has acted as a capital of conscience directing considerable efforts towards acting as a model of a globally minded metropolis, and is home to a large network of human rights organizations and summits. These can act as a foundation towards building the city into a leader of human rights worldwide. It is one of the eight global headquarter cities hosting UN specialized agencies, and is also the top venue in North America for international meetings. Montreal ranks second among North American cities in its number of university students per capita and enjoys a large pool of skilled graduates who can sustain the hiring needs of increased human rights and UN agencies. Equitas, Ouevre Leger, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, and Vivre Ensemble are examples of well-established organizations that already exist within the city.
Today, concerns over globalization, immigration, national identity and security are leading many towards violence. It is critical that the world has centers that can counter this trend through the promotion of peace. Because of its demography, history and existing infrastructure of organizations Montreal is in a favorable position to take charge on issues of human rights and social justice. Let us make Montreal a city that will lead the way in that universal effort in which Warren Allmand once believed.