Graduation Address
Delivered by Daigle, Joseph Z.


"Encaenia 2000, Ceremony B." (18 May 2000). (UA Case 67, Box 3)

Your Honour The Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. Chancellor, Madam President, Members of the Board of Governors, Honoured Guests, Fellow Graduates,

Mr. Chancellor— I know of no mark of honour that I should value so highly as the honour which this University has conferred upon me today. I am very moved to accept this commendation from a University which ignited in me the desire to learn and be of service. I shall try to continue in this path, remembering this distinction that you have bestowed.

Fellow graduates— I am truly delighted to have the opportunity to address you this morning, forty-two years after having experienced the granting of a degree from this University, as you have here today. Despite the passage of years, I remember the occasion and feeling the sense of motion and potential in the province and in the country at that time. It was like being on the deck of a ship about to set sail. The destinations were not all completely known but that was no reason for not setting out on the essential journey. The excitement and the optimism of almost limitless possibilities were in the air.

The memory of that occasion makes me think of Shakespeare’s eloquent passage expressing the urgency of acting upon an opportunity when it is presented:
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
Ironically, Brutus, the speaker, ran aground on his own ambition. I pray that history will record that those of us who in 1958 saw the occasion to realize a more prosperous and diverse province, navigated more astutely. Much was required in economic development, educational advancement and linguistic equality. Much has been done.

But, as those of us who live in the Maritimes witness so frequently, the sea is never still. Another high tide is waiting to carry those of you who embark this morning.

I wonder what your voyage will entail and what charts you will use. What map will allow you to view globalization as a dynamic of inclusion? Not homogeneity, but unity in diversity. How will you address the social breakdown caused by the frustration of the dispossessed? How will you balance technology with ecology? How will you package the expansion of scientific knowledge in the container of ethical principles? From my perspective as someone who has practiced law and been involved in public policy during the last four decades, may I offer a reflection on the challenges to maintaining a vibrant democracy in our changing social climate?

For more than half of my career I lived and worked in a nation that did not have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was, however, a nation that had high ideals in the area of human rights. We learned in our school history classes that one of the two European peoples that came in great numbers to these shores had an incredibly long tradition in the evolution of democracy. The other had experienced a revolution to promote liberty, equality and fraternity, the seeds of which have been carried far and wide. Unfortunately, our school histories, despite our national ideals, sometimes forgot to mention that other peoples had arrived on these shores long before the Europeans and that they too had traditions from which we could learn. Scant consideration was also given to the aspirations of newer arrivals, some of whom had come with intimate knowledge of what happens when fundamental human values are breached. We needed a model for the idea of equal, individual human dignity that had become the root of the democratic ideal in most liberal democracies.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not allow us to overlook any part of Canadian society. It is not just a legal document. It is a profound social statement. It lets us know that the cultural mosaic of which we are so justly proud is not a static pattern. Its form changes with the tides of time. With any change comes uncertainty and a feeling of insecurity. We often hear their fearful expression in the media and in daily conversation. To overcome this is the role of the Charter.

It is your map; it is our map. It does not belong only to the lawyers, the judges and the politicians; it is our guide to navigating the uncertain waters that we shall surely face in the coming decades. It contains the longitudinal lines of elements specific to Canada and the latitudinal measures of universal values.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has shown that the twin pillars of democracy, the legislature and the judiciary, do not stand in mutual isolation on opposite ends of the structure. While each is independent, there must be dialogue between them and we all, as citizens, must be part of that dialogue.

We sometimes hear conservative social criticism of judicial activism. If we fail to achieve our national destiny, however, I suspect that the culprit will not be judicial activism, but rather public passivity. We have, in the words of Professor Lorraine Weinrib, "an activist constitution." And that demands not only an activist judiciary, but also an activist citizenry. As our elected representatives now draft social policy laws within the context of Charter rights, your voices must be heart as well as those of special interest holders. My wish is that Charter debates be characterized by humanity, not ideology.

Examples in our past demonstrate that, despite our culture of liberty, some groups such as Canadian of Chinese and Japanese descent, Aboriginal peoples and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, have been victims of discrimination. These were triumphs of ideology over humanity. The Charter aims to make such victories impossible in the future.

When faced with decisions relating to the rights of First Nations, homosexuals, minority religious or other equality-seeking groups, please do not run and hide, seeking refuge from difficult issues in simplistic responses. This country needs your skills, experience and nobility of character to animate the necessary dialogue and the democratic process.

Do you remember the conclusion of the quotation from Shakespeare, the opening of which I mentioned earlier?
"On such a full sea we are now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves.
Or lose our ventures."
The moment of these words does not fade with time. Rather these words loom louder and stronger with each generation.

The venture on which you embark today is too important to lose. It is the destiny of our country and, due to Canada’s international example, a sharing in the destiny of humanity. My plea to you today is to take the Charter from those of us who have brought it this far and make it your own. Make it your map. Make it your venture, so that the passage of time will place you not against the tide but ahead of it.
And "Bon Voyage."



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