When someone says “Canada”, what should I imagine beyond usual stereotypes?
I think there is a lot more to Canada than hockey, nature and cold weather. We are a country of invention, Canada is known for its inventions, such as telephone, insulin or basketball. People may not be aware of the number of Canadian actors they see in Hollywood films. We are not only bilingual (English and French) but 20 % of Canadians are foreign-born and there are 200 languages spoken in Canada. So we are very diverse that way.
But the social cohesion in Canada is quite strong, isn’t it? Do you think that being bilingual helps you to adjust to multiculturalism?
The French and the English basically settled our country. Of course, these first nation people were there first. We have a long-standing history of bringing other immigrants as well. In the early 1900s, many immigrants came from Europe for economic reasons to populate our country. We have a history of bringing in very diverse people of different ethnic backgrounds over the years – and that has helped to build our multicultural fabric. Our multicultural policy has been put in place in 1971 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It is a part of our institutions.
In the light of last year’s anniversary, how do Canadians reflect their own history, are there any big traumas?
Yes, Canada celebrated 150 years of existence. I feel we are looking more at who we are as Canadians now and what makes us Canadians. It was more forward-looking. We have a much shorter history than you. And there might not be such need to look back. For me, there is an identity question. Are we English? Are we French? When there are so many cultures, how can we define our identity?
Are Canadians more similar to Americans or to Europeans? What do they have in common with Europeans/Americans?
I think we have similarities with both. In respect to the US, they are our southern neighbor, we have vacations in the other country. They are the biggest trade partner, we, of course, watch American movies, we share English language. We are of course proud to distinguish ourselves as Canadians. In respect to Europe, we are a country of immigrants and a lot of them came from Europe. So we have taken on European traditions, political systems.
Human rights protection has been the Czech policy in international affairs for a long time. Is Vaclav Havel known to Canadian politicians?
I would say yes. Václav Havel is well-known among politicians. He visited Canada right after he became president and again in 1999 when he gave a very famous speech that received a standing ovation in the Canadian parliament.
Well, he received those a lot.
I am sure he did. But what he stood for – democracy, human rights – is important for Canadians as well. He has a legacy. He received an honorary doctorate from York University in 1982 and in 2004 he was awarded the Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest Canadian state award. And last June there was a bust of Václav Havel that was donated to the University of Manitoba. It was inaugurated last summer. His legacy is something the Canadians can relate to.
What exactly does Canadian government do to support human rights globally?
There are human rights issues everywhere and no one has a perfect record. Our Prime Minister gave a speech at the UN General Assembly last summer where he talked about our First Nations’ issues. There are many socio-economic gaps between the First Nation Canadians and other Canadians so we are working to amend this. Our biggest lesson learned is that diversity can be a positive thing. Canada is so diverse and this is one of the messages we try to promote globally. During the migrant crisis, it is important to show that diversity can be beneficial. Inclusion, diversity, taking steps against discrimination, also of women, LGBT, generally minority groups. Here in the Czech Republic, we promote these ideas. Our ambassador is very interested in women’s issues and gender equality. We have been doing some work with the Czech NGOs working on women issues to better understand the issues here and promote things like women in Parliament and gender equality. We are working on a feminist foreign policy in Canada. Last year, we approved a feminist international assistance policy which means that all our development cooperation work must have a gender-equality angle to it.
There are other general issues of course. Canada runs the Iran resolution in the UN every year, we are keeping an eye on the issues in Venezuela.
Does Canada have a recipe how to make multiculturalism work in other countries?
The multicultural model in Canada had its ups and downs. We have not always been open to all people. We went through a dark period when we did not allow people from different countries to come or treated them differently. Multiculturalism is a work in progress. But most Canadians really believe that immigration, multiculturalism, and diversity are positive things. Canada brings in 300 thousand migrant a year and 62 % are economic. They have been identified to be contributing somehow as a labor force. They have either certain skillset that our country needs or they do the work that Canadians don’t want to do. The Canadian media are positive about multiculturalism, politicians agree that multiculturalism is positive. Political parties send a message that immigration is something we need. We have an aging population and low birth rates and immigration helps to address these gaps.
How exactly does Canada fight climate change?
We recognize the huge challenges of climate change, particularly in Canada’s north. We ratified the Paris Treaty in October 2016. We have adopted The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The idea behind it is to grow our economy while respecting our environment. In our trade agreements such as CETA we are building in environmental safeguards, it is called progressive trade. We believe we can have economic growth and also be smart about the environment.
Topic of young people. How to work with young people to make sure their potential is fulfilled. What do you think about lowering the active voting right to enable younger people to vote?
Engaging youth is extremely important. One of the themes of our country’s 150th anniversary was youth. Canada is very aware of the importance of education, encouraging youth to participate. In Canada, the reform of the electoral system is a very big process, it involves agreement among territories and provinces. It is key to encourage youth to be involved. It is important to educate young people about politics and what the parties are saying. Education is key. Students should learn about their civic role and about our political system in school. Voting is a privilege. It is what makes democracy work: people going out and actually voting.
Would you say that projects such as the Prague Student Summit are beneficial and why?
Last year, I gave a lecture on multiculturalism for the Summit. I talked with some students. I think it is an excellent initiative. You are engaging youth and providing an opportunity to learn more about international issues. It is an interesting way of doing it. You are shaping their future careers and giving them the new skill sets.
How would you compare Canadians and Czechs as people?
We have a lot of similarities. We both seem to enjoy nature and winter. We have hockey in common. Canada has for example a population of 100 thousand Czech Canadians.
What should we borrow from Canada and its political system?
Both our systems have pros and cons. They are shaped by our history, values and culture. We both have traditions of democracy, peace, rule of law and human rights, which is important. Canada in the 1990s played a role in the Czech Republic. We provided technical cooperation with respect to the economic and social transformation. I believe we are built on the similar democratic foundation.