Hon. Larry W. Smith (Leader of the Opposition)
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Honourable senators, I rise today to pay my respects and offer my condolences to the families in Canada and around the world mourning the loss of loved ones who died in the two separate tragedies that have occurred in recent days.
Today we remember 157 passengers killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 on March 10, including 18 of our fellow Canadian citizens. Many of those on the flight were working in support of the international community, particularly for the United Nations and its affiliates. We offer sincere condolences to the families and friends of all the victims, who must be experiencing unimaginable shock. We will keep them in our thoughts in the days ahead as they come to terms with this tragedy.
What happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, last Friday was a horrific, targeted crime by a self-proclaimed white supremacist against Muslim men, women and children, peaceful worshippers at two mosques in that city. The loss is staggering, 50 people killed and dozens more injured. We offer our best wishes to those who remain in hospital for a quick recovery. While their bodies may heal, their hearts must surely remain broken by what they have witnessed and endured.
I know all honourable senators join me in condemning this evil terror attack and in expressing solidarity with the Muslim community in New Zealand, here in Canada and around the world. You are not alone in your time of sorrow.
At this dark time, we are reminded of that day not so long ago, just two years ago, when a massacre was committed at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, in my home province.
The lives of six men were brutally cut short and 19 others were injured. We think of their families today who now share profoundly in the grief of families on the other side of the world.
Honourable senators, too many families are suffering the absence of their loved ones, never to be reunited. I hope that our words today offer them a measure of comfort and that they feel our sympathy and sadness.
Dear colleagues, I would like to add my voice to those who have already spoken about recent tragedies that have taken place seemingly so far away and yet which strike so close to home.
On March 10, a flight from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa bound for Nairobi crashed shortly after takeoff. One of the victims was Micah John Messent from Courtenay, British Columbia. He attended the Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo and completed a degree in Indigenous studies. A young environmentalist, he was on his way to a UN conference in Kenya.
Shortly before his departure, he put the following message on Instagram:
I’m headed to Kenya TOMORROW where I’ll have the chance to meet with other passionate youth and leaders from around the world and explore how we can tackle the biggest challenges that are facing our generation.
We mourn Micah along with the other 17 Canadians and a total of 157 people who lost their lives in this tragic crash.
Just five days after the Ethiopian Air crash, we learned the horrific news about a heinous act of violence in Christchurch, New Zealand. Many of the 50 victims were refugees, fleeing violence in their native countries to make a new start in a place that they thought they and their families would be safe in. Haji-Daoud Nabi and his family fled their home in Afghanistan to seek a better life in New Zealand. In the 40 years since that time, Mr. Nabi gave back to his community by leading an organization to welcome other refugees. According to his son, Mr. Nabi shielded one of his friends from the gunman and he lost his life in doing so; the friend, however, survived.
Two other victims include a Syrian refugee family who escaped to New Zealand. The father and son lost their lives while a second son was injured.
The youngest victim of the attack was Mucad Ibrahim who was three years old. His family had fled Somalia looking for security and hope as refugees in New Zealand.
To the victims of this deplorable hate crime, we say you will be remembered. To the loved ones of the victims, we mourn with you. And to our Muslim brothers and sisters in Canada and around the world, we stand with you.
Honourable senators, during the past 15 years, I have stood in my place and have spoken about so many issues close to my heart, the biggest being autism and, of course, Special Olympics. But nothing prepared me for this.
I’m talking about the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy which claimed the lives of 157 people, including 18 Canadians. This hits close to home.
By now you have heard or read about Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 which crashed shortly after taking off March 10 from the Addis Ababa International Airport.
By now you have heard or read about the many personal stories, heartbreaking stories, about who was on that aircraft. What hits close to home is how close MPs and senators were to the horrific accident.
The Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, three senators, four MPs and three officials were in Addis on the morning of the crash. Our delegation was on a direct Ethiopian Airlines flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa.
We have been told that 10 of the 18 Canadians who died were on our flight from Toronto. They would be taking a connecting flight from Addis to Nairobi, Kenya. That was two hours after we landed in Addis.
The moment when we heard about the crash, we were numb with emotional pain. As a former journalist, I have covered many tragedies but this time it felt different. On Ethiopian television the commentators talked to the victims coming from 35 countries. I wondered how many Canadians were on-board.
We were soon briefed by Antoine Chevier, Canada’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, and then the reality sank in. He knew and his staff knew the work of a diplomat would begin, from going to the crash site to preparing for the arrival of loved ones from Canada.
Honourable senators, three minutes is not enough time to tell every story of the 18 Canadians who lost their lives that morning, but I will tell one of a special man who was a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Pius Adesanmi.
There was a celebration of his life at the Metropolitan Bible Church on Saturday. He was a husband, a dad and a professor who came to Canada many years ago to teach. He was loved and described as a man with a large heart who always wanted to make things better.
At 47 years of age, the Nigerian-born Adesanmi was Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University. He was everything to his students and more. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he was a specialist in African literature, a poet, a columnist for Nigerian newspapers, a satirist and a blogger. There was even more. Here are the words of his cousin: “larger than life in real life,” and someone “in search of the healing treasures of knowledge.”
Honourable senators, we grieve for Professor Adesanmi, we grieve with the families of the 17 other Canadians, and we grieve that 157 people from 35 countries are no longer with us.
Six years ago, Professor Adesanmi was asked to take part in a writing exercise where participants would write their own epitaph. This is what he wrote:
Here lies Pius Adesanmi, who tried as much as he could to put his talent in the service of humanity and flew away home one bright morning when his work was over.