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.