Senate Speaker George J. Furey, Q.C., took part in the ceremony granting Malala Yousafzai honorary Canadian citizenship — only the sixth person ever to receive the distinction.
A Pakistani activist for peace, education and the right of women, Yousafzai gained international recognition for standing up to the Taliban. She is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate and was recently named the youngest UN Messenger for Peace. Her story captured global attention in 2012 when the then 15-year-old was shot in the head by Taliban militants who had targeted the school bus she was riding in. The Taliban was taking over Pakistan’s Swat Valley and denied women basic freedoms such as going to school and shopping. Since surviving the attack, Yousafzai has dedicated her life to fighting for women — especially girls — to get an education.
“I am humbled to accept honorary citizenship to your country,” Yousafzai said.
“While I will always be a proud Pashtun and citizen of Pakistan, I am grateful to be an honorary member of your nation of heroes.”
Yousafzai spoke to parliamentarians in a rare joint session of the Senate and House of Commons, praising Canada’s global leadership on human rights issues — namely supporting refugees and women’s rights.
But her message couldn’t have been clearer: the world needs more Canada.
“’Welcome to Canada' is more than a headline or a hashtag,” she said.
“It is the spirit of humanity that every single one of us would yearn for, if our family was in crisis. I pray that you continue to open your homes and your hearts to the world's most defenseless children and families — and I hope your neighbours will follow your example.”
Following her address, Speaker Furey thanked Yousafzai for her inspiring words and her message of hope.
“In these troubling times, it can be difficult to be optimistic. There is a great deal of fear in the world,” he said.
“Fear, as we all know, is a very powerful emotion. It feeds intolerance. It breeds division. And — as you, Malala, know too well — intolerance leads to unspeakable acts of brutality and oppression. But the clear antidote to fear is knowledge.”
Speaker Furey commended Yousafzai for her exemplary work, which “teaches all of us to appreciate the value of education and to long for the immensity of knowledge.”
During her speech, Yousafzai called attention to the many challenges girls faced by girls across the globe simply to go to school. In light of Canada’s contribution to improving access to education for girls, she also took the opportunity to speak directly to Canada’s women.
“When women are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. When mothers can keep their children alive and send them to school, there is hope,” she said.
“Young women of Canada, step forward and raise your voices. The next time I visit, I hope I see more of you filling these seats in Parliament.”
The Senate has worked on many of the issues Yousafzai champions, such as the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada, spreading peace in conflict zones, the rights of children and supporting victims of sexual assault.
Speaker Furey spoke for all senators when he expressed his admiration for Yousafzai’s crusade for girl’s education worldwide.
“You are an example to us all. We all aspire to be Malala,” Speaker Furey said.