Welcome (Deborah Ross-Grayman)

I would like to ask the audience to please rise for the entrance of the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Judith Guichon, and other dignitaries.

[Pause]  Please be seated. Thank you Pipe Major, John Mager.

My name is Deborah Ross-Grayman.  I will be your director of ceremonies today.  On behalf of the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society I would like to welcome members of the audience and our honourable and distinguished guests, including the Consul General of Switzerland, Mr. Urs Strausak; the Consul General of Japan, Mr. Seiji Okada; the Honourary Swedish Consul, Mr. Thomas Gradin; and the Honourary Mongolian Consul, Tobin Robbins; to the 10th Annual Raoul Wallenberg Day event and the Inaugural Presentation of the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award.

We would not be here today without the efforts of a dedicated group of hardworking volunteers and the generosity of our sponsors.  This is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural event which is reflected in the diversity of our many supporters and the people here today.  We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the following:

  • The Sweden House Society
  • The Jewish Community Centre
  • Nava Creative Kosher Cuisine
  • The Jewish Independent
  • The Consulate of Sweden
  • Jewish Federation
  • The Swedish Press
  • The Indo-Canadian Times
  • The Japanese Vancouver Shinpo and Fraser Monthly
  • The Second Generation Group
  • YossiLinks
  • Sabra and Garden City Bakeries
  • DOM International – Norwegian Fjord
  • Costco
  • Superstore
  • The Flag Shop
  • Choices
  • The Peretz Centre
  • And graphics designer Nathan Saade.

Thank you for helping to make this event a reality.

Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society
(Henry Grayman)

The Wallenberg- Sugihara Civil Courage Society was formed in 2013 by members of the Swedish and Jewish communities.  We are bringing this event to you today, not simply to honour the memories of two great men, but to honour and encourage others in acts of civil courage.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian.  In 1944, as Sweden’s special envoy to Hungary, he managed to rescue up to one hundred thousand Jews.  Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered people in buildings designated as Swedish territory.  He did this at a great deal of peril to himself.  Following the Soviet capture of Budapest in 1945, Wallenberg was taken to a Russian prison on January 17, never to be seen again.

This is an auspicious weekend: another great man of civil courage is also commemorated, Martin Luther King.

Creating a non-profit society dedicated to honouring acts of civil courage, was the vision of the former honourary Swedish Consul, Anders Neumuller.  He is a board member today.  Madoka Sugihara, grand-daughter of Chiune Sugihara, is an honourary board member as well.

Today we are making the inaugural presentation of the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award.  It is given to an individual associated with British Columbia, who at personal risk, stood up against an unjust law, convention or norm to help others.  Our Selection Committee made the final choice of the successful candidate for the Civil Courage Award.

Organizing an event like this could not have been accomplished without the hard work of our Organizing Committee members.

I want to say a word about youth and civil courage.  Raoul Wallenberg was only 32 years old in 1944 when he risked his life to save so many people from certain death.  Similarly, Sugihara was relatively young when he issued life saving transit visas.  We hope, through the actions of our society, to encourage young people today to stand up against injustice.

I would ask all of you to stand up for a moment of silence to commemorate the people of Paris murdered by terrorists.

[Pause 15 seconds]  Please be seated.

I want to invite the Wallenberg/Sugihara Civil Courage Society Board Members to stand and remain standing:
Alan Le Fevre, Jan Nordin, Deborah Ross-Grayman, Mats Thölin

Selection Committee Members to stand and remain standing:
The Honourable Tom Berger, Thomas Gradin, Dan MacLeod

Organizing Committee Members to stand:
Derek Brackley, Judy Meyer, and Rosa Stenberg

Please give them a hand for all their hard work.

Now, I would like to introduce our Deputy Mayor, Andrea Reimer, who will read the City of Vancouver’s, Wallenberg Day proclamation and say a few words.

City of Vancouver Proclamation (Andrea Reimer)

Civil Courage Remarks (Deborah Ross-Grayman)

I am the breath and face of Civil Courage – not because of an inspired action that I can take credit for, but because I am alive today due to the actions of one man, Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat serving in Lithuania during WWII.  He displayed outstanding civil courage and compassion when he chose to act in direct violation of the orders from the Japanese government and issue transit visas that facilitated the escape, from certain death in Europe, of more than 6000 Jewish refugees.

My own mother, Nechama Ramm, was the recipient of such a visa.  In 1941 she travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia to Vladivostok where she took a boat to Japan.  She has many difficulties on the way and almost didn’t make it, but make it she did.  My mother lived with other refugees in Kobe, Japan, for 6 months when, just before Pearl Harbour, she was sent to Shanghai where she survived  the Holocaust.

This event is personal for me.  I live each day in gratitude for what has been given to me.  Last year my husband and I travelled to Japan to meet with Madoka Sugihara, the granddaughter of Chiune Sugihara.  I thanked her for the actions of her grandfather, who gave my mother life and in so doing gave me my life.  There are others like me here today and I ask all of you who owe your lives to the courageous actions of another to please stand, as I stand with you.  Thank you, please be seated.  As you see, one person can make a difference.

As we recognize the actions of Raoul Wallenberg and Chiune Sugihara, we are compelled to acknowledge that out of the darkness come rays of light, that from the depths of evil we can find hope and a tangible testament to the potential goodness and the highest level of moral development in human kind, as well as, a deep abiding affirmation of life.

As we honour these two men, we honour all the people throughout history who have stood up to help save the lives of others.  Their actions shine a light on the path we too can choose to walk.  May we step into the future with compassion for all those who continue to suffer and struggle against oppression.  May we too be brave.

Why are we gathered here today?

  • To commemorate two courageous men
  • To honour an individual who is continuing their legacy
  • To empower and inspire each one of us, throughout the journey of our lives, to stand up against injustice, knowing with confidence that one person can make a difference.  Let us pass it forward, from person to person, from generation to generation, Tikkun Olam, let us heal the world.

Introduction to Civil Courage Award Recipient
(Henry Grayman)

To stand up against injustice to help others when personally threatened takes vision and courage.  The recipient of the inaugural Civil Courage Award has demonstrated both qualities throughout his life.

We are very proud to announce that the Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh is the first Civil Courage Award recipient.  He was born in the Punjab, a part of India that has known its share of conflict and sectarian rivalry.  At age 21 he immigrated to Canada where he worked at manual labour jobs while he earned his law degree from UBC.

The Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh is well known in BC politics as a MLA, Attorney General and the first Indo-Canadian provincial premier.  He was also elected to the federal legislature, appointed Health Minister and served until 2011.

Mr. Dosanjh was the first person to speak out against violence in 1981, when the hostilities in India caused conflict in the Indo-Canadian community.

When the Indian Army attacked the Golden Temple in the Punjab in 1985, targeting the extremists hiding within, Mr. Dosanjh warned the Canadian government of the risk of serious sectarian violence erupting in Canada.  Regrettably, his warning went unheeded and 4 months later, the Air India flight 182 that departed from Canada was bombed.  This is the largest mass murder in modern Canadian history.  In the wake of this disaster, Mr. Dosanjh continued to publically denounce the use of violence as a means of establishing an independent Sikh homeland.

After the Air India incident the police advised Mr. Dosanjh and his family to leave Vancouver, however, he refused to be intimidated or to sacrifice his beliefs in social justice in Canada.

As a result of standing up and expressing his pacifist views, the Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh was attacked with a metal bar outside his law office and severely beaten.  He was targeted again in 1999, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his constituency office.  As recently as 2010 the RCMP had to investigate threats made against him.

In July 2014, the Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh spoke about how important it is for new immigrants to adopt the Canadian principles of liberal democracy – free from violence.   Today we honour someone who has committed his life to making this world a better place. Mr. Dosanjh you inspire us and lead the way into a future in which every human life is valued and all people live with respect and dignity in peace.

Civil Courage Award Presentation
(The Honourable Judith Guichon;
Henry Grayman; Thomas Gradin)

Honour: In Speaking Truth To Terror
(The Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh)

Not on many occasions in my life have I made written speeches. But for the occasion of being presented the inaugural Civil Courage Award by the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society on Sunday, January 18th at the Jewish Community Center in Vancouver in the presence of over 400 people I had written out brief remarks.  However I chose to speak without notes or the prepared text.  Nonetheless what I said then is more expansively reflected in the prepared remarks which are reproduced below:

It is a tremendous honour to be considered fit for an award named after the great Wallenberg and Sugihara.  It recognises my life long struggle to speak truth to terror.  I most humbly accept the recognition in memory of the recent victims of terror at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish Market in Paris.

In the name of religion, terrorism has been at war with us.  It is at war against reason.  The offendedness some feel and use as an excuse for terror is a choice, not a compulsion and never be an excuse for killing.  In a fee and democratic society there can be no excuse for violence.  Our weapons are secret ballot and free expression; there can be none other.

In Canada we are no strangers to terror.  Since my arrival in Canada in 1968 there have been the FLQ crisis, the Squamish five, Air India, the Toronto 18 and the recent killings of soldiers in St. Jean sur Richelieu and Ottawa, just to name a few.  Sadly we are destined to suffer the scourge of terror for some time to come.  Our principles, what we stand for; a free and democratic world where freedoms thrive, where freedom of expression does not contract but expands, that is what will give us the strength, the courage to fight on.

We have not willed this war upon ourselves; a war that seeks to silence differences of opinion.  Nigerians have not asked to be mercilessly slaughtered by the butchers of Boko Haram.  Hundreds of Kurds, Shias, Christians and the dissenting Sunnis have done nothing to provoke being shot and beheaded by the infidels of ISIS.

I say infidels because they may not be infidels in their own minds or to their distorted version of their professed faith; but they are complete and utter infidels to Humanity.  The venom that moves them has blinded them to our universal siblinghood (a gender neutral word for brotherhood).  Because of the overwhelming and often self-induced hate the idea of our common humanity eludes them.  It is to our common humanity that we must owe our first loyalty, our complete fidelity.

The equality embedded and implicit in our common humanity nurtures and sustains the idea of human freedom.  Ours can’t be the freedom of the slave, be it slave to some ideology, religion or anything else.  Ours can only be the freedom that means equality and respect for all human beings.  There is nothing more sacrosanct than absolute human freedom under the rule of law in a free and democratic society.

No, we are not a perfect society; only more perfect than most.  But we must work harder to be free from racism, gender discrimination and violence and poverty.  Our journey for meaningful equality shall be incomplete without economic and social justice for our Aboriginal peoples.  Much work remains to be done.  The struggle continues.

By the way the honour given me today is way beyond whatever I stand accused of doing.  There are co-conspirators such as my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins, my brother, my sisters; and Raminder, my wife who has always unflinchingly stood with me; and my children who I think still love me despite the long periods of neglect I visited upon them; and now my six grandchildren for whom I continue my fight and will pen my life’s story.  There have been countless friends and supporters without whose help I would not have been able to stand up, speak out, and fight on.  They, far more than I, deserve this honour.

My inner determination has always come from what I learnt from my heroes and freedom fighters: my father Pritam Singh Dosanjh, my grandfather Moola Singh Bains, and Mahatma Gandhi the father of the nation I ‘deserted’ to make Canada home.  My father used to say: Walk a few steps less in life but always walk with dignity; his personal credo, my faith that has sustained me on the journey from the dusty roads of rural India that I still so vividly remember.  All of that is responsible for any good that I may have done.  For all the mistakes in my life, believe me there have been more than a few, I alone am responsible.

Civil Courage Award Remarks
(Lieutenant Governor of BC, The Honourable Judith Guichon)

It is indeed a great honour for me to join you this afternoon for the 10th annual Raoul Wallenberg Day and to shake the hand and congratulate Ujjal Dosanjh, Civil Courage Award winner. Ujjal Dosanjh has devoted his life to service and to standing firm against violence and injustice.  He has served both here in the British Columbia and in Ottawa where he continued to advocate for human rights, to denounce violence and injustice and to fight for Canadian principles of liberal democracy.

Today, it is more important than ever that we celebrate our heroes and I call upon the media to sing the praises of those heroes and to herald their victories in an equally loud voice as that with which the deeds of villains are reported.

We all agree, no matter our religion, culture or what creed we embrace, that civil society demands that we treat one another as we would wish to be treated.  A fairly simple rule.  Love thy neighbour as yourself.  Respect and dignity are the hallmarks of civil society as is justice and doing what is right and fair.

A recent presenter at a youth conference, lecturing on justice, made the point that many today believe justice is somehow an occasional activity such as helping at a food bank or being involved in an overseas short term project or a sentence administered by our courts.  In fact, justice is a way of life, standing up for and doing what is good and right in society, a way of patterning your life.  To act justly is to approach life with compassion and to seek to transform systems which keep people in inequality and which distort fairness in our world.  t encompasses the language we use and our treatment of people in different communities be they either ethnic, religious or social.  According to American philosopher Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Today’s honoree has exemplified all facets of justice in his political career and his entire life.  He is a contemporary hero and although he neither flies nor drives a strange bat-shaped vehicle, his life and his career are examples to inspire our young people.  We thank Ujjal Dosanjh for his dedication to justice and to Canadian principles of liberal democracy and non-violence.

I would like to close with two quotes.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”  And lastly, my hero Mahatma Ghandi advises us to, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

Congratulations and thank you to Ujjal Dosanjh for your leadership and inspiration, and for standing up for justice and against violence.  Thank you for being a hero.

Thank You (Deborah Ross-Grayman)


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