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Vol 39  No 15
June 7, 2007


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Wednesday, May 23, 10 a.m.

Oration honouring Roméo Dallaire


Dr. Roméo Dallaire

Chancellor: “Peux ce que veux. Allons y.” ... “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s get on with it, now!” This, Mr. Chancellor, is the rallying cry with which Senator Dallaire ends his remarkable book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. That work takes us on a revealing journey from high expectations, through shock and despair, to courage determination and dedication to human freedom. Today he explores that cause with us in light of what he sees as a growing threat that needs to be recognized. We would do well to note, Sir, that this man’s mission emerges from experiences very similar to those that gave Memorial its foundation and its vital pedagogical purpose. “Memorial” is about remembering that our fathers fought and won a sustained battle for freedom despite staggering class arrogance and the gross incompetence of many political and military leaders. “Memorial” is about learning how to remember such lessons, especially when it is easier to forget.

In 1994 Roméo Dallaire first began to recognize the diabolical dimensions of the threat he now sees as increasingly urgent, not just in distant places like Rwanda and its near neighbour the Congo, or in Darfur, but at home here in Canada. Rwanda was an earthly paradise that turned, overnight, into a hell of hopelessness while Lt.-Gen. Dallaire and his far too few, miserably ill-equipped UN troops were forced to stand helplessly by and watch 800,000 people die unimaginably barbarous, tragically avoidable deaths within just a few months. This time it was not just the too familiar tale of arrogance and incompetence. Racism, too, is subtly infectious and spreads unspoken. The story crystallises between the shocking lines that Dallaire quotes from the report of an inspection team sent in by one national government at the beginning of butchery.

“We will recommend to our government not to intervene,” the report reads, “as the risks are high, and all that is here are humans.”

The risks are indeed high, Mr. Chancellor, when “humans” no longer enter the calculation. Dallaire alerts us to the fact that our own freedom, and the benefits it sustains, are at increasingly urgent risk today if we permit our local, national and international institutions like the UN to continue to discount humanity. It happened in Rwanda. It continues in Congo, and Darfur. And as the bureaucratic bungling – or worse – unfolds in the Air India enquiry, it clearly happens right here in Canada. Dallaire warns us that we no longer know how to care effectively about “humans.”

He sounds an alarm. But he is not an alarmist. The fight our fathers fought and won – the fight for our own freedoms through solidarity, not with just those of our own class or race but with all humanity – must today be fought again here at home, with an informed understanding, in the political choices to be made nationally and internationally. Calculation of risk must place “humans” at the top of any schedule of national self interests, not, as now, at the bottom, trailing behind oil or other commodities. This time we need no secret intelligence agency to reveal some hidden danger. This massively destructive threat to our freedom is truly a clear and present danger. We have come to acquiesce in calculations of interest that simply exclude “humans.” Risks are now only worth running where there are easily calculable profits to be secured. It is too easy to forget the “humans,” and tot up instead the returns to be made or lost on our troop investments. Dallaire’s claim is that our public and political institutions have been allowed to forget Memorial’s defining message: keep faith with humanity or your own freedoms are in imminent peril.

And there is a confident urgency in the message Gen. Dallaire brings back from the front lines, Mr. Chancellor. He is here to assure us – as do the lives our fathers sacrificed – that the fight can be won. They did fight. They did win. And the battle will be won again, no matter how diabolical its dimensions. But, lest we forget, Memorial has a vital part to play in securing the victory.

The memory “Memorial” represents is very fragile if it is not constantly renewed and critically restored. That critical renewal is Memorial’s defining task. Vigorously explored and debated national interests can only be kept authentic by high standards of research and teaching across all disciplines. It is never enough to teach our students skills that let them serve merely immediate political or economic agendas. Humans need the more substantial challenge of a genuinely higher education.

The messenger who stands before you, Sir, has demonstrated the kind of deep personal courage that challenges us all to want to be free . . . and to do what it takes to be free. He shows how this desire must become effective in remembering that our daily freedom relies on demanding that our nation insist, as its first priority, that all humans share the same freedom.

These are the challenges this candidate embodies in his own courageous life-story, Mr. Chancellor. We would do well to welcome and honour both the message and the messenger. It is for these reasons that I take it as a profound honour to present to you, Sir, for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, Senator Roméo Dallaire.

Dr. John Scott
University Orator

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