Honourable senators, I rise today to speak for the first time in this place, and I do so a little cautiously and very much in awe of this chamber. I have been given an unexpected opportunity to serve my country as a senator. I feel the full weight and honour of this new duty.
Honourable senators, I rise to speak to the inquiry into Canada ‘s Economic Action Plan – A Third Report to Canadians, but I understand it is the tradition of this place that I first introduce myself.
They tell a joke in Chicago about the novice who arrives at a campaign headquarters to volunteer his services. The ward boss looks him over. "Who sent you?" he demands. "Nobody sent me," the volunteer answers. "Well, we don’t want nobody nobody sent."
So let me tell you a little bit about those who sent me.
I think first of my grandmother, Florence Hirschowitz, born on a kitchen table in the Bronx before the First World War. A brilliant intellect, a voracious reader, a schoolteacher, she took a personal interest in almost everyone she met and she practiced her charity face-to-face and eye-to-eye. Millions of people spend their honeymoons in Niagara Falls. My grandmother spent 34 years of married life there, thanks to a joyous cross-border marriage with my grandfather, Harold Rosberg. Harold was a businessman and community leader, and the gallery in the Niagara Falls public library still bears his name and that of his brother Joseph.
Florence and Harold’s eldest daughter, and my mother, was Barbara Frum, a name that still resonates in this country, all these years after her early death. She loved this country more than anyone I have ever known, and was at home everywhere in it, from the mines of Nova Scotia to the rainforests of the Pacific Coast.
My father Murray has played a substantial role in Canadian cultural and business life, generously, and usually invisibly, supporting some of our finest institutions. His parents, Saul and Rivke Frum, arrived in this country in 1930. That decision for Canada surely saved their lives: their parents and siblings who remained in Europe were murdered by the death apparatus of Nazi Germany, with only one survivor to tell the story of their last days.
I have a brother, David Frum, a political thinker and respected public intellectual whose independence of mind was an example to me from childhood.
You are looking at a very lucky woman to be born into such associations. I am extremely proud of each one.
Honourable senators, when I was received into this chamber on September 15 – along with eight others whom I am proud to be linked by association – it was with an oath sworn on a Bible given to me by Rabbi John Moscowitz of Holy Blossom Temple, one of the oldest congregations in Canada. The Bible was over 100 years old, its cover flaking. Rabbi Moscowitz had little information about how the Bible had found its way to the temple’s library. He knew only that it was printed in Vienna, and that it came to Canada before the Holocaust, and thus had eluded the incinerators of World War II – incinerators that consumed not only so many of my own relatives, but also my husband’s, for both his parents arrived in Canada only after surviving the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
After my swearing-in ceremony, the Bible was sent to the Senate archives of Canada. It pleases me greatly to know that there it will rest, a visible symbol of liberty, bonding persons invisible to one another over generations of time.
I grew up in Toronto, went to university in Montreal, but it was only when I spent a year crossing the country to write a guidebook to Canadian universities, at the age of 24 – and then crossing it again to promote that book – that I began to appreciate the dimensions of my home and native land. That tour was my first introduction to the surprising fact that not everybody admires Toronto – or Torontonians – as much as we admire ourselves.
I learned a few lessons the hard way. For example, while I was conducting research for my book, I interviewed students at Memorial University in St. John’s, who told me that their campus was the most "amorous" in Canada, and that their pub was the most profitable. I wrote that down just the way I heard it; but then, when I came back for my book tour, nearly half the campus – or so it felt – came out to greet me in something near to a lynch mob. It was a good lesson for me – a good lesson for everyone in public life. People want to be understood the way they understand themselves. Even an exact quotation can be perceived as an attack, if that quote is wrenched from its context and intended meaning.
In the years following, I worked as a magazine writer, a newspaper columnist, an author, and a documentary filmmaker. I thought often of the lesson those St. John’s students had taught me and, if I gained any success in my profession, I owe much of the credit to them.
As a volunteer, I have dedicated time and effort to the Writers’ Trust of Canada, the Ontario Arts Council, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Soulpepper Theatre, Canada’s Walk of Fame, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, the Military Families Fund, and many other causes close to my heart, including Zareinu, a Toronto school for the physically and developmentally challenged.
Thanks to my husband, Howard Sokolowski, I have gained a new appreciation of the central place of the Canadian Football League in the culture of this country. This culture is not just naked men wearing green body paint and watermelons on their heads – though, to our delight, we saw much of that at Sunday’s Grey Cup match in Calgary, for which a record-setting 6.1 million Canadians tuned in to watch.
As great as that is, Canada’s culture is even more than that. It is founded on practices of tolerance and ideals of freedom. It is a culture of liberty that is open to the world. It is a culture of justice and equality.
My devotion to these Canadian ideals has sharpened my concern for the erosion of personal security and religious liberty that I see on our Canadian university campuses. It is a very strange thing that in this haven for the world’s persecuted, it should again be true that young Jewish men and women face the fear of physical attack if they express their identity, not in some rough street after dark, but in the public spaces of our institutions of learning. Sixty years after one attempted extermination of the Jews, some of our universities have offered their facilities to activists who urge a second try.
When students at these universities seek protection, they are usually denied. Sadly and strangely, it is their tormenters who often successfully deploy our Canadian law of human rights as a weapon against human liberty.
I am distressed by the Orwellian inversion of the meanings of such terms as "human rights." I am concerned by the abuse of quasi-judicial tribunals to harass Canadians who speak freely about these issues; and I am challenged and excited by this new opportunity as a senator to get to the bottom of things, to cast light on dark corners of our public life.
As a woman, too, my ears hear whisperings of new dangers: forced marriages, genital mutilation, and the killings of wives, sisters, and daughters in the name of some primitive conception of honour. These, too, are becoming Canadian realities.
However, it is not Canadian to tolerate injustice. It is not Canadian to submit to silencing and intimidation. Since Confederation, our soldiers have fought bravely and victoriously on battlefields half a planet away. Our men and women, under the Maple Leaf, fight the forces of fanaticism and cruelty in distant Afghanistan today. We must never dishonour them by failing to uphold, back here at home, the causes for which they made such sacrifices.
Nor should we shy, out of some false, Neville Chamberlain sense of the importance of diplomacy, from continuing to confront states that deny humane values while seeking to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Western governments should always be prepared to go that extra diplomatic mile, but Canada has unique assets to offer if and when it becomes necessary to impose crippling sanctions on a nuclearizing Iran. In my opinion, that day is already upon us.