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(No. 56 - February 8, 2011 - 11 a.m. ET) The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced the creation of the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award by the Government of Canada.
"I am pleased to announce the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award, which will honour individuals and groups who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedom," said Minister Cannon. "Human rights are the cornerstone of the Canadian value system and the mainstay of society."
Named after former prime minister, foreign affairs minister and defender of human rights John Diefenbaker, the award will be presented annually to recipients from Canada and throughout the world for their exemplary contribution to promoting human rights and freedom.
"The Diefenbaker Award reflects our government's strong support for human rights and the efforts of individuals and organizations to promote freedom and democracy worldwide, often under very difficult circumstances," said Minister Cannon.
"Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with those who share our values of respect for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," said Minister Cannon. "Our government always defends the vulnerable, to protect and promote human rights and human dignity at home and abroad. We will continue to be a relentless advocate of human rights around the world."
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The John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award honours the memory of Canada's 13th prime minister.
Prime Minister Diefenbaker, who held office from June 1957 to April 1963, was a leader in the area of human rights at home and abroad. His tenacity in defending rights for all led to the passage of the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. He succeeded in correcting a historic injustice by extending to First Nations people the right to vote in federal elections without giving up their treaty status. Prime Minister Diefenbaker's appointments of the first woman to Cabinet and the first Aboriginal member of the Senate heralded a new era of inclusiveness in Canadian political life.
Internationally, Prime Minister Diefenbaker played a pivotal role as a Commonwealth leader, supporting the organization's 1961 anti-apartheid statement, which led to South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth. His government liberalized immigration policy to allow more immigrants from Asia and Africa.
The hallmark of the Diefenbaker era was inclusiveness. As the first Canadian prime minister of neither British nor French heritage, he laid the groundwork for Canada's transformation into one of the most inclusive, multicultural and tolerant societies in the world.
The inaugural Diefenbaker Award honours individuals or groups who show exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedom.
Potential candidates for this award were identified on a worldwide basis by Canada's global network of diplomatic missions and in consultation with key government partners. Candidates were carefully screened on the basis of their human rights contributions. Short-listed candidates were recommended to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who made the final selection.
This non-monetary award will be given on an annual basis, as part of Canada's larger commitment to the promotion and defence of human rights at home and around the world.