“At a time when the forces of exclusion, discrimination, and hate continue to gain strength all over the world, we must choose inclusion as a pillar for the world we want to create.”
That is the bold mission statement on the website of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), in connection with 6 Degrees, the global forum on inclusion which they organize every year. The event convenes emerging and established leaders from around the world to enable a wide-ranging exchange of ideas, perspectives, and tactics in developing a more just and inclusive society. In past years, 6 Degrees was held on-site at a Toronto venue, but due to pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings, the organizers had to switch to a digital-only forum this year.
This writer was privileged to receive an invitation to join the discussions this year.
18th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture
6 Degrees itself is a series of lectures and forums, kicking off on Sept. 19 with the 18th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture that brought back past speakers to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the roadmap to moral and civic renewal. Among the notable participants were the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, Canada’s 26th Governor General; the Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, the first female and longest-serving Chief Justice of Canada; and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, to name a few.
Another event is 360: Revision, a forum which explored the idea of “insiders” and “outsiders,” and their roles in reforming systems from inside or dismantling those systems altogether. Moderated by Genaro Lozano, one of Mexico’s top political scientists and opinion leaders, the panel included Serpil Midyatli, Germany’s first Muslim legislator; Rob Johnson, president of the Institute for New Economic Thinking; Ijeoma Oluo, a Seattle-based writer, speaker and self-described “Internet yeller,” and Roberta Jamieson, the first First Nation woman in Canada to earn a law degree, and the first woman Ombudsman of Ontario.
Virtual Coffeehouses and Discussion Tables
Online discussion groups called virtual coffeehouses were also held to provide an interactive platform for participants to share their insights about the ongoing forum and the issues that have so far been discussed. This writer participated in the September 22 virtual coffeehouse which was moderated by Abdul-Rehman Malik, an award-winning journalist, educator, and cultural organizer. The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson once again graced the event with her presence. Other notable participants were ICC’s CEO Yasir Naqvi, and John Ralston Saul, author and prominent influencer on political and economic thought around the world.
After the participants were welcomed and oriented about the proceedings, they were then moved into smaller groups or ‘virtual tables’ to discuss and react to a so-called ‘provocation’– a statement containing a bold idea. The provocation in this writer’s virtual table was ‘Cultural change precedes political change.’ Moderated by Sadia Zaman, CEO of InSpirit Foundation based in Toronto, the other participants at the table were Sapana Patel, CEO/Coach of consulting firm Kinamark, Inc., and Laura Friedmann, Toronto-based filmmaker, producer and media professional. As the discussions wound down, the virtual table participants were moved back into the main coffeehouse to reveal their respective provocation and share their resulting discussion and insights.
5th Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship
On September 23, the Honourable Murray Sinclair of Manitoba received the 5th Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship which is awarded annually to a leader whose life work has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the ideals of belonging and inclusion. In a candid and moving conversation with The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, Sinclair reflected on a life spent advocating for all Canadians. The ceremony also featured a special performance by Indigenous director, composer, singer-songwriter, and activist Elisapie.
18th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture: A Response
The culmination of this year’s 6 Degrees will be on October 15 with the response to the 18th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture. This will be an online discussion among diverse leaders from Canada and around the world about new ideas on how to emerge from this crisis as more just, inclusive societies.
In an email to this year’s participants, the organizers expressed their appreciation for how well the event was received despite the trying circumstances. “In a time of many crises, we were heartened to see thousands come together to explore paths forward for a more inclusive future. Thank you to everyone who joined us!”
Kris Ontong is an award-winning community advocate and a finalist in the 12th RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. He is the co-founder and vodcast host of Barangay Canada.