Diversity Includes All - that's the theme for the third annual University of Lethbridge Respect and Diversity Awareness Week, which kicked off Monday.
A number of guest speakers will grace the university this week, with the hope the themes, discussion items and topics examined will live on well past the one-week event, and spark some real thought and introspection surrounding just how diverse Canada, and Lethbridge, has become.
Simply looking at the numbers, courtesy the 2011 Statistics Canada census, released last November, our country is a different place than it was even five years ago. Looking ahead, that change will accelerate. Today, 200 different ethnicities can be counted as Canadians and if predictions hold true, the landscape of our nation will be altered significantly in the coming years.
According to projections, the percentage of visible minorities will rise from the 16.2 per cent reported in 2006 to about 30 per cent by 2031, and it is not going to simply in the big cities. Here in Alberta and Saskatchewan, workers from around the globe are attracted to the Prairies, with promises of steady employment, as the real possibility of an impending labour shortage looms large.
Here in Lethbridge and surrounding areas, many temporary foreign workers call southern Alberta home, and many others have made the city their permanent home. It is a sign of the times, as the latest census figures stated 9,520 people, out of a population of 83,517, reported mother tongues other than English or French, our two official languages.
Canada's policy of multiculturalism certainly differs from that of many other countries, and speaks to our nation's heritage of a nation built by immigrants. Ask 10 people on the street about their cultural background, and you will get 10 different stories. It is part of what makes Canada the country it is.
Lethbridge, similar to like-sized cities across the land, will have to continue to adjust to its changing demographics, and events such as Respect and Diversity Awareness Week serve as tangible reminders of not only the work that needs to be done, but the steps already taken locally to welcome newcomers.
But respecting diversity means much more than cultural awareness, as the many speakers and presenters can attest to. Whether it is related to gender, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities and a wide range of other differences, human beings offer the world a set of diverse characteristics unlike any other species on the planet.
Those differences can serve to divide us, and certainly have over the years, but as we move forward, the themes of mutual respect and co-operation will take us much farther. As Respect and Diversity Awareness Week organizers have stated, it is hoped lessons learned over this short period will carry over, and the city and surrounding areas will continue to embrace newcomers and celebrate differences 365 days a year.
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