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International Mother Language Day Bill

Honourable senators, following Senator Mobina Jaffer’s example, I think I have a two-and-a-half-minute speech.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-214, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day. Bill S-214 is a legislative proposal to designate February 21 as international mother language day. I would like to thank Senator Jaffer for reintroducing this and giving me the opportunity to speak again on the importance of proliferating mother languages.

As a country with multilingualism at its core, we need to recognize and understand the importance of preserving all mother languages. Professor Wade Davis put it more eloquently than I could when he said in the Canadian Geographic:

A language, of course, is not just a set of grammatical rules or a vocabulary; it’s a flash of the human spirit, the vehicle by which the soul of a particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought, an ecosystem of social, spiritual and psychological possibilities. Each is a window into a universe, a monument to the specific culture that gave it birth and whose spirit it expresses.

I know first-hand the correlation between my mother tongue and my identity. Speaking Pukhto, or Pashto, is more than a means to communicate; it connects me to my ancestors; it allows me to understand the literature, art and poetry of my homeland.

It was for those reasons that I made it a priority to teach my mother language to my two daughters, Anushka and Shaanzeh. By doing so, I was able to share a part of my identity, history and culture with them. My daughters’ lives and my life have been positively impacted in numerous ways because of our ability to communicate in our mother tongue. That is worth celebrating every year on February 21.

Of course, we cannot speak about the importance of preserving mother languages in Canada without considering our Indigenous population, many of whom were forcibly stripped of their mother tongues. Honourable senators, the importance of mother tongues cannot be undervalued because we know that once a language dies, the knowledge and heritage it contains dies with it, forever diminishing our society as a whole.

As parliamentarians, we must encourage Canadians to celebrate and preserve our linguistic diversity. Bill S-214 fulfills these aspirations by raising awareness and promoting education of mother languages.

In closing, I would ask, honourable senators, that we consider the questions posed by Professor Wade Davis:

. . . But what of the poetry, songs and knowledge encoded in the other voices, those cultures that are the guardians and custodians of 98.8 per cent of the world’s linguistic diversity? Is the wisdom of an elder any less important simply because he or she communicates to an audience of one? . . .

Senator Jaffer, thank you for your tireless work on this bill or, as we say in my mother tongue, manana. Thank you, honourable senators.