In no way should members of the Jamaican community in Toronto and the rest of Canada feel they are living in the shadow of criminality, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told nationals at a reception he and Jamaican PM, Portia Simpson-Miller, attended at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre on Monday night.
“As one of your fellow citizens and as Prime Minister of Canada, I say that Canadians understand that the only community placed under a shadow by perpetrators of these crimes is the community of criminals,” said Harper. “People who come from Jamaica to Canada have come in search of a better life and to contribute positively to our country and not live in fear of street gangs and criminals.
“That is one of the reasons why our government has worked so hard to bring in new legislation such as the safe streets and communities act. Citizens have a reasonable expectation that their government will protect them from crime regardless of whom they are or where they come from. I am pleased by the strong support our Conservative government has received from Jamaican Canadians for these measures to bring peace and security to our communities.”
On her first official visit to Canada since becoming Jamaica’s seventh Prime Minister last January, Simpson-Miller met with Harper in Ottawa on Monday morning before coming to Toronto later in the day.
The visit provided Harper with an opportunity to personally congratulate Simpson-Miller on Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary this year and for the two leaders to cement the diplomatic relations between the two countries established five decades ago.
“Our friendship is still inspired by the same benevolent spirit that animated Robert Sutherland,” said Harper, who visited Jamaica in 2009.
Jamaican-born Sutherland – the first Black graduate at a Canadian university and the first Black to pursue law studies in North America – was three years ago honoured by Queen’s University, whose board of trustees unanimously approved a student-initiated motion to name the university’s Policy Studies building after him.
Sutherland entered Queen’s in 1849, won 14 academic prizes and graduated in 1852 with honours in Classics and Math. After qualifying to practice Law, he settled in Walkerton, Ontario. He died in 1878 at age 48 and left his entire estate – $12,000 – to Queen’s which helped to place the university on a solid financial footing in the wake of a banking crisis that threatened its existence at the time.
Harper also pointed out that the close bond between Canada and Jamaica was founded on a rich and shared experience.
“Part of that experience is of course that for several decades now, large numbers of Jamaicans have made their lives in this city and elsewhere in the country,” said Harper. “Toronto and Canada are better for it.”
It’s estimated there are nearly 300,000 Jamaican nationals residing in Canada.
During their meeting in Ottawa, the two leaders recognized the strong people-to-people engagement of their countries, including increasing numbers of Canadian visitors to Jamaica as well as the valuable contributions Jamaicans are making in Canada.
“Canada has welcomed our people and allowed them to make a home for themselves and their families,” said Simpson-Miller. “In return, they – including the farmworkers who have contributed to the development of the agricultural sector – have given back enormously and repeatedly in a way that is worthy of our commendation. Anywhere in the world you go, you will find a Jamaican making a valuable contribution.”
She also noted that Jamaica has benefited significantly from Canadian technical assistance.
“We have been able to count on the ready and invaluable support of the Canadian government and people in the fields of education, health, local government, justice reform, disaster preparedness and relief and agriculture,” said Simpson-Miller. “Our military cooperation stands as an outstanding example to many.”
Jamaican soldiers underwent basic aviation training at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology at Canadian Forces Base Borden under a 27-year Military Assistance Training Program that concluded in October, 2010. Jamaicans now train at the state-of-the-art Jamaica Military Aviation School at Norman Manley International Airport, which was launched six years ago with Canadian assistance.
Last June, Canada and Jamaica signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of a Canadian Military Operation Support Hub to provide logistical support to routine operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.
During the 2011 hurricane season, Canada dispatched three Griffon helicopters and 65 Canadian Forces members to Jamaica to conduct search and rescue activities.
The Canadian and Jamaican leaders also pledged to promote greater bilateral trade and investment and to maintain their commitment to reducing trade barriers.
On his way to the JCA, Harper stopped at Queen’s Park to pay his respects to former Ontario Governor General, Lincoln Alexander, whose mother migrated from Jamaica.
“He was not just a great Canadian of Jamaican descent,” Harper said. “He was a man who throughout his career of public service was a role model to politicians of all backgrounds and indeed all political parties.”
Simpson-Miller, who previously served as PM five years ago, also paid tribute to Alexander.
“As part Jamaican, we are proud of him,” she said. “He distinguished himself and both of our countries by his personal and professional achievements. We all are poorer for the passing of this great gentleman.”