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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michëlle Jean - Speech on the Occasion of the State Luncheon Hosted by His Excellency Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria

At last, I've made it to Africa. I have been waiting for this moment my entire life. For me, as a Black woman, this continent where I now find myself, speaking to you for the very first time, is where it all began.

My ancestors were torn from their lives, stripped of themselves, of their language, their name, their memory, their history, of their basic dignity as women and men, and were reduced to slavery and deported to the Americas. I was born in Haiti, where, after enduring three centuries of dehumanizing trade, the slaves were the first to break their chains.

This trip is especially meaningful and emotional for me. And I am delighted that my first State visits have brought me to this continent, to which I feel forever bound by history, by heart, and by blood.

And I couldn't be happier to begin this African jouney here, in the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria. I have come to share with you, the people of Algeria, the friendship of all Canadians.

The ties that bind our two countries are many and are particularly visible in Quebec, where I put down roots in Canada. It is also the place where I had the opportunity to interview you, Excellency, when I was a journalist on public television.

I still have fond memories of your open and honest answers. At that time, you invited me to visit your country.

And so here I am in Algeria. In your magnificent capital city, Alger la blanche ["Algiers the White"], where can be found the seaside and the Kasbah, which I have been so anxious to discover. That dazzling light that [translation] "asks that one profess lucidity as one would profess faith," as Camus wrote.

In the people of Algiers, I immediately recognized a people rich in culture, proud of their achievements and resolutely committed to respecting the values of tolerance, peace, dialogue and civilization as bastions against barbarism.

I know. I know the devastation that the Algerian people have suffered since the "decade of blood," and I applaud their courage and determination to focus on the forces of life.

Excellency, your fellow citizens have overwhelmingly supported your plan for national reconciliation, marking a decisive step toward a better future and the prosperity of Algeria.

Canada will stand by the Algerian people as they build social peace and foster the conditions needed to ensure stability, without which a country cannot thrive in the concert of nations.

The scars run deep. Villages, neighbourhoods, schools, lives will have to be rebuilt. Large-scale infrastructure projects are underway, some involving the partnership of Canadian engineering firms.

Whether constructing thermal combined-cycle power plants, implementing a water system from the Taksebt dam, or supervising the construction of the Algiers Grand Mosque, Canada is proud to play a part in the rebirth of Algeria.

Cooperation between our two countries is stronger than ever. For many years now, Algeria has been Canada's leading trade partner in Africa and the Middle East. In 2005, total imports and exports reached nearly $4.5 billion.

But beyond these figures, I believe that what is most important, what is fundamental even, is the example that Algeria has set for all African countries seeking to move toward prosperity and maximize investment and development opportunities.

Algeria is a founding member of the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Canada is pleased that you, Excellency, have made this initiative a priority and a cornerstone of diplomacy in the region and throughout the world. It is a role that we greatly encourage you to pursue. It is a critical responsibility–the future of the people of Africa depends on it.

In recent years, there have been many high-level visits between our two countries, which last year marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. You yourself, Excellency, made a State visit to Canada in 2000 and hosted Prime Minister Chrétien in 2002. You met again at the 2002 G8 Summit in Kananaskis and at the Francophonie summits in Beirut and Ouagadougou.

As we are members of the large family of countries that share French as a common language, I would like to extend an invitation to you. July 3, 2008, will mark the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, the cradle of French civilization in North America and a UNESCO world heritage site. Some 50 000 Algerians have settled in Canada, largely in the greater Montreal area, and will no doubt take part in the festivities. We invite you to join us in celebrating this important date in the history of Canada and the Americas.

I also wish to point out that, in recent years, Algeria has supported international initiatives led by Canada, including the signing and ratification of the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Landmines, and even destroyed its remaining stock during a ceremony held in November 2005. Such an indisputable gesture toward world peace is a credit to you.

Canada is also delighted to see Algeria and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation working together to fight terrorism.

Since 2000, the Canadian International Development Agency program in Algeria has intensified. Three key areas of support have been identified: vocational training, local initiatives and civil society. For Canada, economic prosperity is inextricably linked to the promotion of human rights and freedoms.

Which is why over 180 activities supported by the Canadian International Development Agency throughout 80 percent of the country back the day-to-day, constructive efforts of women and men, communities and associations.

And now, if I may, I would like to pay tribute to the women of Algeria. Last year, at the Salon du livre de Montréal, Yasmina Khadra, Algerian author and guest of honour, explained to my fellow Canadians that Algerian women had been [translation] "more courageous than the West itself in standing up to fundamentalism."

As a journalist, it was with great admiration that I watched the women of your country resist. The battle they waged, often risking their lives, in the name of justice and freedom goes well beyond your borders, reaching out to all of humanity itself.

I am deeply moved to be able to stand before you now and honour the infinite generosity and immense courage of my Algerian sisters. These women have shown us that obscurantism cannot prevail. The [translation] "spark of thought," to borrow Senghor's beautiful imagery, that they ignited in our hearts will forever burn like a blaze of hope throughout the world.

I am eagerly looking forward to meeting with your fellow citizens, Excellency. Over the next few days, I will have the privilege of meeting parliamentarians, leaders, artists, women, youth, and entrepreneurs who embody the very best of modern-day Algeria. Know that I will remember each hand held out to me, each look, each word spoken and that I will share them with Canadians.

I feel at home here with you at the gateway to Africa, of which I have dreamed for so long. This journey that I have begun with you is a voyage for the fellowship of mankind. Let us never forget, as Frantz Fanon, my West Indian brother, so eloquently put it, that we have [translation] "but one duty, and that is to never give up our freedom by the choices we make."

Please accept, Excellency, my best wishes for happiness and the assurances of the warm bonds of friendship extended by all Canadians.

Michëlle Jean - Secretary General of Canada

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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