After more than a decade in the works, the Global Centre for Pluralism officially opened its new global headquarters on Tuesday in Ottawa in a ceremony with Governor General David Johnston and His Highness the Aga Khan.
Meant as a place for research and dialogue about the value of diversity in our world, the Centre “is inspired by Canada’s experience as a multi-ethnic country that is committed to valuing diversity as a strength,” John McNee, Secretary General of the Centre, said in a release.
Formerly the Public Archives of Canada (1905-67) and Canadian War Museum (1967-2005), the newly restored building at 330 Sussex Drive was an initiative of His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader and 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims, in a public-private partnership with the Government of Canada.
“The Centre has been, from the start, a true partnership – a breakthrough partnership,” the Aga Khan said at the opening ceremony.
Each of Canada’s past four Prime Ministers has had a hand in making the Centre come to life, the Aga Khan said, dating back to when it was first discussed with Jean Chretien.
It wasn’t until October 2006 when the Canadian government signed the official agreement to provide funds for the Centre through an endowment seeded with $30 million from the federal government and $10 million from the Aga Khan Development Network. But construction and renovation costs ended up increasing the Aga Khan’s investment to $35 million by the time it was complete.
“Let me emphasize a point about the concept of pluralism that is sometimes misunderstood,” the Aga Khan said. “Connection does not necessarily mean agreement. It does not mean that we want to eliminate our differences or erase our distinctions. Far from it. What it does mean is that we connect with one another in order to learn from one another, and to build our future together.”
“Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference. Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strengthens it. In an ever-shrinking, ever more diverse world, a genuine sense of pluralism is the indispensable foundation for human peace and progress.”
However, despite the progress the Aga Khan was not naive to the challenges that society faces today.
“We also recognize the growing challenges to our mission,” he said. “In responding to these challenges, the Global Centre for Pluralism has planned a variety of new initiatives,” including awards to celebrate pluralism around the world along with new publications on the topic.
“The answer is as straightforward as it is urgent,” Johnston said at the opening. “Pluralism is critical to the long-term peace and prosperity of societies worldwide. Without a commitment to pluralism, diversity can too easily become a source of conflict and division.”
Telling compelling stories and finding ways to allow them to unfold is the key to prevent conflicts and divisions to occur, Johnston said.
“If diversity is to be asset and not a liability, we must allow diverse peoples to reach their full potential and to contribute as full and equal partners in our society. We must empower people to succeed… In other words, we must be inclusive.”
“Canada is a constantly evolving experiment in inclusiveness and making pluralism work. This is what positions us to tell the pluralism story not just here in Canada, but around the world. And that is why your work at the Global Centre for Pluralism is so essential both for the Canadian experiment and for the capacity of people everywhere to live with difference–to live pluralism.”