Office of the President

Andrew Petter, President and Vice-Chancellor

Petter's Perspective: Notes from the President

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The power and purpose of remembrance

November 08, 2019

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana

Memory is a powerful instrument, capable of evoking severe anguish and soothing relief, sometimes in the same instance. The price for keeping memories alive can be high, but the price for forgetting them can be infinitely higher.

It may be tempting, for example, to take for granted the entitlements we enjoy as Canadians – such as freedom of speech, the right to vote, and the right to practice our religion and culture.

Remembrance Day reminds us that these and other rights and freedoms were hard-won by generations before us, and calls upon us to remain vigilant in our efforts to protect them. 

While we associate Remembrance Day with the last century’s World Wars, the values and ideals fought for during those conflicts remain as relevant and important today as ever.

We need only look to the rise of nativism and authoritarianism around the world to be reminded of the continuing threat posed by the forces of racism, oppression and xenophobia.

Even in Canada, much work remains to counter prejudice and discrimination, and to repair the damage inflicted on Indigenous peoples by the residential school system and other vestiges of our colonialist past.

Memory can be our moral tutor. Recalling and recognizing the wrongs of the past can enable us to heal old wounds and empower us to build a brighter future.

For these reasons and more, remembering is a powerful thing — it draws something from the past and makes it relevant to the present and the future.

So this Remembrance Day we dare not forget our predecessors who struggled and died to protect our freedoms. Let us honour them by renewing our commitment to protect the rights for which they fought, and by strengthening our determination to make further progress in advancing justice for all.