CIT­I­ZEN MALALA

School­girl whose ac­tivism in wake of a Tal­iban shoot­ing proved ‘a bul­let is no match for an idea’ is wel­comed to Ot­tawa with ado­ra­tion and an hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - BRUCE CAM­PION-SMITH AND ALEX BOUTILIER

Few new Cana­di­ans go right from a cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­mony to ad­dress­ing Par­lia­ment. But then few peo­ple are like Malala Yousafzai — a No­bel Peace Prize win­ner, a United Na­tions mes­sen­ger of peace, a global advocate for ed­u­ca­tion. And still just 19. The Pak­istani woman, who sur­vived a Tal­iban at­tack five years ago, daz­zled MPs and dig­ni­taries Wed­nes­day with a Par­lia­ment Hill speech sprin­kled with in­spi­ra­tion, hu­mour and a call for Canada to do more for global de­vel­op­ment.

The ado­ra­tion was ev­i­dent from the mo­ment Yousafzai en­tered the House of Com­mons cham­ber to a sus­tained stand­ing ova­tion.

In his in­tro­duc­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau hailed her as an “every­day” hero, the tar­get of an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt sim­ply for pro­mot­ing the rights of girls and women to at­tend school.

“As the world prayed while she re­cov­ered, we were re­minded that a bul­let is no match for an idea,” Trudeau said.

Just min­utes ear­lier, Yousafzai had been made an hon­orary Cana­dian cit­i­zen, just one of six to re­ceive the hon­our. It had been orig­i­nally an­nounced by the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment but de­layed, iron­i­cally, by a ter­ror at­tack here in Canada.

She had got­ten as far as the Toronto air­port in Oc­to­ber 2014 when word came of the mur­der of a sol­dier stand­ing guard at the Na­tional War Me­mo­rial and the at­tack on Par­lia­ment Hill, forc­ing the cer­e­mony to be post­poned.

Yousafzai high­lighted that in­ci­dent, say­ing that while the Ot­tawa at­tacker called him­self Mus­lim, “he did not share my faith.”

“I am a Mus­lim, and I be­lieve that if you pick up a gun in the name of Is­lam and kill an in­no­cent per­son, you are not Mus­lim any­more,” she said.

In­stead, she said the Ot­tawa as­sailant shared the ha­tred of all those who have per­pe­trated other at­tacks, such as the mur­ders in a Que­bec City mosque, the at­tack in Lon­don and even those who at­tempted to kill her.

Yousafzai praised Canada and said she was hum­bled by the hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship.

“Your motto and your stand ‘wel­come to Canada’ is more than a head­line or a hash­tag,” she said.

“It is the spirit of hu­man­ity that every sin­gle one of us would yearn for if our fam­ily was in cri­sis. I pray that you con­tinue to open your homes and your hearts to the world’s most de­fence­less chil­dren and fam­i­lies, and I hope your neigh­bours will fol­low your ex­am­ple,” she said.

Yousafzai won over her au­di­ence, not just with her mes­sage, but her hu­mour, too, re­lat­ing how peo­ple back home were ex­cited over the prospect of her meet­ing with Trudeau.

“They say that he is the sec­ond youngest prime min­is­ter in Canada in Cana­dian his­tory. He does yoga. He has tat­toos,” she said to laugh­ter.

As a young stu­dent in Pak­istan’s Swat Valley, she had ad­vo­cated for ed­u­ca­tion, which put her in the crosshairs of the Tal­iban.

Her mother, who was present for the speech along with her fa­ther, wiped away tears as Yousafzai re­lated her fears and how the fam­ily kept a lad­der propped against the back of the house in case they needed to make a quick es­cape.

“I felt fear when I went to school think­ing that some­one would stop me and harm me. I would hide my books un­der my scarf,” she said.

Those fears proved jus­ti­fied. In Oc­to­ber 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head by Tal­iban gun­men as she was rid­ing the bus home from school.

But the at­tack did not de­ter Yousafzai in her cam­paign, one that she con­tin­ued Wed­nes­day with a mes­sage to Cana­dian politi­cians that the an­swer to any of the world’s most chal­leng­ing prob­lems — con­flict, eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, cli­mate change — lies in the ed­u­ca­tion of girls.

“I can tell you that the an­swer is girls. Sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion can trans­form com­mu­ni­ties, coun­tries and our world,” she said. “Ed­u­ca­tion is vi­tal to the se­cu­rity of the world be­cause ex­trem­ism grows along­side in­equal­ity, in places where peo­ple feel they have no op­por­tu­nity, no voice, no hope,” she said.

She im­plored Canada to take a lead­er­ship role and make girls’ ed­u­ca­tion the cen­tre­piece of its pres­i­dency of the G7 next year, with a spe­cial fo­cus on refugee chil­dren.

“The world needs lead­er­ship based on serv­ing hu­man­ity, not based on how many weapons you have. Canada can take that lead,” Yousafzai said.

“Use your in­flu­ence to fill the global ed­u­ca­tion funding gap,” she said.

“To­day, only a quar­ter of refugee chil­dren can get sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. We should not ask chil­dren who flee their homes to also give up their dreams,” she said.

She had a mes­sage for young peo- ple, say­ing don’t wait to be a leader. “I have learned that even a child’s voice can be heard across the world,” she said. And she urged young women in Canada to “step for­ward, raise your voices,” adding, “the next time I visit, I hope to see more of you fill­ing these seats.”

As Yousafzai fin­ished her speech, an im­promptu ren­di­tion of “O Canada” be­gan in a cor­ner and then filled the cham­ber as oth­ers chimed in.

“I pray that you con­tinue to open your homes and your hearts to the world’s most de­fence­less chil­dren and fam­i­lies.”

MALALA YOUSAFZAI NO­BEL PEACE PRIZE WIN­NER

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Malala Yousafzai is pre­sented with an hon­orary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship Wed­nes­day by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Malala Yousafzai greets sup­port­ers as she walks through the Hall of Hon­our with Trudeau. She is only the sixth per­son to re­ceive the hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship.

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