A conversation with Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire

National News

Dallaire receives UVic’s first Public Humanist Award, shares thoughts on activism

Provided photo by Chorong Kim, UVic Faculty of Humanities.

“I heard there was a party,” said Roméo Dallaire, retired Lieutenant-General, former Canadian senator, and bestselling author, as he arrived at the Baumann Centre in Victoria on the night of March 15. Brushing elbows with the gathered alumni and academics of UVic, Dallaire had a dignified yet convivial manner — unmistakable as the guest of honour at UVic’s inaugural Humanitas Awards.

UVic’s Department of Humanities honoured Dallaire as the first recipient of their Public Humanist award for his role as the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission during the Rwandan Genocide and continued work as an international humanitarian.

Also recognized were science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, who posthumously received the Historic Humanist Award, and UVic alumna Ashli Atkins, presented with the Emerging Humanist Award.

In addition to delivering a powerful keynote address, Dallaire mingled with the gathered members of the UVic community to shake hands and share his insight.

Dallaire took a moment at the end of the evening for an exclusive interview with the Martlet, where he shared his feelings on the Humanitas awards, activism, and something he believes should be a post-graduation right of passage.

The Martlet: You’ve received numerous awards including the Pearson Medal of Peace and Canada’s World Peace Award, and your time is surely very in demand — is there something that allowed you to come and honour us here by accepting this award in Victoria tonight?

Roméo Dallaire: I did speak last night in Vancouver, and so it made it a bit easier. But, you know, the west coast is special. It’s special because [people from the West Coast] can bring a lot of special stuff to Canada — so come across those damn Rockies and influence the rest of Canada!

Given your experience in international leadership and considering the context of today’s Global Student Climate Strike in Victoria, to what extent do you feel students and universities have the potential to impact Canadian and international politics?

Massively — if they only got off their butt and did it. Only [with] the fervour of commitment to activism for these human dimension causes will you actually have an impact.

What do you feel has been one of the most fulfilling decisions you have made in your career as a representative of Canada?

Doing my job as a General.

How best do you feel young people can make a positive difference in the world?

By their engagement and commitment to something beyond their pure discipline or profession or studies — do that, but then go beyond it and commit yourself to things like creating or joining a non-governmental organization. I believe that there should be a right of passage after high school or an undergraduate degree, that underneath every Canadian’s bed … there’s a pair of boots or sneakers that were soiled on the earth of a developing country. Go and see, hear, taste, touch, feel, smell what 80 per cent of humanity is living and bring that back here.

How does it feel to be the very first recipient of the UVic Faculty of Humanities’ Public Humanist award?

As a General should be — fine. Thank you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and style.