National Down Syndrome Awareness Week

Honourable senators, since Canadians can’t see us, I just tweeted: “Beautiful tributes to our Senate Speaker, Noël Kinsella. The Speaker retires today. He was always fair. A believer in human rights.” At least we can tweet our message to Canadians.

Speaking of human rights, one week this month was National Down Syndrome Awareness Week, and I would like to speak about those with Down syndrome and their families. Timing is not nearly as important as celebrating special people within our lives and our country, so I’m pleased to deliver my statement today.

About 1 in 100 babies in Canada is born with Down syndrome. This makes for a lot of people, each with their own unique experiences and stories of growth, determination and individual expression.

I wonder if any of you have noticed the striking billboards for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. It’s the See the Ability campaign. One of my many favourites has a beautiful picture of a real family with a young mother, her little boy, and little girl with Down syndrome, and all three are laughing and painting together. The slogan is: “She teaches us to paint outside the lines.”

Down syndrome is not a disease, disorder, defect or medical condition. People with Down syndrome work, volunteer, are athletes and artists.

There was one Special Olympics with a young man you will see on television where he is pumping weights, and he’s yelling out: “Show me the money! Show me the money! Show me the money!” And at the end he says: “It’s not about the money.”

I was dancing the other night with Down syndrome athletes until two o’clock in the morning at the Royal York Hotel at our special awards ceremony last week, and that was really rewarding.

I’m fortunate to have facets in life that bring me in regular contact with people with Down syndrome. Special Olympics Canada, for example, transforms lives and changes social attitudes simply by uniting people through sport. Training, competing and achieving goals are experiences that capture our attention and that we connect with. They ignite a distinct passion within all of us, a passion for those moments when discipline, hard work and focus come together.

Speaking of the Senate, most of you know there is a young man on my team. He’s been with me now four years, and he’s worked every Wednesday. He has Down syndrome. Michael Trinque. He works in my office one day a week. Wednesday is his day, and it has come to be my day, too, to regain perspective on what matters most in life thanks to Michael’s enthusiasm about work, sense of humour and observations about this place. He is a special young man.

You will remember, Mr. Speaker, he sang O Canada at your summer lunch in the East Block courtyard. His birthday is next week, and his favourite song is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, and he is one of the Senate’s angels.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, as you and most senators know, my wife and I had a son named Timmy who had Down syndrome. He would be 46 now, but he passed away of pneumonia at the age of one. Timmy has been the inspiration of everything I do and will do in the Senate.

I am fortunate to have people in my life who teach me new things and remind me of what matters most. This is a rare and marvellous ability. I know this, see this and am grateful for this, and that is why I pay tribute today to people in our country with Down syndrome.