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Dear Malala

Dear Malala,

Congratulations on your newfound honorary citizenship. You have spoken highly of our country and pushed for a powerful agenda regarding women’s rights and their access to education. Here are a couple of things to bear in mind, now that you’re one of us and all.

In French, we like to say “mais, là, là,” which means “oh, come on.” We are not constantly calling your name.

If you’re in Vancouver, buy a raincoat. When you visit the red sands of Prince Edward Island, find a church basement in a little town called Cavendish for the most scrumptious lobster feast you will ever devour. Layover in Montreal? Pas de problème - try poutine and smoked meat sandwiches. Should you make the brave decision of staying in Ottawa, learn to shovel driveways. It’s a pretty big deal out here. As an FYI; it’s aboot, not about.

This goes without saying, but if you get a job remember the taxes. They’re pretty serious about that stuff at the Canadian Revenue Agency. Finally, Canucks like to ask, “how are you?” all the time. It takes some getting used to, but it’s nice. Even if you’re having an off day, respond with a gentle “well, thanks, how are you?” - it keeps things moving.

It’s important you know that to be Canadian means to support the efforts towards peaceful pluralism - our diversity is our greatest strength, but regrettably, one of our biggest challenges. It also means that you are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are millions of things that make us, Us. You’ll have the rest of your life to figure them out.

On the other hand, to be Canadian is also to be aware of the things we haven’t got right, such as our treatment of indigenous peoples. Many of their communities lack quality education and carry our nation’s highest suicide rates. We welcome your voice. Many others have no access to clean drinking water. You mentioned refugees without education: let’s help them out, but let’s not also forget about our friends here.

While your speech was inspirational, you forgot to go over the responsibilities that come with your passport, so let’s hash out a couple’a details.

Photo taken on Parliament Hill by Diego Alvarado

Now that you are a Canadian, it is your duty as a citizen to uphold the freedoms, values and rights we have guaranteed in our constitution. If you’re vouching for education, fight here, too. Not just with the Malala Fund, but as an activist, speaker, and global influencer. The police are pretty cool with you holding signage and demonstrating on the Hill. You can play frisbee there and do yoga, too.

If you’re fighting for women’s rights, do so here as well. You never mentioned this (why would you?), but on a list of best countries in the world for women, Canada ranks 35th. That’s a big fall for us and a lesser score than the one when you were scheduled to visit last. That meeting would’ve been with Mr. Harper. Many say his arctic blue eyes were very endearing. Guess you’ll never know.

It is also your duty to contribute. Your speech was OK, but you had me wondering how the government would have responded had I started my citizenship with a monologue filled with instructions on the country’s obligation to global leadership. I guess you still have a lot to learn - it was your first day, after all.

Your pedestal was high, your message powerful, and I support your meaningful journey. You shared encouraging thoughts, but remember that girls here don’t have equal opportunities, either.

Don’t overlook one of the best countries in the world. Be patient with our system and speak to our citizens. Don’t always seek to be heard. Listen and take advice; speeches written by your communications staff do not suffice. Do your best to teach our people about what you’ve been through so that no child has to relive the same.

“The world needs leadership based on humanity - not based on how many weapons you have. Canada can take that lead.” Well said. Yes, we can. And Malala, one more thing: welcome to Canada.

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