The first annual 6 Degrees Citizen Space forum was held from September 19–21, bringing together politicians, business leaders, writers, scholars, artists, and activists to discuss inclusion and citizenship.

The conference was started by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), a non-profit organization founded by political philosopher John Ralston Saul and former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson.

Activist and journalist Naomi Klein was the keynote speaker for the opening event at the 14th annual Lafontaine-Baldwin Lecture at Koerner Hall. This was followed by the “360” discussions at the Art Gallery of Ontario that took place over the following two days.

Under 6 Degree’s 360 discussion format, one host would moderate the discussion along with four “framers” on stage, while inviting interjections from four “interveners” sitting in the audience. Three questions or comments from other audience members would follow.

360: Inclusion was the first discussion in this format and focused on thinking about Canada as “an experiment in inclusion.” This discussion was hosted by Clarkson and included speakers such as Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Nenshi recalled the photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian child who was found dead on a beach in Turkey.

“That photo changed the world in many ways but it particularly hit Canadians hard. And it hit us hard because of course Alan Kurdi’s family, if you’ll recall, was in Vancouver,” he said. “On the day we saw that photo in the middle of the hotly contested election, Canadians by-and-large thought, ‘well that should’ve been that child’s first day of kindergarten in Vancouver. What have we done wrong? How have we failed as a nation?’”

The discussion on the refugee crisis continued with 360: Exodus, hosted by Saul.

“In spite of what’s written dominantly in the West, this is not a European crisis. This is not about Europe,” said Saul. “It’s amazing how the West makes everything in the world about them. This is not about us.”

U of T professor Brenda Cossman, who serves as Director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, was one of the interveners for the Exodus panel.

Cossman adopted a “gendered lens” when looking at the refugee crisis and explained the unique challenges that migrant women face, including “the extreme forms of risk of sexual and gendered violence that women face in the camps, that women face in transit, that women face once they arrive at wherever they arrive to.”

“Whether it is the sexual and reproductive health challenges that they may face, it’s unimaginably difficult for most of us to imagine walking across the dessert or being in the boats. Imagine doing that while seven months pregnant or while having your period with hundreds of other people with you,” Cossman continued.

The forum also included a free concert from A Tribe Called Red, a First Nations electronic music group, at the Golding Centre for High Performance Sport. On the final day of the forum, ICC CEO Charlie Foran was the host for 360: Prosperity, a discussion on the economic impact of immigration. The forum concluded with the awarding of the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship to the Aga Khan Museum.

Next year’s 6 Degrees conference has been planned for September 25–27, 2017.

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