Malala Yousafzai will become Canada's sixth honorary citizen today, a rare gesture of respect for her bravery in overcoming a brutal Taliban attack to become a champion for girls' education around the world.
The 19-year-old Pakistan-born Nobel Peace Prize recipient will attend a formal ceremony in Ottawa before she delivers a 15-minute address in the House of Commons.
The speech is expected to begin at about 12 p.m. ET. CBC.ca will have live coverage of Yousafzai's arrival on the Hill and her address to Parliament.
Yousafzai was targeted by Taliban at age 15 for speaking out on the right for girls to learn and attend school.
She survived the attack by a masked gunman to become an international activist. After moving with her family to Birmingham, England, she founded the non-profit Malala Fund and co-authored the best-selling book I am Malala.
Named a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Yousafzai was the youngest person ever to earn the distinction. She was recently appointed as a UN Messenger of Peace by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the highest honour given by the world body.
Meeting with PM scheduled
Yousafzai will have a number of meetings during her visit to Ottawa, including one with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau called Yousafzai the "best ambassador" to speak about the importance of education for girls.
"I know that she is inspiring young girls here," she said. "I have friends who called me and said how they had the opportunity to read her history in class, and what she has done is really giving courage to our girls to really invest and be serious in their study, but also to work in terms of human rights."
Later in the afternoon, Yousafzai will meet with interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.
"Malala is a symbol of determination and hope for young girls around the world. She exemplifies so much of what it means to be Canadian: Bravery, conviction and a determination to stand up for those who need support," she said in a statement provided to CBC News.
The House of Commons unanimously supported granting the honorary citizenship on October 21, 2014 under the former Conservative government. But a ceremony scheduled in Toronto with then-prime minister Stephen Harper was abruptly cancelled due to the Parliament Hill shootings.
'Tenacity, strength of conviction'
Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, said Yousafzai underscores the "tenacity, strength of conviction and intelligence" that so many young women have to offer their communities and the world.
"Her presence in the House of Commons, just a month after Equal Voice brought together 338 Daughters of the Vote delegates to occupy that same space, shows how powerful young women's voices are at this juncture in our history, and how much we need those voices at the table if we are to thrive and prosper as a global community," she told CBC.
Only five people have been granted honorary Canadian citizenship:
- Karim Aga Khan, imam of the world's 15 million Shia Ismali Muslims and advocate for development, pluralism and tolerance around the world in 2010.
- Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese democracy advocate and Nobel laureate in 2007.
- Tenzin Gyatso, the current and 14th Dalai Lama in 2006.
- Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa in 2001.
- Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish diplomat noted for his actions during the Holocaust, granted posthumously in 1985.
Honorary citizenship is purely symbolic, and does not provide any rights, privileges or status such as special entry to the country, or the right to vote or hold a Canadian passport. Recipients are not held to any obligations or duties associated with Canadian citizenship.
No legal status
"Honorary citizenship is an extraordinary recognition conferred upon a recipient which does not confer legal status under the Citizenship Act," said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship spokeswoman Nancy Caron.
British media have reported that Yousafzai intends to attend university in the U.K. after finishing high school, applying to several prestigious schools including Oxford University and the London School of Economics.
Rehana Hashmi is a long-time human rights activist from Pakistan who is helping to organize a rally outside Parliament Hill on Wednesday promoting women's rights ahead of Yousafzai's ceremony. She met her before she was attacked, and described her as a "special child."
"I'm very excited that she is coming over here and that Canada is going to be her second home," she said.
Some students will be in the gallery in the House of Commons when Yousafzai delivers her speech, including 17-year-old Ottawa student Emma Boyes. She read her book and says it had a big impact on her life.