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The World is watching how we as a nation -- as a society -- support the development of sustainable communities, and how we promote human rights. They're watching how we're moving forward with some of the emerging social issues of our time, such as same-sex marriage and the rights of Transgender individuals.

 

 

 

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Adovcacy News - CIBC is banking on dignity and respect

August 12, 2004

CIBC is banking on dignity and respect
The "world is watching ... turning point in history"

We were honoured to speak at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce on June 21, 2004 at CIBC's first Pride reception. Hosted by Chairman John Hunkin for CIBC employees, the event on the top floor of the bank's Toronto tower included honoured guests from a wide spectrum. Gay rights activist George Hislop chatted with Toronto Pride representatives, City Councillor Kyle Rae mingled with John Tory, the person most likely to be the next leader of Ontario's Conservative Party. Rev. Brent Hawkes (MCC Toronto) greeted Marlene Morais from PFLAG. The left and the right, secular and religious, salaried and wealthy, all gathered together by CIBC to celebrate a common ground and goal: dignity and respect.

With great appreciation, we include John Hunkin's speaking notes from the day:

I am very pleased to be able to join you all here today to recognize the diversity of our employee complement and to kick off Toronto's Gay Pride Week Celebrations. This event is about dignity and respect. It's a chance to celebrate the contributions of individuals who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (L-G-B-T), and who are a very vital part of the communities in which we all live and work.

I'd also like to recognize the new employee-led CIBC Pride Network. This active group of individuals, from all lines of business in the Bank, and from among all employee levels, has organized a new forum for all of CIBC's L-G-B-T employees, and I'm told it's among the first of its kind in the Canadian banking industry.

In an era of increasing global competition, it makes absolute business sense to embrace individual differences….. and to be inclusive in the way we do things.

CIBC has a long history of supporting employee diversity. Through its diversity and employment equity initiatives, we regularly promote the celebration of differences among all employees. For example, CIBC became the first Canadian corporation to dedicate an entire month to the celebration of employee diversity - and we do that every year during the month of June. Now in its 12th year, CIBC's "Diversity Month" is widely heralded as an exemplary corporate commitment to recognizing and promoting individual differences.

CIBC also has a long history of supporting the Gay & Lesbian Community.

In the mid-1990s, for example, CIBC made same-sex benefits available to its employees well before employers across Canada were legally obligated to do so. By that time, I was the head of CIBC World Markets, and we had already implemented same-sex benefits for our employees before it was offered throughout the rest of the bank.

To me, it's simple: It is the right thing to do. And it also makes good business sense if you want to be the employer of choice. So why would we not recognize the unique contributions that employee differences bring to the table?

CIBC also had an opportunity to play a role, albeit a small one, in the legal battle for same-sex marriage. As the employer of Joe Varnell and former employee Kevin Bourassa, we are pleased that as they embarked on their legal challenge to the common law definition of marriage, they received the support, encouragement and flexibility they needed from managers, colleagues and specialist groups at CIBC. Through the courageous efforts of these two individuals, they became the first legally married same-sex couple - in the world.

I'll let Joe and Kevin tell their own story, but I want to say I'm proud that CIBC was able to provide support to their efforts. Congratulations to both of you. You've also made a significant contribution to creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for L-G-B-T employees at CIBC.

CIBC has also been a major donor to a number of L-G-B-T-related organizations over the years, including Casey House, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Fashion Cares, and CANFAR (the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research), to name just a few.

We've also worked to sensitize the workplace and create an inclusive environment for Transgender employees. Part of being an employer of choice involves the recognition of human differences. And mutual respect & understanding are the keys to a healthy work environment.

CIBC has also been a proud part of the community. For the past two years, our employees have marched under the CIBC banner at Toronto's Pride Parade.

The 2002 event marked CIBC's first foray into this annual celebration, with a modest representation of about a dozen employees. In 2003, this number quadrupled to approximately 50 CIBC employees, friends and family members. CIBC employees even participated in Halifax's Pride Parade for the first time last year, and our employees are now planning to represent CIBC in many more parades across the country over this "Pride Season".

I want to specifically thank Sam Selvaggio and the Diversity Committee at Telephone Banking for organizing that effort on behalf of CIBC employees. Thank you Sam.

As a corporation, we highlighted our participation in Toronto's Pride Parade last year in our Public Accountability Statement, which reflects CIBC's ongoing commitment to strong governance and community development. This document is widely distributed, not only to our shareholders, but also to public sector leaders

In 2002, our Public Accountability Statement was cited by the United Nations as "an excellent example of public disclosure". And what this says to me is that: the World is watching.

The World is watching how we as a nation -- as a society -- support the development of sustainable communities, and how we promote human rights. They're watching how we're moving forward with some of the emerging social issues of our time, such as same-sex marriage and the rights of Transgender individuals.

But there's more to this than meets the eye. It represents a turning point in human history - one that recognizes the fundamental dignity and inherent right of individuals to live their lives as they determine - and as full participants in society.

We've come a long way in recognizing that "it matters" when employees are fully engaged in the workplace and don't have to hide the characteristics that make them human. There's still a lot that can be done, but events such as these signal that we're serious about creating inclusive work environments.

And for this progress, we should be proud. In essence, this is what Pride celebrations are all about. Pride is a time for the diversity of the Gay & Lesbian Community to be seen and heard. Fundamentally, Gay Pride is a statement of self-acceptance, dignity and self-determination. It signifies that individuals are claiming their legitimate identity, and celebrating what really matters in life.

I know that this year's theme for Toronto's Pride Parade is "Bursting with Fruit Flavours". . . .

I have heard from a number of colleagues that, whatever the theme of a particular parade, their favourite moment is the show of support from "Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays" - or PFLAG. There's little doubt that "coming out" can be a painful and isolating process for some individuals, and it can be difficult for their families and friends as well. Most people have heard about someone whose "coming out" story involved hostility or rejection by families or friends.

PFLAG offers a beacon of light in that otherwise hostile world. In many different ways, PFLAG offers the necessary support to parents, siblings, friends, and the community at large. I understand that PFLAG has "surrogate parents" on Pride Day every year, dispensing parental hugs to anyone who needs one.

Wouldn't it be great if everybody could have parents and friends who were as understanding and supportive as those in PFLAG?

But PFLAG has also done some pioneering work in raising awareness of sexual orientation issues and pushing for a broader societal understanding of human differences. The effect of their work has a far-reaching impact in promoting positive environments for Gay & Lesbian youth especially.

More importantly, PFLAG demonstrates that you don't have to be gay to be a supporter of the community. This is critical work toward promoting diversity and in building welcoming, inclusive communities.

On behalf of CIBC I'd like to honour the work of PFLAG Canada with a modest donation, which I hope will further the cause of promoting equality and diversity in our communities.

I'm going to ask Marlene Morais from PFLAG to say a few words, but let me close by saying that I want you all to enjoy this week's Pride celebrations and I hope you'll march under the CIBC banner during the various Pride Parades going on across the country.

And when you see the members of PFLAG there, remember the important work that they do -- and thank them, maybe even give them a hug, for the great work they're doing.

Thank you.


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