6 Degrees Toronto: the urgent need to rethink a more inclusive world

This second edition brings together authors and activists, artists and academics to think out loud over inclusion and active citizenship. Canadian writer Margaret Atwood; the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei or American philosopher Michael Sandel among the participants.

The first edition of 6 Degrees was held last year in Toronto. About 5,000 people attended all the events. Photo by 6 Degrees

The second edition of 6 Degrees will be held in Toronto between September 25 and 27. This initiative drives a global conversation on citizenship. It´s about connection, conversation, artistic representation and the power that comes from bringing engaged people together. It counters rising nativism and exclusion, and instead, invites everyone to find a place into an inclusive space. The key areas of 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 will be “Walls, Bridges and Homes”. At a time when nationalist and xenophobic discourses are growing, the idea of talking about an open and caring world seems a dare. But a necessary dare. Behind 6 Degrees are two of Canada’s most respected intellectuals and thinkers: Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada; and John Ralston Saul, an award-winning essayist and novelist. Both are founders of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC).

Among the about 50 participants in this edition are the prestigious Canadian writer Margaret Atwood; Marcelo Ebrard, former Mayor of Mexico City and President of the UN Global Network on Safer Cities; and Tara Denham, Director of the Democracy Unit at Global Affairs Canada, which includes the Digital Inclusion Lab.

In addition, one of the most notable presence will be Ai Weiwei, who has been widely recognized as the most influential Chinese artist of recent decades. Not only for his work which includes many techniques such as sculpture, painting, installation, photography, film, music and architecture, but for his outstanding role as an activist. It was because of his activism that Ai Weiwei was persecuted and detained, spending 81 consecutive days under arrest without official charges. Ai Weiwei will accept the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship. This visionary Chinese artist and activist will discuss his complicated life and controversial work with Adrienne Clarkson.

In this interview we talk about the second edition of 6 Degrees Toronto with its director, Mexican Alain Pescador.

Mexican Alain Pescador, 6 Degrees director. Photo by XQuadra Media

Citizenship and inclusion were the cornerstones in the first edition of 6Degrees celebrated last year. This year you are raising a disturbing question: Does democracy have a future? Are we really facing a risk of irreversible deterioration of the model of democracy built after the Second World War?

The main themes of 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 are Walls, Bridges and Homes. However, you are quite right as the opening session of 6 Degrees is the LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture that will be presented by Harvard’s laureate philosopher Michael Sandel. His conference will analyze the future of democracy, which, as your question raises, goes through a stage of enormous fragility.

The current model of democracy is focused on periods of elections that push our leaders to focus their efforts on the strategies of the next election campaign instead of concentrating their energy and political will to develop public initiatives that benefit the citizens. In addition, we live in a period in which there is an abnormal dissatisfaction with our leaders and that causes abnormal reactions in the way we make use of our rights as citizens. A clear example of this is the low level of electoral participation in much of the world, when voting is one of the fundamental tools of a positive democracy.

What are the main risks and threats facing the idea of democracy as a model for the development of inclusive and supportive societies?

I would say the main risk is the return of what my former boss and mentor, John Ralston Saul, calls “negative nationalism”. An ideology mainly followed by the radical right, an idea grounded on a system that has replaced leadership with managerialism, and one that has allowed for public assets to be fed directly to the hands of the oligarchs, squeezing the middle classes and widening the gap between the poor and the very rich.

It is this negative nationalism that has pushed our societies to further descent into fear, and has allowed for the development of a successful breeding ground of ideas and people that are hostile to immigration and that cannot accept the reality of our diverse world.

Andreas Souvaliotis, Founder and CEO of Carrot Insights; John Ralston Saul; and Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines at Air Canada. Photo by 6 Degrees

How was the experience of the first edition of 6 Degrees? What lessons did you draw from that your team have been able to apply in this new  edition?

6 Degrees was created months before the world woke up to the reality of a global refugee crisis. We began to develop this global platform of inclusion and citizenship with the intention of creating ideas for a more inclusive future. The first edition of 6 Degrees was a great success, impacting the minds of more than five thousand people, from 28 countries, who were present in Toronto in the different events of this initiative.

One of the things we learned last year was how important and necessary it is to have an initiative like 6 Degrees. As a result, in 2017 we return with a much more dynamic and interesting program, and with the intention of foster real initiatives to solve real problems.

More on this story: Alain Pescador, el arte de la diplomacia

You talked about the threat that was looming over the world with Trump’s irruption into the American presidential race in the interview we did with you a year ago. Today, he is the president of the United States. How has this unexpected event influenced the second edition of 6Degrees and the theme of debate and reflection chosen for this event?

Trump’s arrival has encouraged us to focus one of the three themes on Walls. The famous and, to the moment failed, Trump wall, of course, or some of the other walls that continue to go up in other parts of the world, like the barb wire fences in eastern Europe that are preventing refugees from seeking a better future in the mainland parts of the continent. But there are also those metaphorical walls that exist in our society, systemic racism for example, that exclude people and divide our societies.

What is the profile of the panelists that will participate this year?

For only a second edition, I would not have guessed that we would be able to gather the people we have for this 6 Degrees 2017. Our lineup of speakers is extremely diverse, with doers and thinkers that are driving important and innovative solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time. Take for example Regina Catrambone, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Migrant Offshroe Aid Station (MOAS), the Malta-based search and rescue organization that aims to ensure that no refugees are losing their lives at sea.  Regina will be coming to Toronto straight from Bangladesh where MOAS is setting up an operation to assist with the Rohingya refugee crisis that has seen the fleeing of close to 154,000 refugees since last August.

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and activist renowned for his strong aesthetic statements that resonate with timely phenomena across today’s geopolitical world.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, likely one of the most influential worldwide, will receive the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship 2017. Why this choice?

I’ve been a long-time admirer of Ai Weiwei’s work and, in December of 2015, during a volunteering trip I did to the Greek island of Lesvos, I had an opportunity to meet him and his team while they were filming his recently released film Human Flow.

Human Flow, filmed in 23 countries, depicts the personal and political impact of the global refugee crisis, and is an example of the kind of art that Ai Weiwei has been doing for decades.  Ai Weiwei’s remarkable career has been characterized by boldness, vision, daring, and a deep empathy for ordinary lives. Through art, words, actions and results, he has encouraged thought and dialogue, approaches and strategies that strive to remove barriers, change attitudes, and reinforce the principles of tolerance and respect.

For those and many other reasons, the Co-Chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), The Rt, Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, has decided to award Ai Weiwei with her annual Prize for Global Citizenship.

Finally, tell us about the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, the organization founded by Adrianne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul which is behind 6 Degrees. What are your goals and how do you value the work done so far?

Our goal is very simple. Develop projects and initiatives that inspire inclusion, and create opportunities to foster active and responsible citizenship. At this time, I believe that the ICC is one of the most necessary organizations in the Canadian context but also at the global level. Every action taken by the ICC affects the lives of a large number of people. The contribution of the ICC are not grains, but tons of sand.


Monday, September 25

10:30-11:30 am

ICC Citizenship Ceremony

TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, Koerner Hall

1:00-2:30 pm

Leadership Lunch with Tyler Brûlé, The Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin & The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson

Art Gallery of Ontario

7:30-9:30 pm

15th LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture by Michael Sandel

TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, Koerner Hall

Does Democracy Have a Future? Moral and Political Argument in the Age of Trump

Tuesday, September 26

9:00-10:30 am

360: Walls

Art Gallery of Ontario

Charlie Foran, Margaret Atwood, Regina Catrambone, Marcelo Ebrard, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Bernhard Schlink

11:00 am & 3:30 pm


Art Gallery of Ontario

Power Of Images, Coffeehouse Session, This Is Not A Game: Forced To Flee (MSF Canada)

Closed Shops: Opening Canada’s Legal Profession To Foreign-Educated Lawyers (CIGI)

3:30-5:00 pm

Two Ships (Kent Monkman)

All Of Us: What We Mean When We Talk About Inclusion (RBC)

Innovation And Entrepreneurship: Powered By New Canadians, Fuelled By Youth (Ryerson/SSHRC)

1:30-3:00 pm

360: Bridges

Art Gallery of Ontario

John Ralston Saul, Nadine Caron, Marie-Josée Parent, Ahmad Danny Ramadan, Niigaan Sinclair, Fabrice Vil

7:00-9:30 pm

6 Degrees Presents: Human Flow, a film by Ai Weiwei

Isabel Bader Theatre

Wednesday, September 27

9:00-10:30 am

360: Homes

Art Gallery of Ontario

The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, Kiku Adatto, Yannis Behrakis, Sunny Bergman, Hadeel Ibrahim, and Wadah Khanfar

11:00 am


Art Gallery of Ontario

Power Of Words (The Globe and Mail)

Walled Gardens, Virtual Bridges, And Digital Homes (Access Now/Digital Public Square)

What Does It Take? Building True Sanctuary Cities In 2017 (CivicAction DiverseCity Fellows)

The Media DNA: Not Just A Black And White Issue

1:30-3:00 pm

What’s Next?

Art Gallery of Ontario

How do conversations, and the ideas emerging from them, become concrete solutions and calls to action?  How, too, do we ensure that everyone at 6 Degrees gets to contribute? For our final conversation, we leave the circle open and invite everyone in the space to work together to frame what we’ve learned over the course of our three days, and to give shape to our outcomes.

8:00-9:30 pm

Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship: Ai Weiwei

TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, Koerner Hall


Juan Gavasa, | Contactar
Journalist, entrepreneur, writer and Spanish publisher with more than twenty-five years of experience in the field of communications: radio, print and digital. He is a founding member of Lattin Magazine and co-founder of XQuadra Media, a Toronto-based communications startup dedicated to developing creative and strategic content. He has been Editor-in-Chief of PanamericanWorld, a bilinual online information platform created in Toronto with the aim of establishing links between Canada and the Americas. In 1996, he co-founded the communication company Pirineum Multimedia in Spain, dedicated to the development of communication strategies, management of communication projects for private and public companies, web development, cultural events and publishing and advertising production. He specializes in editorial management and is the author, co-author and coordinator of more than twenty books and travel guides.