Arab Heritage Month Act

An Act respecting Arab Heritage Month


David McGuinty  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Second reading (Senate), as of June 13, 2023

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-232.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment designates the month of April as “Arab Heritage Month”.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


March 8, 2023 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-232, An Act respecting Arab Heritage Month
May 18, 2022 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-232, An Act respecting Arab Heritage Month

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:15 p.m.
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David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

moved that Bill C-232, an act respecting Arab heritage month, be read a second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to rise in the House this evening to begin the debate on my private member's bill, which would establish the month of April in Canada as Arab heritage month.

The first immigrants of Arab origin arrived in Canada in 1882, in the early years after Confederation, some 140 years ago. The population of Arab Canadians has since grown to over one million and continues to flourish.

The first Arab immigrant who arrived in Canada 140 years ago was Ibrahim Abu Nadir and he settled in Montreal. Since then, we have seen the Arab community grow and prosper in different parts of the country and truly help build the social fabric of Canadian society. The Arab population in Canada has increased by approximately 34% since 2011 and by about 75% since 2006.

Through its youth, our Arab Canadians’ futures are very bright. About 42% of the Arab population in Canada is under the age of 24. By comparison, the total Canadian population who is 24 years old and under was 29%. In addition, the Arab population in Canada has a lower proportion of people aged 65 and older, about 5%, than in the Canadian population as a whole, which is about 16%.

In my riding of Ottawa South, we have the second-largest Arabic-speaking population of the 338 electoral districts in Canada. I have many friends in the national capital regional Arab community and beyond. I am proud of their outstanding achievements, and it is a privilege to be their representative in the House.

Arab Canadians are proud of their racial and cultural roots and they are proud to be Canadian, which is why Arab heritage month is so important. It will provide the opportunity and space for Arab Canadians to showcase their culture, their talents and why they are proud to be both Arab and Canadian. This is important as there are sometimes misconceptions and misinformation about who Arabs are, what community members are like and their history in Canada.

Arab culture includes many different facets from food to music and from art to literature, all of which have a positive impact on Canadian society. From buying a shawarma wrap at one's favourite Lebanese restaurant here in Ottawa, to going with one's friends to le Petit Maghreb in Montreal to enjoy some mint tea and sweets from a Moroccan vendor, to buying embroidered silk and satin caftans from a Palestinian small business in Mississauga, and to hanging out in Arab cafés and lounges in Edmonton, these are just some of the many ways that Arabs share their culture with the broader Canadian community. We thank them for that.

Arab heritage month in Canada will be a terrific opportunity for Arab Canadians to be recognized for their contributions to this amazing country. It will give us the opportunity to recognize and pay tribute to the countless Arab entrepreneurs and small business owners right across Canada who do so much to support their communities.

Many stakeholders are supportive of this bill, including the Canadian Arab Institute. Jad El Tal, the director of research and policy for the Canadian Arab Institute, said to me last week that it is time for Arab heritage month to be proclaimed in this country so that Arabs can feel like they can celebrate both their Canadian identity and their Arab roots, which are not mutually exclusive. He said that an important part of being Canadian is celebrating how diverse we are as a nation, and that Canada can no longer paint a picture of the country without including Arab Canadians in the frame.

I agree with him completely. I share the sentiment and I support the statement. I have always believed that Canada's diversity is its single greatest source of strength. It is a conclusion I have arrived at having had the privilege of living on four continents, and working and travelling in over 80 countries. That belief that Canada's diversity is its single greatest source of strength informs this bill.

While Arabs come from different countries of origin and different religious backgrounds, they have more in common, such as leadership, entrepreneurial spirit and a strong work ethic, than they do differences. Of the people living in Canada and born in an Arab country, more than half have been admitted into Canada as economic immigrants, and almost 25% have been admitted into Canada as refugees.

In the most Arab-populated areas in Canada, the vast majority of Arabs are of Moroccan, Lebanese, Algerian and Egyptian origin. More than 90% of the Arab population in Canada resides in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, with Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa-Gatineau having the highest concentrations.

Arab Canadians from all walks of life make important contributions to social, economic and political life in Canada, as well as to Canada's cultural fabric, including through literature, music, food and fashion.

This bill would recognize and celebrate the historic mark that Arab Canadians have made and continue to make in building our great Canadian society.

Heritage months are important to celebrate, to teach and to learn about each other and about other cultures. In Canada, we currently already celebrate the following such months: Tamil, Irish, Asian, Caribbean, Italian, Portuguese, Islamic, Black, Sikh, Jewish, indigenous, Filipino, German, Hispanic or Latin American and Women's History Month. Arab heritage month in Canada is long overdue, and I am hopeful that my colleagues will support my bill so that Arab heritage month can join the list.

In the United States, Arab America and the Arab America Foundation launched, in 2017, the first edition of National Arab American Heritage Month. Four years later, President Biden, through the U.S. state department, officially recognized April as National Arab American Heritage Month. Arab heritage month in Canada would provide us an opportunity to show our appreciation for the invaluable contributions made by Arab Canadians to build a stronger and more inclusive Canada.

It will be a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Arab Canadians, individuals such as, in business, Noubar Afeyan, the co-founder of Moderna; Ablan Leon who founded Leon's in 1909; Aldo Bensadoun, the founder of Canadian retailer Aldo; and Mohamad Fakih, CEO and founder of Paramount Fine Foods. In the media, there are individuals such as Mohamed Fahmy, an award-winning journalist, war correspondent and author, and Nahlah Ayed, an award-winning correspondent with CBC.

In arts and culture, there are René Angélil, husband of Céline Dion, a producer, talent manager and singer; K'naan, a poet, rapper, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist; and Mena Massoud, an actor who is best known for his role as Aladdin in 2019. Right here in the House of Commons, we have the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, the member for Edmonton Manning and the member for Laval—Les Îles.

On a more personal note, in my own family, I will begin with my Syrian Canadian godfather, who was a man of great intelligence, kindness and integrity. His origins were humble, in fact they were poverty, and his values instilled in me a deep appreciation for hard work, giving back and public service. More recently, many of my nieces and nephews have married Lebanese spouses. We have welcomed them with open arms into our large family and they have welcomed us into theirs.

The enactment of Arab heritage month in Canada would ensure that the contributions of Arab Canadians are recognized, shared and finally celebrated across this great country, not just every April but every day. I am asking my hon. colleagues in the House to support this bill. I hope, through my remarks, to have made support of this bill a self-evident truth. We are always stronger when we stick together.

I will close with the words of wisdom imparted to me by my late departed mother, who used to say to her 10 children at the dinner table, “Understand, children, if you pull apart, you will feel like five, but if you pull together, you will feel like 20.”

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Ottawa South represents more Arabs in his constituency than I do in Edmonton Manning, but in the meantime, I thank him for putting this bill together and bringing it forward.

How does he see community members integrating into Canadian society and having been in Canada for almost 140 years?

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for a thoughtful and important question. I see my Arab Canadian neighbours and friends. I see the entrepreneurs and the investors. I see Arab Canadians in senior ranks of the public service, in Parliament, in medicine, in law, in engineering, running real estate companies, doing international trade and running airlines. I see Arab Canadians as unbelievable citizens making unbelievably important contributions to this country.

I have always believed that it is incumbent upon Canadians and Canada, in fact it is a special responsibility, to show to the rest of the world that we can come together from every part of this planet, with every language, every country of origin, every culture, dance, music, dress and food type and build a society that is unequalled. Arab Canadians have been integral to making those contributions.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. I always enjoy listening to him.

When we designate a month to recognize a particular heritage, parliamentarians like to make the most of that celebration both here on Parliament Hill and in our ridings.

I was wondering if he has any suggestions or ideas to share with us so we can better celebrate what we are about to adopt.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I would like to see is shawarma in the House of Commons lobbies so we can all enjoy a tasty meal.

The good thing about a month like this is that it will enable Canadian Heritage to plan and financially support celebrations across Canada in small communities and big cities. Arab communities will be able to ask for funding to recognize the contributions of Arab Canadians and help them thrive.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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Blake Desjarlais NDP Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Ottawa South for putting forward this very crucial and important bill. I agree with the importance of ensuring we have Arab heritage month as part of our Canadian mosaic and making sure we can celebrate the contributions of Arab Canadians to our society. However, Arab Canadians have been targeted, not just recently but as far back as decades, for discrimination, harm and hate. In my riding of Edmonton Griesbach, we have seen attacks against members of the Arab community.

Could the member comment on how important this legislation is to ensuring we decrease this level of violence and ensure protection for our community members who are Arab?

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a profoundly important question, and one that is steeped in truth. It is clear that we have seen all kinds of abuse, all kinds of profiling and all kinds of hatred directed at different parts of Canadian society, including our Arab Canadian neighbours and community members.

I am hoping that this bill and an Arab heritage month will help elevate understanding, will help celebrate who Arab Canadians are and will break down barriers and break down fear and ignorance, so that we have a fuller understanding that, ultimately, as the Prime Minister says all the time and I know he means this, we are always stronger when we are together.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:35 p.m.
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Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for bringing forward this bill. It is a very meaningful bill.

When he talked about listening to each other and learning from each other, it brings back the memory of the late member for Scarborough—Agincourt. For those new members who have not seen this video, I strongly encourage them to take a look at the video of Arnold Chan's speech. It was very inspirational and I think it speaks to the spirit of today's bill.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:35 p.m.
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David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will use this short answer to commemorate my good friend Arnold Chan, a young man who I actually drafted into public life. He was a very fine and decent man. I would recommend everybody watch the video. It was one of his final speeches and, in fact, a very moving invocation of what we are supposed to be doing here as we come together at our best.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:35 p.m.
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Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to offer my support for this bill, the Arab heritage month act. I want to thank the hon. member for Ottawa South for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. There are more than a million Canadians of Arab descent. They are found in every province and territory. Each one has a different story of how they or their ancestors came to this country.

No matter where they came from originally, whether it was Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Palestine, Jordan or any of a dozen other countries, one of the things Arab-Canadians have in common is that they came here seeking a better life. Another thing they have in common is their desire to give back to Canada. It is that desire to give back that I want to celebrate today. There are those of Arab heritage who have become well known in Canadian society. They are not thought of as hyphenated, but as proud Canadians.

Some of those with Arab heritage have become well known in our society. Actor Keanu Reeves was born in Lebanon. Hockey star Nazem Kadri is of Lebanese descent, as is filmmaker Donald Shebib. Being in Ottawa, I must mention singer Paul Anka, whose family came from Lebanon and Syria. That is not to mention the long list of Canadian politicians with Arab roots, some of whom are sitting today in the House of Commons.

There have been many business people as well. Arab-speaking Middle Easterners are known the world over for their entrepreneurial skills. While there may be instability in their home countries, they have flourished in their new lands. Unlike the famous actors, musicians and politicians of Arab descent whose names are well known, most of the entrepreneurs spend their careers outside of the public eye. Their contributions to Canadian society, though, are deep and long lasting.

I too am an Arab, an immigrant, and my story is like that of many others. I came to Canada leaving behind a country that had suffered from 15 years of civil war. I had few memories of what life was like in a country at peace. I was looking for a new life.

It was a beautiful snowy day on December 19, 1990, when I just arrived at the Edmonton International Airport, and I had never felt so cold, at -20°C, before. More than two dozen people were waiting to welcome me in the wonderful city of Edmonton, Alberta. The warmth of their reception made up for the chill in temperature. On the drive to the north side of Edmonton, with the white of the snow covering the fields and the roads, I felt peace and tranquility mixed with excitement. This was to be home.

The next morning, I went outside and took a deeper breath of fresh cold air. It tasted of freedom and opportunity. There was something about this place that made me believe that the choice I made to immigrate from Lebanon to Canada was the right choice. Looking at the challenges ahead of me, I could see possibilities of success looming much larger than failure. I found my first job at a factory on the north side working as a labourer, packing furniture. A few months later I made a transition to the cost accounting department. I learned manufacturing first-hand, and realized how important this sector is to the Canadian economy.

Through that factory I made my way to the international market, exploring an opportunity to promote a made-in-Edmonton product in the Middle East. Only two months after becoming a Canadian citizen, I was once again on a plane, but this time as a proud Canadian exploring the Middle East to open markets for Canadian products, in a region where Canada is respected as a beacon of freedom, democracy and peace.

As my horizons expanded, I began to understand what makes the economy grow and how opportunities could be found. Opening that Middle East market was a success story for a local manufacturing company and a professional milestone for this new immigrant.

In Edmonton's Castle Downs community, I became involved with a group of volunteers, wanting to make a difference and give back to the community. I looked at politics and got to know the system, to better understand how to make our lives better and to help shape policies for the betterment of all. There I met wonderful, dedicated people who were passionate about service. I learned more and more about the local communities and became familiar with the different dynamics within our small world.

As I said, my story is typical of so many Arabs who have come to this country to seek a better life and to give back to the community. I am proud of my heritage and am happy to see the establishment of Arab heritage month. I am prouder still to be a Canadian and to have been chosen by my fellow Canadians to represent them in the House of Commons.

I would be remiss if I did not take time to sing the praises of the Arab language that is spoken by so many Canadians. It is the language of poetry and mysticism, law and humour. Just the sound of it is pleasing even to those who do not understand it. It is a language that unites people across the Middle East and north Africa. The rich literature that can be found in Arabic tells the story of many cultures united under a common banner. To me, that sounds like Canada.

The Arabs have always exported their culture. One can see the Arabic influence when one visits Spain's Andalusia region and sees the Arab influence in the architecture of the region.

Who are the people we celebrate with this bill today? They are employees and employers, doctors and nurses, athletes, singers, actors and audiences. They come from all walks of life, from every strata of society, united by their heritage and a common identity as Canadians.

Let us join together in the House and support this bill. Let us declare Arab heritage month, and let us celebrate the contributions of Arab Canadians to this great country. In making Canada their home, they have enriched us in too many ways to count. Let us make this, and every April, a celebration of a culture that has contributed so much to the richness of Canada. Let us honour those Arab Canadians who have contributed to making this country a multi-ethnic, multiracial mosaic where people live in peace and security.

Canada is an example of what society can be when people celebrate their heritage without forgetting what unites them in common purpose. Let us celebrate Arab heritage month, and whoever we are and wherever we are from, we can all eat some baklava and shawarma at the end of the day.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to point out that all my thoughts and all the thoughts of the Bloc Québécois members are with Ukraine and the Ukrainians at this difficult time.

I will be speaking today to Bill C‑232, an act respecting Arab Heritage Month. This bill was introduced by the member for Ottawa South, and it is at second reading stage. More specifically, Bill C–232 proposes that the month of April become Arab Heritage Month in Quebec and Canada. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to celebrate the Arab community's extraordinary contribution to Quebec society. Last year, we passed a motion to have Irish Heritage Month begin on March 1. I had the honour of celebrating that month with various members of the House.

The Bloc Québécois does support the bill. Nevertheless, perhaps some of my colleagues, like me, find that we know very little about the importance of Arab communities in Quebec and Canada. I propose clarifying a few things first.

What exactly does “Arab” mean?

The term can cause some confusion because it refers to the people of the Arabian peninsula, to people who speak Arabic and to people of Arab culture. Arab language and culture are not exclusive to Arabia, however; they extend from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean via the Near East and the Maghreb. Historically, the spread of Arab language and culture is due to Arab conquests that occurred from the seventh century on after the birth of Islam. Not all inhabitants of the Maghreb are of Arab language and culture. Exceptions include the Berbers.

It would be wrong to define our Arab communities solely on the basis of their language, their country of origin or their religion, because what we are talking about here is a civilization. The west would never have had a Renaissance if the Arabs, during the golden age of Islam, had not transmitted and advanced the precious knowledge of the Greeks, which had been either forgotten or forbidden during the Middle Ages. From mathematics and philosophy to medicine, astrology and literature, this civilization's historic contribution to the human race is monumental. Today, Arab civilization continues to enrich our societies, including Quebec society.

Since the Arab world was largely colonized by France in the 19th and 20th centuries, the French language took on a prominent role. French is the first or second language of tens of millions of people from the Maghreb and the Middle East. The French language is just one of the things we have in common, because Quebec, as I said, has deep economic, political and cultural ties with the Arab countries.

I could mention, as an example, the co-operation agreement between the Quebec government and the Algerian government in the field of education and training. Quebeckers and Canadians of Arab origin form a sizable demographic in our population. As the preamble to Bill C‑232 points out, Canada is now home to over one million Arab Canadians. We are still waiting for the updated figures for 2021, since the number I just mentioned is from 2016.

There is, however, something that bothers me about the preamble to Bill C-232. By referring to Canadians of Arab origin and Arab Canadian communities, the bill presents a portrait of the Arab populations in Quebec and Canada that is not entirely consistent with reality, in my opinion. It seems to suggest that the Arab diaspora forms a uniform community across Canada. Am I surprised? No, I am not.

This is a typical example of the Canadian multicultural vision, which tends to consider Canada's population as a vast cultural mosaic, which would not be influenced by the existence of nations. However, there are nations. There is the Quebec nation, which has a different approach to the integration of its immigrants and cultural minorities than Canada does.

In Quebec, we believe in interculturalism, a model for living together where the equality of cultures is indissociable from francisation and secularization. With their knowledge of French, Arab immigrants integrate extremely well in Quebec.

Immigration may be a federal jurisdiction, but Quebec's explicit desire, expressed since the Quiet Revolution, to strengthen its ties to the countries of the Maghreb and to obviously promote francophone immigration cannot be ignored. Language is very important.

Immigrant populations are settling in Canada. Quebec is integrated into Canadian society, that is to say the English Canadian majority. At the same time, immigrant populations that settle in Quebec are integrated into Quebec society, that is to say the francophone majority.

It is obvious that the integration is different depending on whether immigrants come to Quebec or to Canada. That is why we believe that the terms “Arab Canadians” and “Arab Canadian communities” are misnomers.

Furthermore, in 2016, 368,730 people in Quebec identified as being of Arab ethnic origin. Of these, 91.8% spoke French, while 44% spoke it most often at home. Therefore, a vast proportion, or almost half of people of Arab origin living in Canada are Quebeckers and Arab Quebeckers, not, in my view, Arab Canadians.

I would like to use my personal experience to illustrate this point. During the last election campaign, I had the honour and pleasure of being invited to the Centre communautaire des Basses‑Laurentides, near my riding, for a political debate. This is a Muslim community centre. We spoke about language, secularism and sovereignty. I was not expecting it, but that is what I discussed with about thirty people.

I should also mention that during the election campaign a few months ago, I met with Bishop Tabet, an influential Lebanese Maronite bishop, and this meeting really stuck with me. Bishop Tabet is an extraordinarily sensitive man who is incredibly perceptive about the Quebec reality. He gave an incredibly candid speech on the historical ties between Quebec and Lebanon. It was clear to me that this man has an abiding love for Quebeckers.

I learned a lot from these people I met, and the connections I made will no doubt continue in the future.

I want to dedicate the end of my speech to all Arab Quebeckers. I thank them for enhancing the francophonie and contributing to the development of Quebec society. On April 1, I hope to be able to contribute to what will be known as Arab heritage month.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Blake Desjarlais NDP Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for this very delightful discussion. I believe many folks are in agreement about the importance of this work.

For too long, Canada's large and diverse Arab communities have not received the recognition they deserve from our institutions, including the House. This must change. That is why New Democrats are proud to support this crucial piece of legislation to recognize the month of April as Arab heritage month.

I am delighted and honoured to rise in support of the bill as the member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach. As a member who has the honour of representing one of Canada's largest and oldest Arab communities, I would like to take a moment to thank my colleague, the member for Ottawa South, for his leadership in drafting this important private member's bill.

As an indigenous person, I know first-hand how racialized folks are left out of the history books. Too often, our contributions go unnoticed, and even sometimes our words. Our stories often go untold or unrecognized. Whether it be Arab heritage month or even Black History Month, any history of racialized folks is often forgotten, which is why this work is so important.

We are often taught diluted stories about own own histories, of our own experiences. We see this clearly with indigenous history and our fight to ensure that true stories like those of the residential schools continue. Like many racialized folks in Canada, I grew up without seeing myself represented in media, books, advertisements and, yes, our history. Today I and many others still have long-lasting and real trauma related to the reclamation of our own identities and our ability to see our culture, language and achievements seen and valued here in Canada. I want to see a world where my niece and all young people who are racialized do not have to ask, “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I not beautiful, and why do I not belong?”. I want to live in a Canada where she does not have to say that she is going to play “pretend” to be white just in order to play with other kids. All children deserve to be seen, and they deserve to be recognized.

Without this necessary work, a whole generation of Arab Canadians will not see themselves and their extraordinary contributions to this country. This is important work, especially as we witness the rise of anti-Arab and particularly anti-Muslim hate across Canada, which is often gender-based and dangerous. This is certainly true in my home community of Edmonton Griesbach. We must do everything we can, like ensuring visibility and recognition are truly part of how we relate to our fellow neighbours, our friends, our family members, our colleagues and the people we see in our communities.

Arab heritage month would provide us all with an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about Arab Canadians and their achievements as part of our country, whether it is in the arts; sports; politics, as was mentioned by members previous; business; academics; sciences; and literature. It is also a time for us to recognize the ongoing challenges and barriers that are being faced by Arab Canadians. Hate crimes are still on the rise in Canada and, sadly, we have seen the horrific results of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate across our country.

Celebrating and honouring the many contributions of Arab Canadians is an important part of the work we all must do as parliamentarians to combat all forms of discrimination and hate-fuelled violence directed at Arab communities across our country. Arab history month and every month after that can be a time for us to continue working towards a compassionate, inclusive and safer Canada for everyone.

I am calling on all members of the House to come together and pass the bill as soon as possible. April is just a few weeks away, and with unity and leadership across all parties, we can ensure that the next month is Canada's first-ever Arab heritage month.

I hope that next month we can all have the opportunity to celebrate Arab heritage month, regardless, in our communities. Arab Canadians are there so long as they can be seen.

I would like to spend the remainder of my time telling a story from the remarkable Arab Canadian community in my riding of Edmonton Griesbach. Edmonton is home to almost 5% of Canada's Arab population, and I am proud to say that the heart of our Arab community is in my riding. Arab Canadians lived on Treaty 6 territory since before Alberta was even a province. The first immigrant families from Lebanon and Syria arrived in Alberta over 130 years ago in the 1880s to meet my families, who were fur traders at that time.

I want to tell a story about one remarkable Arab Canadian woman who came to Canada all the way back in 1923 but whose contributions are still felt every single day in my riding. Her name was Hilwie. Hilwie Jomha was born in Lala, a small village in the Beqaa Valley in what is now Lebanon, in 1905. She was the daughter of a leading family in the village, whose culture was a mix of Sunni and Shia as well as Christians and Jews.

Hilwie's future husband, Ali Hamdon, had come to Canada in the early 1900s. Together with relatives and friends from the Beqaa Valley, he became a fur trader in Fort Chipewyan, where my relatives have been for thousands of years, in northern Alberta. After he set up a home there, he returned to Lala and Hilwie. She immigrated with him in 1923 to begin a life here in Canada.

Hilwie quickly adapted to life in Alberta. She struck up a deep friendship with the Jewish families in Fort Chipewyan. After Hilwie had children, the Hamdons moved to Edmonton. Edmonton is where Hilwie truly made her mark as a citizen. The city's small but fast-growing Muslim community had a big problem in the 1930s. Like everywhere else in Canada at the time, it did not have a mosque. Prayers had to be held at individuals' homes, but there were limits to what they could do without a common meeting place.

Hilwie had a natural gift for connecting people. She brought Muslims together for Ramadan and became the fixture of the local community during the 1930s. It was a decade when Arab businesses in Edmonton were making their mark on the city's business scene. The Arab community in Edmonton had great strength and the people began discussing building their own mosque.

Hilwie was at the heart of these conversations. Soon these talks turned to action and Edmonton's Arab community hatched a plan to build North America's first mosque. Along with a group of Arab businessmen, Hilwie approached the mayor of Edmonton about buying some city land for a mosque, but there was a problem. The mayor wanted $5,000, a large sum of money at that time for a property. The community was not organized and there was no central body that had enough money to pay for the mosque.

To solve this, the community came together to found the Arab Muslim Association. Hilwie was at the heart of the organizing. She marshalled the entire community, including some of the various religious groups, to build the very first mosque. Hilwie went from door to door on Jasper Avenue, not far from where I live today in the heart of Edmonton Griesbach, and asked business owners to support the project, as well as community members and neighbours. These efforts allowed the group to buy land for the mosque and build its foundation.

However, there were more challenges. The initial funding was not enough to complete the mosque. When the money ran out, Hilwie and Arab communities sprang into action and made appeals for funding from the Muslim business communities across western Canada. This work finally culminated into finishing the Al Rashid Mosque, which opened its doors in 1938.

I would like to end my speech by repeating my call for all of my colleagues to unite and ensure the bill to enact Arab heritage month passes as quickly as possible. I hope to celebrate it at my community's Al Rashid Mosque next month, the very same one I spoke about in our history.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 6 p.m.
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Sameer Zuberi Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to rise in the House to speak in support of Bill C‑232, which would designate the month of April as Arab heritage month. I also want to thank the hon. member for Ottawa South for introducing this bill.

I would also like to take a moment, given the context we are in right now with world affairs, to mark and speak about Ukraine. We know that this is a grave humanitarian crisis. We know that the people of Ukraine are fighting for their country and for their freedom. I am grateful to our government, and to all of us together in the House, for uniting to help the people of Ukraine and to avert this humanitarian crisis.

Slava Ukraini.

Returning back to Bill C-232 and Arab history month, in my university days in the early 2000s I first came to know who Arab Canadians are and who Arab people are, including their history and culture. It was at this time in my undergrad that I got to have and develop deep friendships with my Arab classmates. As somebody from a diverse background, a father that came here to Canada in the seventies and a mom who a third-generation Canadian of mixed Italian and Scottish heritage from Brockville, Ontario, I am personally fascinated by people's stories.

I am fascinated by people's personal stories, their ethnicities, their cultures and their heritage. That is how I became fascinated by Arab Canadians and all Canadians who I was studying with while at university. I learned that Arabs are not a monolith, but are of diverse cultures and diverse backgrounds. I learned too that there are contours to the Arab people. Their history and culture is deep.

Later on, once I completed my degree in mathematics, I ended up working in Kuwait. For the first time since being born in Canada, I was living outside of Canada. It was there that I got to again know what Arab culture is about, but that is just one small aspect of Arab culture in the Gulf.

I also had the chance to visit other countries, such as Bahrain. I had the chance to see the beautiful deserts of Saudi Arabia, to see Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in UAE and to go to Morocco, and I acknowledge that not all Moroccans identify as Arabs. Many will identify colloquially as Berbers, or Imazighen, who are indigenous people, in contrast to Arabs.

I have also had the chance to visit Jerusalem and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. I have seen the diversity of Arab peoples, at least a part of it. There are 400 million Arabs in the world. There are 25 countries that have Arabic as a first language. There are many Canadians who also link themselves to Arab culture and heritage.

Arabs are not only geographically diverse and living in many different countries, they are also diverse when it comes to their faith traditions. The caricature is that Arabs are mostly Muslim, and while that might be true, there are important Christian communities within Arab lands who speak Arabic. There have also been historically Jewish communities that are within Arab lands.

In my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard, I have had an amazing conversation with a gentleman who is living here today who lived in Iraq and who is attached to the Arabic language and culture of Iraq. Arabs are also of Druze faith and the Baha'i faith and no faith at all. Arabs are actually quite diverse in terms of their religion and background.

Before I leave the regional diversity of Arabs, it would be wrong of me not to speak for a moment about Yemen. We have the caricature of Arabs, especially those in the Gulf, as being wealthy oil sheiks, but there is also poverty. There is sometimes deep poverty, and right now in Yemen, there is what the UN has said might be the deepest humanitarian crisis currently on earth with over 20 million people starving due to six years of conflict. This is something for us to reflect upon.

This is something for us to reflect upon, and as we think of the people of Ukraine, one million of whom are displaced, I am sure our hearts and minds also go to the international community and to people who are suffering on this earth, such as in Yemen at this point in time, too.

I would like to switch a moment and go from diversity of regions, regionality and contours, and destroying and breaking some caricatures, to fleshing out the diversity of faith of Arab peoples and to note their large contributions to humanity.

We know today of the current geopolitical challenges in the Arab world, but we sometimes also forget about the contributions Arabs have made to humanity. I will name a few.

One is al-Kindi, who was a father of Arab philosophy in the 9th century. He lived in Baghdad. He brought into the Arabic language Greek science and philosophy and made it available to humanity. He was also a luminary in metaphysics, ethics, logic, psychology, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, astrology and so many other subjects. If only we could be like people of ancient times who were luminaries in many different domains.

There was also Ibn Rushd, commonly known to many of us here in the west as Averroes, who lived in the 12th century. He was heavily influential in contributing to the European Renaissance movement. He also was a luminary in philosophy, medicine, theology, astronomy, physics, mathematics, law and numerous other fields. He also had many treatises and commentaries on Aristotle.

If we fast-forward to present day, Umm Kulthum was an Egyptian singer who so many know, especially those who are connected to Egyptian culture and heritage. She was a film actress also. A singer-songwriter from the 1920s to the 1970s, she is very well known.

There is also Nancy Ajram from Lebanon, who is also quite well known.

I mentioned earlier our human family, in which Arabs number upward of 400 million and 25 countries have Arabic as a first language. Let us zoom in here on Canada, where at least one million Canadians mark their heritage as from an Arabic background. In Quebec, ma belle province, there are 170,000 Canadians and Quebeckers of Arabic origin. In my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard, there are 7,000 Canadians and residents of Arabic origin.

Arab Canadians are a fast-growing population. They are also highly educated. Among the highly educated people within our country, 61% of Arabs have a post-secondary diploma, degree or certificate. This is something that is important to note. Arabs are hard-working.

The first known Arab to come to Canada arrived in 1882 and settled in Montreal. From that time until now, we have seen Arabs come to Canada and contribute to our social fabric.

I want to take a moment to highlight the importance of this heritage month. Arab heritage month, like so many other heritage months that give communities the chance to educate fellow Canadians about their culture and heritage and give communities the chance to share their contributions to humanity, would give Arab Canadians a chance to contribute to our social fabric and to share their contributions.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 6:10 p.m.
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Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been wonderful today to sit in this chamber and listen to these speeches on why it is so important to have an Arab heritage month. We are living in a country where today in this chamber we are talking about the Ukraine. I have listened to so many of my colleagues talk about what is happening in Ukraine, and this is what Canada is. It is a country made up of so many different nationalities, and I am so fortunate to represent the riding of Elgin—Middlesex—London, where one of the largest populations in the city of London is Arabic.

I really want to talk about this motion and I am thankful for being able to do so. I want to thank the member who put it forward. It has given me a good chance to reflect on my own community and reflect on why it is important that we have this heritage month.

Earlier I said something to one of my staff. Her name is Raghed, and I said to her, “You learn about other people when you break bread with them.” When we had our staff retreat last summer, I asked her, “Can you bring some food, because we want to learn more?” That is what we do and that is why, when we are having these heritage months or heritage days, we can actually sit there and say, “This is where I came from. This is the language I speak. These are some of our traditions.” I think it is very important.

I want to speak about some things that we see in the city of London. I know the member for London West is here, and we should be very proud of the people we have in our communities. I want to read an excerpt, and to be honest, I have stolen a lot from this excerpt, but it was so well written that I want to read it into the record. This was from the University of Western Ontario, in the Western News. Adela Talbot wrote this article a few years ago. It is a history of the Arab community in the city of London, and I quote her:

Starting in 1890, and continuing throughout the 20th Century, generations of Arab immigrants came to London, Ont., to establish a new life for themselves and, in turn, to build a community that continues to flourish today. Many of the original names from those early immigration waves still resonate: Hasan. Barakat. Said. Aziz. Hajar. Fadel. Shoshar. Sala. Hejazi.

Perhaps quite familiar to the Western community, Philip Aziz was a well-known member of one of these families. With a father from Lebanon, Philip grew to become a professor at Western and have a street named in his honour.

I just lost that street in the redistribution a few years ago, but I am so proud of that. The article continues:

These families have succeeded in countless areas. But across the years, it was a deeply rooted respect for the history and future of the Arabic language that united this community and created a lasting legacy for native speakers to pass along to the next generation.

In 1950, the community organized the first Islamic Benevolent Society to care for newcomers by assisting with language, local customs and cultural issues. This promoted ties of friendship and cooperation with the non-Arab, non-Muslim members of the wider community. The society built bridges of understanding that integrated the new arrivals into the heart of their adopted land.

As time passed, the Arabic-speaking community institutionalized the learning of their mother tongue. They reached out to friends in surrounding communities for support. More than a thousand people — from London, Toronto, Windsor and Sarnia — attended the first conference of Arabic native speakers. They expressed their wish to strengthen cultural ties, and encourage future generations to preserve the linguistic and cultural heritage of their common roots.

As more immigrants came to Canada from Muslim and Arabic-speaking countries, the importance of Arabic was a concern felt among many of the more educated members of the community. Worried about the loss of their Arabic roots, and the identity of their children, parents donated for the construction of a modest location for prayer. This also served as a space for speaking Arabic....

Since I have only a minute left, I want to talk about this. This is the mosque that people will find in London. It was built on Oxford Street back in 1957. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed it back in 1962, but the community came to rebuild the mosque, and it was rebuilt in 1964. Those are things that we should be proud of. Those are things that a community does.

There are over 400 million Arabs throughout the world, and in Canada we know that they are coming to this beautiful place to find hope, sometimes refuge and a new life. I am so proud to welcome so many Arabic community members to the city of London to be our neighbours and recognize that when we take time to learn and we have time to celebrate the heritage of another country, we learn how wonderful Canada really is.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

March 3rd, 2022 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.