Arab Heritage Month Act

An Act respecting Arab Heritage Month

Sponsor

David McGuinty  Liberal

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of May 17, 2022

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

Elsewhere

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.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2022 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the comments. In fact, I appreciated the comments from all members this evening in regard to a very important piece of legislation.

I thank the member for Ottawa South for taking the time to work with the different communities in order to develop what is, for a wide variety of reasons, an important piece of legislation. I would like to pick up on a couple of those points.

From a personal perspective, I really did not have a full understanding of the Arab community for the vast majority of my life. In fact, it was not until I had the opportunity to travel to Israel, when I also had the opportunity to visit Jordan, that I started to get a perspective of the time span in terms of the place and the Arab people, and it really goes back many hundreds of years before Christ.

As I tried to get a better understanding of the Arab people here in our community, I quickly found out that, at the end of the day, Canada is a very diverse nation. We talk about our communities and what we might do to contribute to the debate. Looking at the world today, there are countries all over the world that have descendants from the Middle East, from countries like Syria, Jordan and so forth. That is whether we are talking about Canada, the U.S.A, Brazil, Australia, the U.K., Germany, etc. Here in Canada, it is estimated that there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 750,000 Arab people.

When I think in terms of my home city of Winnipeg and the area that I represent, the Arab community is not that large, but it tends to go into the south end of Winnipeg, and I am sure my colleague for Winnipeg South would be able to tell us far more about that particular community than I would. However, I do know that it is a community that is made up of so many individuals who have contributed to every sector of our society, whether it is in the health care field to entrepreneurs to individuals who have built our community.

The mosque in South Winnipeg contributes immensely to the spiritual well-being of the city of Winnipeg, because it goes far beyond people of Muslim faith in terms of reaching out. It is important to recognize that, at the end of the day, we can travel virtually to any part of the city of Winnipeg and we will find someone from the Arab community who is an owner or businessperson behind a particular restaurant or other store. Whether it is professionals, entrepreneurs or workers in general, we will see that the community is in fact very much a part of our Canadian heritage.

We have had other pieces of legislation and motions that have been debated inside the chamber, and I have always felt that one of the ways in which we can continue to grow as a society in terms of our diversity is to recognize things such as heritage months, days or weeks, or whatever it might be, because it provides communities the opportunity to get engaged and to educate people. For example, we have seen, in recent years, a heritage month being designated for the Filipino community, and we have seen it in regard to Sikh Heritage Month. I get involved in both of those months.

Bill C-232 would designate the month of April as Arab heritage month, and I feel very confident that what will happen as a direct result of the passage of this legislation is that we will see organizations that will organize educational opportunities throughout the country regarding our Arab community, hopefully with a focus on faith.

My understanding is that over 90% of people of Arab ancestry are of Muslim faith. I have gotten to know that faith personally over the last number of years. In fact, I was always impressed with my campaign manager, who has the entire Quran memorized, which is no easy feat. He is not alone. It shows the sense of commitment that many members of the community have when it comes to the Muslim faith.

At the end of the day, when I look at these resolutions and bills that we pass, I truly believe that through that, we see more educational opportunities. I can only cite personal examples, in terms of Winnipeg North, where we have a heritage week in recognition of Filipino heritage. There are a number of different organizations that come together and highlight the Filipino heritage community in Winnipeg. In fact, I will start with something on June 1.

As we do with the Filipino heritage community, which I love and care deeply about, as I do all communities that make up our country of great diversity, I suspect we will see things of that nature occurring in our Arab communities. We will have dozens of organizations that have been there to serve the community that will put on special events.

Through those special events, they will invite members of the community and members outside of the community to partake in that. By doing that, I believe that we will have more people engaged and becoming better acquainted with the many different customs and the different heritage of our community. By doing that, I think we will have a better society.

During the 1990s, I always talked about the issue of racism. We had the Manitoba Intercultural Council, which came out saying that the best way to combat racism and intolerance was through education. I believe we are affording public schools and other organizations the opportunity to put some emphasis on the Muslim faith or any other issue they can identify by having the month of April recognized, through the House of Commons, as Arab heritage month. They can use that as a focal point in order to be able to have a special event in a public school, where we can get young children engaged. It affords them that opportunity.

I have seen first-hand that things that have taken place on the floor of the House of Commons have been adopted in our communities and taken advantage of to the degree that because of them, events take place. That is where we see the real benefit of legislation of this nature.

On that note, I would encourage members, as they have done in the past in recognizing heritage resolutions and legislation, to support Bill C-232. I applaud the member for Ottawa South for taking this initiative. I know is very important to him personally that we recognize just how important it is that this particular community, like other communities, be acknowledged by having a heritage month designation, which will no doubt allow for a lot more activities across Canada that will highlight just how important this community is to our Canadian makeup. With those few words, I look forward to the bill's passage.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2022 / 6 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

Madam Speaker, I am very proud to be here today to speak on Bill C-232 this evening, which would proclaim April as Arab heritage month in Canada. I appreciated listening to the speech of my colleague for Scarborough Centre and to hear all of the people she named, all of the distinguished people of Arab descent. It is quite significant in our country. As many Canadians know, we have a long tradition in the House of Commons of recognizing certain months or days to honour individuals or groups or, indeed, entire peoples that make up this Canadian fabric. We do this much more than just the 12 months or the 365 days that make up the calendar.

April, for example, is already officially recognized as African American Women's Fitness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Black Women's History Month, Celebrate Diversity Month, Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Financial Literacy Month, Foot Health Awareness Month, International Guitar Month, Mathematics Awareness Month, Month of the Military Child, Pets are Wonderful Month, Scottish-American Heritage Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Sexually Transmitted Infections Awareness Month and Sikh Heritage Month. This is just the tip of the April iceberg.

Why do we need an Arab heritage month? The answer is that, like the worthy causes I just listed, we need to formally recognize the contributions that Arabs make to Canadian society.

Let me tell everyone about my riding of Saskatoon West and the contributions that Arabs make to my community. As many people know, I knocked on many doors over the past three years and on many occasions I got the usual politician-at-your-door treatment, which was, “Why are you here? Get off my lawn. I am voting for the other guy,” and that type of thing. When I would go into apartment buildings that had primarily Arab tenants or even people from other Islamic backgrounds, I received a different treatment. People said, “Yes, yes, please come in. Have some tea and biscuits. Sit down. Please discuss what you are here for.” I would spend 10 or 20 minutes there, then knock on the next door and it would be the same thing all over again.

As a westerner in a country like Canada, I am not used to Middle Eastern hospitality. Arab people are earnest and honest about treating outsiders with kindness, respect and dignity. This is a value that is ingrained in their culture. The result of those visits was that those polls that I visited, where I sat down and took tea and biscuits, ended up voting for me. If we look at the electoral map, this is the first time ever that some of those polls voted Conservative. It is because I took the time to make a one-on-one connection with the people there, which is the way they are. More importantly, they got to know me and to know more than just the politician. That is the amazing thing about the Arab and Muslim people. They love their children and care deeply about their families. They care for their neighbours, they love this country of Canada and want to make it a better place. They work hard, often working at multiple jobs or working at a job while running a family business at the same time.

As old-stock Canadians, we just need sometimes to move beyond our preconceived ideas that have formed in our minds from popular culture and past events and get to know our Muslim brothers and sisters. Just two blocks away from my constituency office live Ahlan, her husband Osoma and their six children. They are Arab Muslims from Jordan and want to visit Osoma’s ailing father, who is in a hospital in Jordan. The family has personal objections to the COVID vaccine and now that the world is reopening, they would like to go to Jordan to visit the children’s grandparent, whom they have not seen in eight years. The only thing stopping them from this trip is the NDP-Liberals' unscientific vaccine mandates, which prohibit them from boarding the airplane. I want this family to know that I am doing everything I can to fight these useless mandates put forward by the current government.

I want to tackle head-on some of the perceptions that Canadians have of Muslims and Arabs, in particular, due to past events and popular culture, and I am not going to sugar-coat this. When I was growing up, I and many people of my generation saw constant conflict in the Middle East between various nation-states, and the growth of terrorism scared many people. We saw the despots in control of Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq and Egypt and the puppet regimes in other countries such as Lebanon. The Persian neighbour of Iran saw the Ayatollah come to power, seize the U.S. embassy and declare us in North America to be the great Satan. Who could forget 9/11 and then war and even more war?

Canada went to war in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years with our American and European allies, only to let Kabul end up in the hands of the Taliban. Hollywood, the mainstream news media and now social media have added an extra layer to these actual historical world events. Hollywood takes everything and embellishes it. In the early and mid-2000s, we could not turn on the TV without hitting another American TV show with Arabs as the bad guys against the American good guys.

NCIS is still the number one show on TV, and for 19 years, in almost every episode, Gibbs is chasing down some fictional Arab terrorist.

Social media has taken all of that anti-Arab, anti-Muslim mixed bag of historical fact and popular culture and created the new global crisis of out-of-control conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories have always been a part of a free society, but now every hateful, spiteful thing that is said is twisted and amplified by the Internet.

Why am I bringing this up? It is because, as parliamentarians, we need to shine a light on the dark spaces and on the garbage dumps of our society in order to clean them up.

Unfortunately, but truly, Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment are real in Canada. If this bill, Bill C-232, which would create Arab heritage month, and the few hours of debate that we will have on it allow us to address this issue, then so much the better, because as members of Parliament, we owe it to all of the Arab folks to get this right.

Let me tell you, Hollywood has it wrong. Yes, bad historical events happened, but they happened because of bad individuals, not because of the religion or the area of the world. Putin is nominally a Christian, and he is engaging in a war of aggression. Mussolini was the first to call himself a fascist, and he was a Roman Catholic from Italy. Hitler was Austrian. These were individual men causing great harm, and they did not reflect European Christians at the time. Just like Saddam Hussein was one man and Gaddafi was one man, they did not reflect all Arab Muslims.

What we need to do is move beyond these individual men and these bad events and celebrate Arab people as a group. We need to better understand the Muslim religion in its entirety. That is what Bill C-232 strives to do.

The Tigris River is the birthplace of modern civilization. The Bronze Age, where man moved from stone tools to metalwork, took place in the delta of the Persian Gulf. From that moment on, civilization has been marked by the advances in the Arab world. Did you know that the concept of the number zero was invented by Arabs?

It actually goes back to the Quran, which calls upon Muslim people to count the phases of the moon in order to track days. As we know, there are 28 days in a month, with the new moon at the beginning of each cycle, so they needed a way to numerically write that and came up with a number to represent nothingness, the number zero.

It seems a simple concept to us but it was not the Greeks, nor the Romans, nor the Indians, nor the Chinese who could grasp this concept until the Arab world taught it to them.

What about language and learning? The Great Library at Alexandria, in Egypt, was the first place of learning. Long before Oxford and Cambridge were established in England as the first modern universities, the first university had already been established in Damascus in the eighth century. To the chagrin of many school-aged children, who invented algebra? It was an Arab, in the territory of Spain.

The first hospital was also established in the Arab world and, prior to that, there was no central place for physicians and patients to gather in one place. The first modern surgical procedure was also undertaken by Arabs.

How about inventions in the Arab world? Graph paper, the first planetary globe and the first mechanical clock. Yes, it was the Arabs, not the Swiss, who invented the clock.

In Canada, the first mosque built was the Al Rashid Mosque, in Edmonton, in the 1800s. My colleague from Edmonton West would argue that the Rahma Mosque in Edmonton West was the first, but I do not think he is right.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise today to speak in strong support of the Private Member's Bill moved by my colleague, the member for Ottawa South. It is Bill C-232, an act respecting Arab Heritage Month.

I want to thank the member for bringing this bill forward to the House. In the 41st Parliament, I had the opportunity to introduce my own piece of private member's business. Motion No. 155 designated June as Filipino Heritage Month across Canada, from coast to coast to coast. It was passed unanimously by the House, and I am sure Bill C-232 will receive similar widespread support.

I know how much the official creation of June as Filipino Heritage Month has meant to that community. They have taken this recognition and run with it, organizing local events, festivals and celebrations right across the country. I know that designating April as Arab Heritage Month in Canada will be equally meaningful and significant for Canada's large and proud Arab community.

As the member for Scarborough Centre, I have the privilege of representing a large and proud Arab community. They contribute to all aspects of life in our community, from the professions and the trades to small businesses and restaurants. In my community, they are a big part of the Scarborough food scene. From the shawarma at Sumac Iraqi Grill and Ibrahim Shawarma, to the burgers at Saltyz, from the ice cream and shakes at Crème et Miel to the meat at Al Ghadir Meats and Alwalaa Halal Meat, Arab-owned restaurants and grocers are a big part of my community.

I would also like to recognize the work of the Arab Community Centre of Toronto. It is an important foundation of the community in Scarborough, providing a meeting place and a focal point, and has done such important work to help newcomers feel welcome and to settle in our community.

I would also take this opportunity to recognize Al-Huda Muslim Society, which was established in 1993 to harbour the community and help preserve its cultural and Islamic atmosphere.

Today, Al-Huda strives to create one facility that offers the services of a mosque, school, youth centre, social hub, a cultural and educational centre and funeral services. The Al-Huda Scouts, school and youth programs are operating successfully at this centre. I can say that the Al-Huda Muslim Society is an important pillar of Scarborough Centre.

Many members of Canada's Arab community are former Syrian refugees who came to Canada in 2015 and beyond to flee the civil war raging in their country. Canada gave them a safe haven and a new start, and they, in turn, have given so much more to Canada.

We all know the story of Tareq Hadhad: the Syrian refugee who settled in Nova Scotia and started a chocolate business. Peace by Chocolate is one of Canada's sweetest immigrant success stories. The story is now a major motion picture I cannot wait to see on the big screen.

In Scarborough Centre, we have our very own Syrian refugee success story not with chocolate, but with kebab. Zakaria Al Mokdad was a restaurant owner in Syria before fleeing the civil war with his family and coming to Canada. He spent a year improving his English before working at Paramount Fine Foods, which is a restaurant chain founded by another successful immigrant entrepreneur named Mohamad Fakih.

In 2019, Zakaria opened Aleppo Kebab, which offers delicious Syrian food to the people of Scarborough. He is paying it forward by offering jobs to other newcomers to Canada. The customer favourite is the Aleppo kebab, with its unique blend of Syrian spices. It is one of my favourites. Last year, Zakaria obtained his Canadian citizenship, and we could not meet a prouder Canadian.

Another local Syrian refugee success story is Crown Pastries. It has quickly gained a reputation for having the best sweets in Scarborough, and I can assure members that is no easy title to earn. They have become so popular that when I went in to order some sweets the day before Eid, there was a line out the door. They told me I would have had to place my Eid order at least a week in advance.

Outside of Scarborough Centre, there are also Arab Canadians making a difference in all aspects of life in Canada. There is my friend, the Minister of Transport, who brings his lived experience to this important portfolio and his job representing the people of Mississauga Centre. Many members of the Arab community have been elected to serve in this chamber from all parties.

If someone has enjoyed classic pop hits like Put Your Head on My Shoulder, Diana or Puppy Love, they have been singing along to the classics of a proud Arab Canadian and one of Ottawa's favourite sons: Paul Anka. There are academics such as Hoda ElMaraghy, the first woman to serve as the dean of engineering at a Canadian university, and Mamdouh Shoukri, the former president of York University.

In the world of sports, many Maple Leafs fans may be disappointed that they do not still have the services of Nazem Kadri after their game seven exit from the playoffs this weekend.

There are so many Arab Canadians making a difference in the medical profession in Toronto and across Canada. Dr. Basem Naser at Toronto's SickKids hospital and Dr. Tarek Khalefih are doing great work with children, and Dr. Salah Ali and Dr. Nihad Abu Setteh are family doctors who are greatly respected by their patients.

I want to especially highlight a Canadian of Arab heritage who is not only a successful businessman and entrepreneur, but also a philanthropist and outspoken educator and worker for building a better Canada. I speak, of course, of Mohamad Fakih, president and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods. He has built the chain into a success with locations not only across Canada, but also in Pakistan, Lebanon and the U.K. He has helped to introduce Middle Eastern and Arab cuisine to too many people across Canada who never had the chance to try it before.

No matter which Paramount I visit, the food is consistently delicious, even if I do wish the chicken could be a little more spicy, but calling Mohamad Fakih a restaurant owner would only be scratching the surface. His commitment and generosity to this country are unparalleled. After the Quebec City mosque shootings, he paid funeral expenses for the victims and helped fund repairs to the mosque. He travelled to the front lines in Syria to better understand the refugee crisis and hired 150 refugees in his restaurants. His Canada Strong campaign raised nearly $3.3 million for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight shot down by the Iranian military, and during the pandemic he has donated and delivered tens of thousands of meals to frontline workers, the homeless, food banks and others.

He is a man of conviction who uses his platform to stand up to hatred and bigotry, as we saw when he refused to back down in the face of public harassment and online videos attacking his religion and his character. In his work ethic, his generosity and his principles, Mohamad Fakih would probably tell us he is like any other Arab Canadian, and indeed like any other Canadian, and this is true. The Arab Canadians I know are warm, generous, hard-working and committed to their families and their communities. They are an important part of our Canadian family and help to contribute to the diversity that makes Canada strong.

I am proud to support this bill and this important recognition for Arab Canadians. I urge all my colleagues to support it, and next April let us celebrate Arab Heritage Month together.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2022 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today on Bill C-232. I thank the critic from Edmonton Griesbach for his thoughts and his previous intervention on this. I also thank the member for Ottawa South for bringing this critical legislation forward. I served with him on the Canada-US parliamentary association for a number of years.

I am speaking from Windsor, Ontario, which is approximately a 15-minute drive to the United States, and Dearborn, Michigan, has the largest Arab community outside of the Middle East. It has been part of our heritage here for hundreds of years, and it is something I am really proud about.

It is also important to note this bill would harmonize April as Arab heritage month, similar to what was been done in the United States in 2021. This bill was not be in place this year, but hopefully it will be next year. I have learned over time that sometimes the simplest and most straightforward things can see complications in Ottawa, but this one enjoys large public and parliamentary support.

It is a worthy cause because there is no doubt that the Arab population, not only in Windsor but across Canada and the world, has contributed quite significantly and continues to do so despite some recent challenges with Islamophobia and other types of sensitive issues over the years. The community deserves this type of positive recognition, especially when we consider its economic, social and cultural contributions, which continue in our neighbourhoods.

When I think about the regeneration of the auto industry taking place with electric vehicles, there have been some good announcements in Windsor West recently. We are finally at a point where we are fighting back for an industry that, at one point, we were number two in the world in assembly. That has dropped down significantly, but we are starting to get battery plants and modernization.

Right now, there are many Arab Canadians who are participating in that industry, which is really interesting. I say that because, in the early 1900s, they helped build the auto industry in this community and for this country. We have seen influxes over a number of different years, and I am very proud we have a lot of young and also established people who are contributing quite significantly.

When I travel to the mosques, or other places such as churches, I hear stories from the Arab population. I hear the stories of people working in engineering, design and development, mould making and tool and die, OEMs and a whole series of exciting opportunities for young people to be involved in.

Often they have been travelling along the border between Canada and the United States, and there have been challenges of racial profiling at times, under different presidents. We have needed to deal with those issues on a regular basis in my office, but at the same time, they have helped rebuild even Detroit's industry, which is exciting.

In my community, Wyandotte Street East is being redeveloped. It has been phenomenal to see the Arab population come together. There are food shops, barber shops, fashion boutiques and other types of industries that have come in to rejuvenate and create a brand that is exciting. It shows a lot of pride.

Until recently, I shared an office with a person named Alan, who came from Iraq and rebuilt his operations here. Sadly, we had to move out of that constituency office to a new one. Alan has also moved, but we became like family in many ways.

We look at issues of representation. I have been on doorsteps, and I have heard negative things. At the same time, I reminded constituents that when they need to go to the hospital to see a doctor, or they need the police or the fire department to come, they do not ask where somebody came from, but rather how they are going to help.

The contributions by the Arab community has been highly diverse when it comes to its participation in the workforce. It has been led by pioneers who have made international contributions.

The Jamil family founded the Holiday Juice Company in Windsor, which was eventually taken over by a multinational. We are right on the border here, which as we have seen is the busiest border crossing in North America. We have had owners of a small hotel, the Blue Bell Motel, opened by Alex Abraham, who helped lead many of the developments and contributions in this area. We also have Dr. George, a pioneer in the 1930s and a family doctor who was involved as well. There was, as I mentioned earlier, my friend Alan. We also had Mr. Brissony, a local barber, who was very well known in the community and became a city councillor and warden in the early days of development here.

In our community, we have people from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Lebanon. I will send a special shout-out to the NDP lobby and Anthony Salloum of our team, who is of Lebanese heritage. In our community, we also have people from Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and U.A.E. We get to know them and celebrate them.

There are not only their groups and organizations, but the people have also founded and been part of groups that represent the Catholic Orthodox, the Protestants and many Shia and Sunni mosques in my community. The groups are all connected together and interfaith. We have seen that come to light many times when there have been tragedies with individuals and families, or a number of different discrimination issues or things we have had to face that are very serious. We have also had this community come together and rally to help others.

Most recently, just before COVID, and now it is opening up a bit with a commitment from the community, I was working together with them to look at the situation with the Uighurs in China and the genocide and discrimination. It was led, again, by our local associations. There have been other times when there have been world tragedies when it is not uncommon to have the mosque or other organizations and interfaith groups come together to raise funds for earthquake victims or victims of other types of natural disasters that have taken place. This has been kind of the DNA of Windsor and Essex County, but it plays itself out to the world.

This is what is really important about this bill. It brings us together in a way that we have seen with some really good measures in the past, especially with some of the other months that have been designated, such as Black History Month and others. That is one of the things that we can build upon because there is the educational element and the necessary celebrations that bind communities together and show how much we can actually learn and understand where we came from. Some people do not understand that even though we have some great moments, there have been some challenges in the past. Therefore, we need recognize that, reconcile those and work toward celebrating what we can further accomplish.

That is why I tied in the strengths of what is taking place from the microcommunity aspect, such as Wyandotte Street, which I mentioned earlier, and the rehabilitation and great work that is happening there. Also, we have seen some exciting announcements in the auto sector. The renewal that is taking place is very diversified.

I will conclude with this: One of the things we are struggling with now is our Canada–U.S. relations for lots of different complications. Aside from the politics and the politicians, the binding of our citizens on both sides of the border, to be effective in our business, social and cultural relationships, really shines through with our Arab populations. It is families who are united. It is families who are growing together. It is about strengthening our regions together, and that is going to make us stronger economically, socially and culturally. This is very special and unique.

As I conclude here I will say again that I am so close to the largest population outside of the Middle East. We like to say in Windsor that Detroit is actually a suburb of Windsor. The reality is that there are so many people in the area, but our ties are so strong and clear. They are fiercely proud as Canadians, but also fiercely proud that their families are so close together.

The House resumed from March 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-232, An Act respecting Arab Heritage Month, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Arab Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Liberal

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 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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 ActRoutine Proceedings

February 7th, 2022 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-232, An Act respecting Arab Heritage Month.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a privilege to rise in the House of Commons to introduce my private member's bill, which would establish the month of April in Canada as Arab heritage month.

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

Arab Canadians from all walks of life have made important contributions to Canada's social, economic and political life and to the cultural fabric of Canada, including through literature, music, food and fashion.

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

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)