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.