Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise once again to offer my support for Bill C-232, an act respecting Arab heritage month.
I am one of more than a million Canadians of Arab descent. As so many have, I came to this country as an immigrant, escaping the dangers of war and economic upheaval. Here I have made my home, raised a family, and I am proud now to be able to give back by serving all Canadians in the House.
I am proud of my heritage, my Arab background, but I am prouder to be Canadian, which means that I will be pleased to celebrate April as Arab heritage month. I will celebrate the contributions of Arab culture and Arab people to Canadian society. However, I will not allow myself to be defined by the hyphen that people use when they call me an Arab-Canadian. When I became a Canadian citizen, I did not make a partial commitment. I went all in. I love the land of my birth, and who I am has been shaped by my heritage, but my identity is now found here.
As the late John Diefenbaker, the 13th prime minister of Canada, reminded us upon the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1960, he said that:
I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
When a person is a Canadian, no hyphen is needed. There are no second-class citizens in Canada. It does not matter what a person's race or religious beliefs are. A person's background does not define them, their character does.
Do we as individuals and a nation always live up to our ideals? Unfortunately not. However, as Canadians, when we fail, we say “sorry” and then we try again, always striving to do better. We learn from our mistakes.
I think that wanting to do better is one of the values that makes the Arab people want to come to Canada to be part of this great country. We come from a region where old rivalries, sometimes going back thousands of years, are all too often an impediment for progress. “Sorry” is a word rarely heard.
Canada offers an opportunity for a fresh start, and Canadian values are also Arab values. Looking at the Bill of Rights, upon which the later Charter of Rights and Freedoms is based, I see the values that founded Canadian society that resonated with me as a new Canadian.
We read that the Parliament of Canada believes the Canadian nation to be founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of a human person and the position of the family in a society of free people and free institutions. Also, that humans and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law.
As the bill recognizes, in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely:
(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law; (b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law; (c) freedom of religion; (d) freedom of speech; (e) freedom of assembly and association; (f) freedom of the press.
Sadly, in many places in the world, including Arab countries, some of those rights are not available to the citizens. In some places none of them are. No wonder Canada has become the destination of choice for Arabs seeking a better life.
The lack of freedoms in some places in the Arab world is perhaps one of the reasons why we need an Arab heritage month. Canadians need to be reminded that there is so much more to the history and culture of the Arab people than the negative portrayals found all too often in the news. The current political activities in the region do not always reflect the values of the Arab people, just as the actions of the Government of Canada do not always reflect the values of Canadians.
Arab heritage month would be an opportunity for those of us of with Arab roots to share the richness of our culture in a more deliberate way than is the case now. We have introduced many Canadians to shawarma and baklava already, but there is more than that to be shared and celebrated with Canadians.
There is a rich cinematic tradition that is almost completely unknown here that can now be viewed online. Naturally I feel the Arabic language films are best heard in the original, as Arabic is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. I would encourage all hon. members to learn my mother tongue, but watching with subtitles can still convey the cultural richness of the Arab world.
It is not just in film that there is a long-standing tradition, but in music also. Just last month I watched Christa Maria Abou Akl, who was born, as I was, in Lebanon, appear on the French language television show La Voix, which airs on the TVA network, singing in Arabic and French. Just 20 years old, Christa Maria is already a musical force to be reckoned with. It was my privilege to get to know the family four years ago when they first arrived in Montreal. It was a pleasure to see Christa's success in becoming part of our music future and history in this country.
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. It is a great honour to have been chosen by my fellow Canadians, from all different backgrounds, to represent them in this House.
Recognizing my heritage, they have asked me to serve all Canadians, to affirm, as the Bill of Rights says:
That the Canadian Nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of the human person and the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions.
This April, and every April thereafter, let us celebrate Arab heritage month and the contributions of Canadians of Arab descent to this great country. Since the 1880s, Canadians of Arab descent have been enriching our nation, adding their ideas, energy and values to making this the best country in the world.
As I have said before, Canada is an example of what a society can be when the people celebrate their heritage without forgetting what unites them in common purpose. Let us celebrate Arab heritage month, whoever we are and wherever we came from.