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