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July 3, 2013

Distinguished Arab Canadians Feted

Reuel S. Amdur

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Algerian Ambassador Smail Benamara played a central role in the organizing of the Arab Ambassadors' Awards Gala Dinner on June 17, to recognize the accomplishments of outstanding Arab Canadians. It was an event carried out almost without any note of controversy-but more about that later.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was cordially received, and in keeping with the occasion he told the assembly that “Canada’s success is in large part thanks to the hard work and perseverance of Arab Canadians.  More than 20,000 Arab immigrants a year come here, bringing their culture and language, which enrich Canada.”

It was in the awards ceremony that a barb was felt, so diplomatically delivered that the stiletto was almost unseen, and from an unexpected source.  From a list of prominent political figures, Pierre de Bané, former MP, Cabinet Minister, and Senator, took top honors.  To no one’s surprise, opera star and classical radio show hostess Julie Nesrallah received the highest honor.  In the scientific field, Dr. Mona Nemer, got the nod for her research in cardio-vascular disease and her role as vice-president of research at the University of Ottawa.  For charity work, Dr. Mohammed Baobeid took the prize statuette.  He is Executive Director of the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration in London.  He beat out Dr. Qais Ghanem, whose verse has appeared from time to time in the Canadian Charger and who is a former neurology prof at the University of Ottawa, as well as co-author of My Canada, My Arab Spring, founder of the Muslim-Jewish Potlucks for Peace, and radio host of Dialogue with Diversity.

So what was the hitch?  It occurred in choosing the person for top recognition in the business category.  The prize went to Ibrahim El Tassi Abdo, CEO/Director of Peerless Garments in Winnipeg.  In his acceptance remarks, Abdo praised Canada for its generosity in reaching out, helping the poor and. . .the sick.  That same day, health professionals and other concerned people were rallying across the country to protest Jason Kenney’s brutal policy of cutting off health care from refugee claimants.  Was Abdo’s casual comment a criticism?  No jury would convict him.  The evidence is purely circumstantial, after all.  And everyone had a good time.

Julie Nesrallah opened the evening with O Canada and later joined the talented young pianist Medhi Bilal Ghazi in performing an excerpt from Carmen, in her usual sultry fashion, to everyone’s delight.  There were also performances by the Palestinian Dance Band; Zaffeh, a Lebanese group; the Andalusian Troupe, and by Leila Gouchi, a Moroccan singer and actress.

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