Inaugural Gala 2013

Welcome to a New Conversation

CAI's Inaugural Gala sells out, starts A New Conversation about Canadian Arabs


"Is there a need for a distinctly Canadian Arab voice? We believe, emphatically, yes."

This how CAI president Raja Khouri began to address a full house of gala attendees,
and it's perhaps the thread that brought everyone to the table.

The Canadian Arab Institute's Inaugural Gala, "A New Conversation," which took place on Oct. 30 at the Royal Ontario Museum, has been many months in the making.
Much more than a lavish party, it was an introduction, and an invitation. 

Why a new conversation?

"The traditional conversation about us," said Khouri, "has been largely without us. It was premised on headlines of violence and conflict, Hollywood-driven stereotypes of bumbling sheiks and evil terrorists, and ignorance-motivated generalizations of religious oppression and extremism. 

And so, Khouri invited the diverse audience of ambassadors, wide-ranging politicians, dignitaries, media personalities, business people, artists, and professional Arabs and non-Arabs alike (see below), to help start a new chapter based on mutual respect.

"Let us have a new beginning without the baggage of the past.  Let us have a new conversation." (watch or read speech)

Keynote speaker and former minister and Liberal interim leader Bill Grahamwho himself has intimate knowledge of the Middle East, emphasized the importance of Arab voices -- not only for the the sake of a stronger Arab community but rather, a stronger Canada.

"This country is the result of the bringing together strands from around the globe, which have been woven together, to make this Canadian fabric, this Canadian mosaic.  And the stronger each one of these threads, the stronger the fabric as a whole."

While expressing concern over the recent poll which showed 69% of Quebecers have an unfavorable view of Islam, and showing support for Khouri's Globe and Mail piece denouncing Quebec's proposed Charter of Values, Graham reminded the audience that such fears are part of a historical pattern of prejudice against immigrants -- including those like his own Irish wife, who would have been unwelcome here just 100 years ago. (watch speech)

The Hon. Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigrationbrought warm greetings from Prime Minister Stephen Harper before highlighting that Arab immigrants have exceeded those from China or India, and expressed a commitment to Syrian refugees, aid, and working with the Arab community. "We can do exceptional things together." (watch speech)

MP Olivia Chow and MPP Mitzie Hunter brought greetings from the federal Leader of the Opposition and the Premier of Ontario, respectively, and wished CAI well in pursuit of its goals related to inclusiveness and equality.

Of course, the night wasn't all serious. CBC broadcaster Suhana Meharchand as MC kept the energy high, as did Al-Asala Dabke group; Soprano Allison Angelo, standing in for Miriam Khalil, gave us beautiful arias and the National Anthem (video here); Mohammad Abussa delighted with taqaseen on the oud and George Sawa with qanoun improvisations; an exciting auction got things heated up for art, jewelry and flight tickets; and guests enjoyed a special look at the Mesopotamia Exhibit.

Head to The Toronto Star for a photo gallery of some of the VIPs who enjoyed a private tour of the ROM's Mesopotamia Exhibit, or to The Globe and Mail's gallery.

Official photo gallery here. Find your friends on Facebook here.




Honorary Gala Chairs
Najla Al Zaibak
Sally Armstrong, OC
Jean Augustine, OC
Sylvia Bashevkin
Salah Bachir
Sam Bouji
Rita Davies
Barbara Hall
Nizar Jiwan
Alexa McDonough, OC
Ratna Omidvar, OC
Charles Pachter, OC
Senator Nancy Ruth, OC

Gala Co-Chairs
Lisa Assaf
Judith Ramirez

Gala Committee
Mohammad Abusaa
Tammam Al-Dandachi
Omar Alghabra
Sami Al Shorafa
Fares Badr
Lina Duque
Tina Edan
Lara Zahabi-Bekdash
Hanadi Loubani
Rana Mougharbel

Media Coverage

Party Photos of the Week: Canadian Arab Gala. Nov. 14, The Globe and Mail

A New Conversation gala. Nov. 7-8, Al Watan

Your city: Canadian Arab Institute Inaugural Gala. Nov. 1, Toronto Star (Photo gallery)


The theme is “a new conversation.” Khouri said conflicts and extremism have dominated the conversation about Canadian Arabs and led to stereotypes ..

Dignitaries and honoured guests in attendance

The Rt. Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
The Hon. Chris Alexander
The Hon. Charles Sousa
The Hon. Bill Graham
The Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins
The Hon. Nancy Ruth
MP Olivia Chow
MPP Mitzie Hunter
MPP Catherine Fife
MPP Monique Taylor
The Honourable Jean Augustine
H.E. Smail Benamara
H.E Dr. Abdulrahman Al Hussaini
Barbara Hall
Mamdouh Shoukri 
Mohamed Lachemi
John Stackhouse
Andrea Cohen Barrack
Susan McIsaac 
Rahul Bhardwaj
John Ralston Saul
Jennifer A. Jeffs
Sheherazade Hirji
Ratna Omidvar
Ilana Landsberg-Lewis
Debbie Douglas
David Dewitt
John Tory
Mohammad Al Zaibak
Alnasir Samji
Shoheb Gwaduri
Salah Bachir
Sam Bouji
Joe Dableh
Jehad Hamadeh
Dan Rahimi
Dr. Clemens Reichel
Mohammed Fakih
Kamal Al Solaylee
Jamelie Hassan

Rita Davies
Lorraine Segato
Keith Neuman
Louise Dennys
Ric Young
Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin
Aida Graff

former Governor General of Canada
Minister, Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ontario Minister of Finance
former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence
Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment
Ontario Fairness Commissioner
Ambassador of Algeria, Dean of the Arab League Council of Ambassadors to Canada
Ambassador of Iraq
Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission
President, York University
Provost, Ryerson University
Editor in Chief, Globe and Mail
CEO, Trillium Foundation
CEO, United Way of Greater Toronto
President, Toronto Community Foundation
President, PEN International
President, Canadian International Council
President, Ismaili Council for Ontario
President, Maytree Foundation
Executive Director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation
CEO, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Vice President, Centre for International Governance Innovation
Chair, Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
Royal Ontario Museum Trustee and Member of Royal Patrons Circle
Member of the Board of Directors, Torstar Corporation
Business Development Manager, The Aga Khan Museum
President, Cineplex Media
Chairman and CEO, Global Family of Companies
entrepreneur, philanthropist
CEO, Sora Construction
Vice President, Royal Ontario Museum
Curator of the Mesopotamia Exhibit, Royal Ontario Museum
CEO, Paramount Fine Foods
award-winning author of Intolerable: a Memoir of Extremes
renowned visual artist
CEO, Cultures Canada
singer-songwriter and co-founder of The Parachute Club
Executive Director, The Environics Institute for Survey Research
Executive Vice President, Random House Canada
President E.Y.E The Social Projects Studio
author and political science professor
Vice President of the Arab Community Centre of Toronto

We thank our Generous Sponsors & Donors


Anonymous Gold Donor   ●   Bill and Najat Tarrabain Bronze Donor   ●   Special thanks to PCI-Your TELUS Dealer (on 1184 Kennedy Road)