Honorary Gala Chairs
Najla Al Zaibak
Sally Armstrong, OC
Jean Augustine, OC
Alexa McDonough, OC
Ratna Omidvar, OC
Charles Pachter, OC
Senator Nancy Ruth, OC
Sami Al Shorafa
Honorary Gala Chairs
Entrepreneur / Art Collector / Philanthropist
Salah Bachir is the President of Cineplex Media and a lifelong entrepreneur in entertainment media. He is a passionate patron of the arts with a vast collection of paintings, much of it Canadian. He has served on boards and committees of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian Film Centre, the Luminato Arts Festival and the Canadian Foundation for Aids Research, to name a few. He has donated generously to a wide range of causes, including the 519 Church Street Community Centre, Egale Canada and The Variety Club of Toronto. Salah has been honoured for his work with the Famous People Player's Man of the Year Award in 2008, the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Toronto Pride Gala in 2009, the Canadian Centre for Diversity's Human Relations Award in 2012 and an award from the Canadian Civil Liberties Union for Excellence in Business.
Alexa McDonough has the distinction of being the first woman to lead a major political party in Canada. In 1980, she was elected leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party (NDP) and served as a member of the provincial legislature until 1994. In 1995, Alexa was elected leader of the federal New Democratic Party and represented the federal electoral district of Halifax from1997-2008. Alexa provided strong progressive leadership to the federal NDP until she stepped down as leader in 2003. In 2009, Alexa was appointed as the new interim president of Mount Saint Vincent University, in Halifax. She was named an officer of the Order of Canada for her pioneering work in politics and received an honorary degree from Acadia University, in Nova Scotia, in 2012.
Human Rights Champion
Barbara Hall is a Canadian lawyer and public servant. She was elected mayor of the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto in 1994 and held office until 1997. Her tenure was marked by increased participation of diverse communities and witnessed unprecedented growth for the city. In 2005, Barbara was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and continues to serve as a passionate champion against discrimination and racism. She has also practiced criminal and family law, been a member of the Ontario Health Ministry's Health Results Team, and lectured nationally and internationally on urban and social issues. Barbara has extensive experience on non-profit boards and committees, and has a strong record of bringing diverse groups together to build safe and strong communities.
Artist and Visionary
Charles Pachter, one of Canada’s leading contemporary artists, is a painter, printmaker, sculptor, designer, historian, lecturer and humanitarian. He holds honorary doctorates from Brock University, the Ontario College of Art & Design, and the University of Toronto. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Chevalier of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee medal. Charles lives and works beside historic Grange Park in downtown Toronto where his art is on permanent display at his adjoining Moose Factory Gallery. His paintings hang in public and private collections around the world. Those of The Queen, moose, and maple leaf flag are pop icons of Canadian art. His flag paintings hang in the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, and Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Retrospective Pachter exhibitions have toured France, Germany, Japan, and India.
Senator Nancy Ruth
Feminist Activist / Philanthropist
Nancy Ruth has represented Ontario in the Senate since 2005. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Economic Council of Canada, The Canadian Centre for Arms Control, The Canada-USA Fulbright Foundation and the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, Mount St. Vincent University, among others. Nancy Ruth has co-founded several organizations promoting women’s social change in Canada, notably LEAF (The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund), The Canadian Women’s Foundation and The Linden School. She has spoken across Canada about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and on a myriad of issues concerning women’s rights, poverty, politics and economics. Nancy Ruth has received several honorary doctorates and won many prestigious awards, including the Government of Ontario’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Human Rights, the Conservation Fund of Greater Toronto's Charles Sauriol Greenspace Award and Membership in the Order of Canada.
As the Director of the City of Toronto's Cultural Services, Rita Davies was often referred to as the "visionary queen of Toronto culture". She earned accolades for her innovative work that put culture at the heart of the city's economic and social agenda. During her dozen-year tenure she was responsible for launching exciting new initiatives such as Nuit Blanche and Doors Open. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Culture Capital and recently co-authored "A Re-imagined Book Fair", a bold new proposal for an annual festival prepared for The Association for Art and Social Change. Rita's dynamic works as a cultural leader was recognized in 2011 with a Canadian Urban Institute City Soul Award. She sits on the President's Advisory Council for the Ontario College of Art and Design University and the Creative Industries Advisory Council of Ryerson University.
Human Rights Activist | Journalist | Author
Sally Armstrong has covered stories in zones of conflict all over the world. From Bosnia and Somalia to Rwanda and Afghanistan, her eyewitness reports have earned her the Amnesty International Media Award three times over, as well as acclaim all over the world. In addition to her journalism, Sally is the author of the books Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan; The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor; Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women; and her most recent title, Ascent of Women: Our turn, Our Way: A Remarkable Story of World-Wide Change. Sally is a former member of the International Women’s Commission at the UN and a member of the Order of Canada.
Jean Augustine is a Canadian multicultural icon: she was the first African Canadian woman elected to the Parliament of Canada; she was the first African Canadian to occupy the speaker’s chair; and she was the first black woman in the federal cabinet where she served as secretary of state and later as minister for multiculturalism and status of women. She spearheaded a campaign to have February recognized as Black History Month in Canada to educate all Canadians about black heritage. Jean is Ontario’s Fairness Commissioner, a role created in 2007 to advocate for Canadians with foreign professional credentials. She cares passionately about education and the challenges faced by newcomers to Canada. Born in Grenada, she is the former president of the National Congress of Black Women in Canada and her leadership has been recognized with honorary degrees from the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph, McGill University and York University. The Jean Augustine Scholarship helps single women attend George Brown College and Centennial College in Toronto.
Nizar Jiwan is widely recognized as a life-long volunteer and respected leader within the Canadian Ismaili community and beyond. He enjoyed a successful career as an engineer in the federal and provincial governments before being appointed as a Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board where he served with distinction as a champion of women's rights. He has received several awards and distinctions for his professional work and for his exceptional community service over nearly four decades. Nizar has served as Chair of the Governance Committee on the Women's College Hospital Board of Directors; Member of Ismaili Council for Ontario; Board Member and Vice-President of St. John Ambulance (Toronto); Board Member of Mood Disorder Association of Ontario; and founding Board Member of the Academy of Love and Learning. Nizar has a special passion for mentoring young Canadians, including gifted low income students, and has helped open doors to educational opportunities that might not have been accessible otherwise.
Scholar / Author / Commentator
Sylvia Bashevkin is the former Principal of University College and a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Best known for her research contributions in the field of women and politics, Sylvia has served as President of the Canadian Political Science Association and as President of the Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association. She is a senior fellow of Massey College in the University of Toronto, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a frequent media commentator on women and politics. Sylvia is the author of many books including Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy (2009), and has contributed numerous articles to anthologies and professional journals.
Najla Al Zaibak
Philanthropist / Human Rights Activist
Najla Al Zaibak is a Syrian-born Canadian philanthropist and a proud mother of three accomplished children: Omar, Leen and Jana. Born in Damascus, Syria, Najla moved with her life companion, Mohammad, and their family to Canada in 1988. Najla is a committed participant in multi-faith dialogue and bridge building among the various cultural communities of Canada. She has made a meaningful contribution to Canadian intercultural development utilizing her Arabic heritage and moderate Islamic upbringing. She has served on advisory committees at the Noor Cultural Centre and the Muslim Studies Program at Emmanuel College and on the board of directors of the Daughters for Life Foundation. Najla is a passionate patron of the arts and a Founding Luminary of the Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity.
Ratna Omidvar is president of the Maytree Foundation, a private foundation that promotes equity and shared prosperity through its policy positions, grants and programs. Under Ratna's leadership, Maytree has been recognized for its commitment to developing, testing and implementing programs and policy solutions related to immigration, integration and diversity in the workplace, the boardroom and in public office. Internationally, Maytree is best known for the Cities of Migration project. Ratna serves as a director of Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance (formerly Toronto City Summit Alliance), the chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Regional Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), and a director of Connect Legal. Ratna was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011 and to the Order of Ontario in 2006. The Globe and Mail profiled her in 2010 as its Nation Builder of the Decade for Citizenship and she has garnered many other honours including the YWCA's prestigious Woman of Distinction Award.
Entrepreneur / Philanthropist
Sam Bouji is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Global Educational Marketing Corporation and the Global Educational Trust Plan. When he immigrated to Canada from Egypt in 1989 with his wife and three children, he arrived without a business network, with limited knowledge of English, and with an unrecognized degree. In overcoming these challenges, Sam exemplifies determination, ambition and innovative thinking. He has expanded his organization into other financial services areas including insurance, mutual funds, a full-service securities dealership and Global Prosperata Funds Inc., an ethical and Shariah-compliant investment fund. Sam works actively with charitable organizations, many involving the Chinese, Sri Lankan, Indian, Arabic and Pakistani communities. In his own community, he established the Canadian Arab Chamber of Commerce and he mentors newcomers in the area of entrepreneurship. He takes an active interest in healthcare and has donated generously to The Credit Valley Hospital expansion campaign. In 2002, Sam was awarded the prestigious Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal and in 2010 he was honoured with the Skills for Change New Pioneers Award for Entrepreneurship.
Judith Ramirez pioneered the establishment of community-based services to immigrant women to counter the widespread practice of "benign neglect" by mainstream institutions. Multilingual and multiracial in nature, these services provide reproductive health care, counselling on employment and labour rights, and advocacy on language training and immigration status. A founder of Toronto's Immigrant Women's Health Centre, Employment Rights for Immigrant Women and Intercede, she has spearheaded many successful initiatives on behalf of marginalized women in diverse cultural communities who came to Canada seeking a better life. She is best known for championing the rights of foreign domestic workers and winning significant changes in government policy.
Judith played a leading role as a Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board in defining forms of gender‐related persecution that made Canada a global leader in the equitable determination of women’s refugee claims. She has also served in a volunteer capacity with groups ranging from the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Maytree Foundation, the Trillium Foundation, Social Planning Toronto, Women`s College Hospital and the Daughters for Life Foundation. Judith’s advocacy work has been recognized with the prestigious Women of Distinction Award from the Toronto YWCA, the Constance E. Hamilton Award from the City of Toronto and a Civilian Citation from the Toronto Police Commission.
Lisa Assaf was called to the Bar in 1995 after graduating from the University of Toronto Law School. A passionate volunteer, she worked at the Downtown Legal Aid Clinic providing pro bono legal services; assisted the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF); and provided consulting services to the board of Nellie's, a woman's shelter in Toronto. She has also headed a government-funded program for disadvantaged youth through the Alternative Youth Centre for Employment (AYCE) and was an active member of the Philanthropic Education Organization (PEO), a group dedicated to providing financial support for the education of women.
Lisa has worked in Washington DC at the World Bank, where she published an internal journal on Privatization Efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa. She was a partner at Aird & Berlis until 2000, when she withdrew from the partnership to raise her four children. Since leaving the full-time practice of law, Lisa continues to offer Mediation services to couples going through divorce and maintains a significant volunteer role in the community. Most recently, she chaired the Raffle at the Upper Canada College Believe in Blue Gala and the Raffle for the Havergal College Urban Elegance Gala.