From Marginalization to Integration

Canadian Arab Institute hosts panel that highlights the importance of civic engagement

Mississauga, June 15, 2015 – As part of its Your Voice voter education campaign, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) hosted a discussion panel on Monday to engage members of the community in a conversation with thought and business leaders. The panelists included Ratna Omidvar the Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, Cathy Winter the Manager of DiverCity onBoard, Crystal Greer the Director of Legislative Services & City Clerk with the City of Mississauga, and Mohamad Fakih the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods.

The panel, titled ‘From Marginalization to Integration’, kicked off by a video welcome by Bonnie Crombie, the Mayor of Mississauga. Crombie spoke about the City of Mississauga’s efforts in the fields of diversity and inclusion and commended the CAI’s leadership and partnership in that area.

After introductions by Raja Khouri, President of CAI, the panelists gave brief overviews on the importance of engagement and how they believe the Canadian Arab community would benefit from increased participation. The common theme between panelists was the value they believe the community would add to Canadian politics with increased visibility, and how it could impact change on a higher level. The question and answer period that followed showcased the willingness of the community to participate in the political discussion. It also highlighted some of the key issues that need to be addressed and the strengths that could be built on in creating a community that is engaged and visible in the political and civic landscapes.

Ratna Omidvar addressed the concept of transactional politics and explained how our voices don’t seem to be heard except to complain or express concern. She emphasized the importance of “shifting this trend towards the highest form of citizenship expression; nation building”, because “democracy, in theory, belongs to all of us, but in reality belongs to those who participate”. Omidvar pointed out that the most effective way to do this was by engaging in politics on a local (municipal) level, as that was where the highest impact can be made and translate into actual change.

The importance of getting involved was also stressed by Cathy Winter, who gave concrete examples of how bringing people with different values and competencies together succeeded in building the right networks that match people with opportunities. She used the work DiverCity onBoard does to enable visible minorities and underrepresented immigrants to link with non-profit and charitable boards as a successful case study of this. Winter also pointed out that the face of leadership in the future should be reflective of the new Canada, and one way we could make this happen was to identify the opportunities to get involved and make our community’s voice heard as much as possible.

Crystal Greer then went on to showcase the City of Mississauga’s efforts in engaging citizens on a municipal level and making sure city council utilizes their skills and knowledge when developing their policies. This is mostly done by including citizen advisors on the different committees of council and making sure their input and feedback was heard in the process.

Canadian-Arab entrepreneur Mohamad Fakih shared some of his experience engaging in politics on the local level, and reiterated the importance of voting in making real change. He explained that elected officials should represent the people they serve and that the only way to make this happen was to have a highly-engaged community that knows what they want and who the best person to represent them is. Fakih stressed that “Change is a belief that you can make a difference even if it takes time and hard work" and that starts with voting, so the right to have a say isn’t lost.

The questions that attendees posed to the panelists all highlighted how in-tune they were to what needed to be identified in order to take that next step and elevate the community to the next level of citizenship. These addressed various topics such as community consensus, marginalization, youth engagement, immigration and integration, transparency, dual citizenship, donations and more. 

This panel was the first in a series of events hosted by the Canadian Arab Institute as part of its Your Voice campaign. Similar events that provide the Canadian-Arab community with opportunities to explore the importance of civic engagement and voting will be taking place over the course of the next few months.

Panel sponsored by:

RBC