January 19, 2016
‘Twas the Year of the Voice
When democracy works, as it sometimes does, it is nothing short of beautiful. When it works, as it did in last year’s federal election (with three parties having a chance of forming government), democracy sees wonderful things happen: people turning out to vote in higher numbers than in decades; volunteers rallying in droves behind their candidate of choice; riding associations swelling with multitudes of new members; citizens digging into their pockets -- and rallying others – to directly contribute to the success of their chosen party; thousands of qualified, dedicated and energetic individuals running for office, sacrificing much of their lives for many months of campaigning.
To what end, the uninitiated might ask? In this country, to ensure the peaceful transition of power to a group of men and women chosen by the people whom they will govern. A simple-enough concept that continues to elude most of the countries we hail from.
As if recognizing this privilege, Canadian Arabs engaged in every facet of the 2015 federal election, and in every party vying for power– voting, volunteering, making donations, taking out memberships – and running for office: a record 22 candidates ran, and a record eight got elected.
CAI’s Your Voice campaign, which launched with the release of a professionally-recorded, Arabic version of O Canada, was met with great enthusiasm and enabled a marked increase in Canadian Arab participation in the democratic process. Employing panels, webinars, competitions, celebrity endorsements, daily newsfeeds, Democracy 101 educational series, an animated video, and appearing at picnics and community events throughout the summer, the campaign message was loud and clear: democracy is a privilege, citizenship is a responsibility, community engagement is a necessity.
The new government has pledged to act on two policy areas that CAI had presented policy positions on: Relocating large numbers of Syrian refugees to Canada, and the repeal of Bill C-24: An Act to amend the Citizenship Act. It has also promised major amendments to the controversial Bill C-51 – the Anti-terrorism Act 2015, the subject of much discussion during the election campaign.
It pays to get engaged.
In 2015, CAI was a founding member of Lifeline Syria, an ambitious and well-organized effort to relocate 1,000 refugees to the GTA by 2017 through private sponsorship. In 2016, CAI will be partnering with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to present a benefit concert for Syrian refugees, in which, Arabic music will be played and Syrian musicians will participate. CAI will also be collaborating with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and other NGOs in an Ontario-wide anti-discrimination campaign to protect Syrian refugees from potential biases in housing, employment and services.
2016 will also see the launch of CAI Academy, a professional networking society for youth development; CAI’s first awards gala honouring leadership in diversity and inclusion; a co-presentation with the Royal Conservatory of Music of Simon Shaheen in concert, and other initiatives promoting civic and cultural engagement.
CAI welcomes 2016 as another year where Canadian Arabs can be proud of being active, contributing citizens to this thriving, though imperfect democracy we love to call home.
Happy New Year.
كل عام وانتم بخير
Raja G. Khouri
President and Co-founder