Inaugural Gala

Welcome speech to the Canadian Arab Institute's Inaugural Gala, "A New Conversation," held in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto on Oct. 30, 2013, by Raja G. Khouri, President and Co-founder, Canadian Arab Institute

Good evening friends, distinguished guests.

Welcome, bienvenue, ahlan-wa-sahlan, welcome to our inaugural gala, to the ROM's Mesopotamia exhibit, to an evening of friendship and celebration -- and a new conversation.

Immigration, integration, prosperity, employment, trade, investment, foreign policy – these are but a few topics that concern all Canadians.  These are also subjects where a Canadian Arab voice has been largely missing.

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

Let me give some examples. 

On immigration: Over 600,000 immigrants came to Canada from Arab countries in the last 52 years.  In recent years Arab countries combined have accounted for the second highest source of immigration to the land.  Immigration clearly plays a big role in the community's composition, wellbeing and development. 

On Integration: Arab immigrants often leave behind raging conflicts, at times even violent extremism, then arrive in Canada to a domestic agenda that prioritizes national security.  Surely unique issues of civil rights and integration need consideration with regards to this population.

On trade and Investment: There is ample evidence of a large potential for expanded trade and investment with the Arab region that remains unrealized.  Barriers to expansion need to be identified, and economic opportunities must be recognized.

On foreign policy: The transformative changes taking place in the Arab world have mesmerized the world.  Maintaining a policy in the region that protects Canadian interests and promotes our values, a challenge at the best of times, has become an ever more convoluted proposition. 

Clearly a Canadian Arab perspective, one that is based on research and analysis, will add richness to our national discourse and inform the debate on any of these topics.

In fact we believe this new Canadian Arab voice will lead to "A New Conversation".  New information always does.

The traditional conversation about us 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.

It is hardly an appealing conversation to take part in, let alone be the subject of -- especially because none of these things represent our lives and values as Canadian Arabs.  Our community is as diverse as Canada itself, as old as Canada itself, but you wouldn't know it listening to the old conversation. 

The Canadian Arab Institute's work will embrace the richness of our culture, cultivate our human capital, highlight our place in Canadian society, and promote the contributions we make and potential we can bring in the service of our society.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of a new voice, one that upholds the ideals of freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equity and the rule of law. 

We stretch our hands to Canadians everywhere.  Join us in promoting reason, understanding and dialogue.  Work with us in rejecting fear, hate and prejudice.

We reach out to Canadian institutions of all stripes, collaborate with us for the benefit of our society and the values of inclusion and diversity it stands for. 

Let us 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.

I hope you will enjoy the rest of the evening. 

Thank you.