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The Stately Launch of the Ismaili Delegation - 2008-12-10

Wednesday, 2008, December 10
Jeff Davis

A full hour before he showed up, a throng of more than 100 of his followers waited patiently on Sussex Drive Saturday afternoon, enduring the cold for the chance of a mere glimpse of their spiritual leader.

When the Aga Khan arrived at the opening ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen, a great cheer arose from the crowd outside.

This in turn set off a round of excited giggling from the throngs of dignitaries inside the dramatic main atrium of the delegation.

In his remarks, Mr. Harper said that though they met just three years ago, he felt that he has known the Aga Khan for a long time. In his dorm room at the University of Calgary, he explained, an Ismaili roommate had a photo of him on the wall.

"How is it you never age?" Mr. Harper asked the princely spiritual leader who has reigned now for a half century.

Many Ismaili power players from the Canadian Government turned out for the event, including former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan Arif Lalani, who flew all the way from London, England for the event.

Other Ismailis from DFAIT and CIDA were also present, many of them volunteering for the grand opening because they couldn't secure an invite.

Also present was another high-placed Ismaili, Alykhan Velshi, who serves as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's director of communications and has played a role in the government's outreach to minority voters.

Mr. Velshi joked that he scored some major points with his parents by getting them on the guest list for the historic opening.

After unveiling a commemorative plaque, the Aga Khan waded into the throng of people waiting to meet him.

From the government were Transport Minister John Baird, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, Minister of State for Status of Women Helena Guergis and her new husband, defeated Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

From the bureaucratic ranks were David Mulroney, chief of the PCO Afghan task force, his CIDA counterpart Stephen Wallace, and former deputy minister of foreign affairs Peter Harder. Also present was Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin, former ambassador to Washington Derek Burney, former Liberal foreign minister Bill Graham, former ambassador to the UN Allan Rock, and Herb Gray, the longest serving MP in Canadian history.

Also on the scene were the Aga Khan's personal friends, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson and her spouse, writer John Ralston Saul. The two backed the Aga Khan to become an honourary companion of the Order of Canada, an honour given to those who have demonstrated the highest degree of merit to Canada and humanity on the international scene.

Showing off the new building was Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, who designed the delegation, his first work in Canada.

The Aga Khan said the delegation will be a home base for the Aga Khan Development Network.

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