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Motion to Grant to His Highness the Aga Khan the Honourary Title of Citizen of Canada - 2009-06-23

Tuesday, 2009, June 23
Canadian Senate

CANADA: Debates of the Senate

Motion to grant to His Highness the Aga Khan The Honourary Title of ‘Citizen of Canada’

(Motion Unanimously Adopted)

Statements by:

The Honourable Mobina S.B. Jaffer, Q.C.
The Honourable Consiglio DiNino
The Honourable Marcel Prud’homme, P.C.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Motion to Grant to His Highness the Aga Khan the Honourary Title of Citizen of Canada

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government), pursuant to notice of June 22, 2009, moved:


Whereas His Highness the Aga Khan, leader of the worldwide Ismaili Muslim Community, is a beacon of humanitarianism, pluralism and tolerance throughout the world;

Whereas in addition to the spiritual leadership he provides to the worldwide Ismaili community, the Aga Khan is also actively involved in humanitarian and development projects throughout Asia and Africa;

Whereas Canadians are grateful for the Aga Khan's efforts in Afghanistan where today the Aga Khan Development Network is a vital partner in our efforts to secure and improve the lives of Afghan citizens;

Whereas Canada is proud to have partnered with the Aga Khan to build the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa which will promote ethnic, cultural and religious tolerance in Canada and worldwide;

Whereas Canada has previously acknowledged the contributions of other leading champions of human dignity, granting them honorary Canadian citizenship;

Therefore, the Senate of Canada resolves to bestow the title "honorary Canadian citizen" on His Highness the Aga Khan.

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:

Honourable senators, I rise also to speak on the motion, but I first want to thank the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, for suggesting that we bestow the title of honorary Canadian citizenship on His Highness the Aga Khan.

It is an honour and a privilege to rise today in support of the motion to recognize His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims with the title of honorary Canadian citizen. I am proud, as a Canadian and an Ismaili Muslim, that we can bestow this honour on someone who is so richly deserving of it.

I know that some of you in this chamber are familiar with the contributions the Aga Khan and the Ismaili Imamat have made in Canada and internationally to advance pluralism and diversity.

It was not that long ago that we celebrated the opening of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat here in Ottawa, the home of the Aga Khan Development Network. The network is a group of development agencies with mandates ranging from health and education to architecture, culture, micro-finance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private sector enterprise and the revitalization of historic cities.

The Aga Khan Development Network agencies conduct their programs without regard to faith, origin or gender. As Senator Comeau's motion states, the Aga Khan Development Network is currently with Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to improve the lives of the Afghani people. The Aga Khan Development Network's efforts in Afghanistan includes large-scale rural development; health, education and civil society programs; micro-finance services and the rehabilitation of historic neighbourhoods in Kabul and Herat with a rapidly growing mobile phone network. With the support of its donors and partner, more than U.S. $700 million has been channelled to the network for Afghanistan's reconstruction.

The Global Centre for Pluralism, another initiative of His Highness the Aga Khan, is yet another example of his long-standing partnership with Canada. Dedicated to the creation of successful societies, the centre is founded on the premise that tolerance, openness and understanding towards the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other people are essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.

The credo of the centre is, and I quote:

Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development. It is vital to our existence.

To quote the Aga Khan himself:

We cannot make the world safe for democracy unless we also make the world safe for diversity.

Canada is an ideal place for such a partnership, and I am glad that these are not the only areas to which we have been able to extend that cooperation. Through the Aga Khan University, His Highness has been a champion in promoting education, research and innovation. Canadian institutions have been a benefactor of this partnership as well. Just last week, His Highness received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta. During the ceremony, he also signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Alberta.

Aga Khan University and the University of Alberta will work together to advance mutually held goals for a greater global engagement and social understanding. Canadian students and, ultimately, the global community will benefit from this continued cooperation. This adds to a growing list of partnerships between Aga Khan University and the Canadian universities that already include McMaster University, the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto.

Aga Khan University President Firoz Rasul said:

This partnership will enable the University of Alberta's expertise to impact parts of the world that would not otherwise benefit from these capabilities. Their innovative approach to research, teaching and service in health care, education and sustainable economic and environmental development in northern Canadian communities could greatly benefit the developing countries in which the Aga Khan University, the University of Central Asia and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture currently work.

As you can see, honourable senators, this is the type of friendship our country wants to keep and on which we can continue to build. As you can also undoubtedly tell, I am personally overjoyed to support this motion.

Honourable senators, I would like to share some personal reflections with you today.

I am very much aware that I enjoy this place, a place of privilege in the Senate amongst you, as a result of the time and resources the Aga Khan has personally spent on me. My Montessori education was paid for by His Highness the Aga Khan. My elementary education was paid for by His Highness the Aga Khan. My secondary education was paid for by His Highness the Aga Khan. I know for a fact that my teachers were personally interviewed and chosen by His Highness the Aga Khan and sent to Uganda from the U.K. in Scotland to educate us. The Aga Khan has always encouraged Ismaili women to play a leadership role in our institutions.

The Aga Khan has gone further; he has worked hard to ensure that women are treated equally in the Ismaili community. In fact, he has enabled them to have leadership experiences in his institutions. I am a product of receiving leadership experience in the Aga Khan's institutions. As a Ugandan refugee, I know I am in the greatest country in the world — Canada — because of the Aga Khan's hard work in obtaining asylum for Ugandan refugees in Canada.

Today, I ask you to support this motion, as I know that I have achieved all I have because of His Highness the Aga Khan's hard work for me to be able to succeed in Canada.

If this motion goes through, the Aga Khan will become the fifth person to be recognized with the title of honorary citizen. He joins Raoul Wallenberg, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. This is distinguished company, but there are few more deserving to join this select group than His Highness the Aga Khan.

Honourable senators, I am overjoyed to welcome His Highness, Prince Karim Aga Khan as a fellow Canadian. I hope you will join with me and the Canadian Ismaili community in welcoming him and working toward an even greater partnership to advance our mutual goals. I ask you to support this motion.

Hon. Consiglio Di Nino:

Honourable senators, I am delighted to make a few comments on this issue. The Aga Khan is a man I have admired, one of the heroes I have looked up to throughout my life. I rise today to pay tribute to one of the world's outstanding humanitarians, an exceptional human being, and a pillar of strength, compassion, tolerance and understanding.

His Highness the Aga Khan became Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims on July 11, 1957, at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan.

Since assuming the office of the Imamat, he has been instrumental in promoting the well-being of Muslims. During the five decades since the present Aga Khan became Imam, the world has undergone significant economic and social change, and he has been a beacon of hope during this time.

The Aga Khan has emphasized the view of Islam as being a thinking and spiritual faith, one that promotes the dignity of each human being. In a recent speech at the University of Alberta, where the Aga Khan understandably received a standing ovation, he said:

In today's community of nations, a country's standing is no longer recognized simply by what it can achieve for itself but just as much what it can do for others.

This commitment to pluralism has guided him and can be instructive for us as Canadians as we seek to help others at home and abroad.

The spiritual leadership the Aga Khan has provided to the worldwide Ismaili community is complemented by the humanitarian and development work he has spearheaded. The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of institutions working to improve living conditions and opportunities in many regions of the developing world. The network is a steadfast partner with Canada as we work together to enhance the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

Canada is also partnering with the Aga Khan here at home. The Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa will be a driving force for the promotion of tolerance in Canada and around the world.

Honourable senators, it is fitting and a testament to our gratitude to the Aga Khan's life-long work that we are bestowing honorary Canadian citizenship upon him. Only four individuals have previously had this honour granted to them, and they include Raoul Wallenberg, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. I may add that a number of senators have had the privilege of debating and being part of granting these great honours.

Honourable senators, the Aga Khan shall be included in this distinct and meritorious group of individuals, who stand as testament to building a better world and who, through their work, fostered the principles of respect, compassion, tolerance and understanding.

Honourable senators, bestowing honorary Canadian citizenship on His Highness the Aga Khan, is well-deserved recognition of five decades of exceptional service to human kind. He has improved the lives of countless thousands, which will no doubt be of benefit to all the citizens of the world. I urge all honourable senators to support this motion.

Hon. Marcel Prud'homme:

Honourable senators, for brevity I will make my intervention in English.

I have no notes, so I will go by memory. I speak especially, as an elder on his way out, to new senators who have joined us, particularly to those who have just recently joined us.

Of course, with great honour, I will join in the good works done by Senator Jaffer, but we still have not solved an immense difficulty. We do not have a process.

I kept standing up. I did it in the House of Commons when, out of a moment of distraction, at five o'clock on Monday afternoon, December 9, 1985, it was decided suddenly that Raoul Wallenberg was to be made an honorary Canadian citizen. He is a fantastic human being, but no one ever told the House of Commons who he was. It was just a debate back and forth.

At one minute to six, some members feeling insulted said, "Look at Marcel Prud'homme; he is speaking too long." I knew how to watch a clock. The declaration recognizing Raoul Wallenberg as a Canadian citizen was eventually passed by the House of Commons and then moved on to the Senate.

Those elders in the Senate will remember that some senators were outraged. They adjourned the Senate and, believe it or not, the Speaker was called back in the name of a national emergency. My friend, Speaker Guy Charbonneau, was called back by Senator Roblin in the name of a national emergency, and we had not seen that since the war. There were two separate sittings that day.

Of course, some senators had gone away between the first and second sittings of the same day, so they were considered absent. I know Senator Corbin raised that question. Senator Watt was there, and other elders here will remember what happened.

I still claim, unfortunately, that Mr. Wallenberg is not really an honorary citizen of Canada because the process was not followed through.

There was a vigorous discussion at that time between Allan MacEachen and Conservative senators. Then we started the second sitting. As you know, we corrected it.

Honourable senators, I was pleased to join Senator Di Nino when the House of Commons recognized the Dalai Lama, as if Parliament consisted only of the House of Commons. We could have said no. We adjourned that night.

Senator Di Nino will remember that I was more than happy to sit down with him and say, "Let us amend this to say the House of Commons and the Senate." However, there is still no process. We do not know how to proceed if we really want to honour someone.

Honourable senators, do you know how many honorary citizens there are in the United States? There are two, one of whom is Raoul Wallenberg. The late Congressman Tom Lantos — a citizen of Hungary of Jewish origin — was saved by Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary. He made it the cause of his life, and he succeeded in having the declaration of honorary citizenship put to a committee. From there, it went to a subcommittee, back to the main committee, then on to both houses, following which it was signed by the President of the United States of America.

This is the kind of process I would like to see develop in the future. People should be able to stand up and suggest whomever they wish. Whatever the merits of each case, we must establish a good process.

I will leave it to others to prepare notes. This summer, I will likely put forward a proposal for the future so that people can to reflect on it.

I would say that the example to follow would be that of Mr. Nelson Mandela. His process was a good one. Mr. Mandela's recognition was put to the House of Commons. Senators will remember that one member objected violently because he thought Mr. Mandela was a terrorist. He was on the terrorist list in the old days. The world has changed rapidly. According to the Immigration Act, he should not have been allowed into Canada for his past activities as a terrorist. He was on the terrorist list, but now he is a Canadian citizen.

I am sorry for those who will read this, as more words may be needed for clarification. However, to the best of my memory — having been taken by surprise with this good motion — I suggest that the best process to follow would be what we did with Mr. Mandela. It started with the House of Commons. It was presented like a bill. It came to the Senate and was well appreciated. I personally called the Ambassador of South Africa to ensure he would be in the gallery.

Senator Cools, for those who like history, made a very impassioned and excellent speech. I see Senator Carstairs and Senator Fairbairn acknowledging this fact, so I am not too off the ball today.

Then we had a real royal sanction to make him an honorary Canadian citizen. To me, that is the only way to proceed. We must have a process.

I see that this motion started in the House of Commons. Why are we reacting like this? It is because the motion came suddenly in the House of Commons. The House of Commons suggested what we are suggesting today.

I thank Senator Comeau for his motion and Senator Jaffer for her good work today on behalf of a man I respect and happen to have met once; he is highly deserving of the honour.

It is as if there are two Parliaments. The Senate of Canada is happy to join with the House of Commons to make the Aga Khan an honorary Canadian citizen and then to have the royal sanction. In my view, that would be the only way to honour someone. We need a good process, one in which people can make recommendations through a committee and then both houses will pass a law.

That is for the future. Of course, today I do applaud and join with the resolution put by Senator Comeau and the good words of Senator Jaffer.

Hon. Tommy Banks: Will the honourable senator accept a question?

Senator Prud'homme: Of course.

Senator Banks: Am I right in assuming that the second honorary U.S. citizen that you did not quite get to is Sir Winston Churchill?

Senator Prud'homme: Exactly. I thank you. I did not expect this debate. People think there are many honorary citizens of the United States, but in fact there are only Winston Churchill and Raoul Wallenberg. It is an honour for both well-known people.

On the same day as Raoul Wallenberg was honoured, I thought we could honour Mother Theresa, who was suggested as an honorary Canadian citizen. We did not push further at that time because we wanted to have that kind of process.

An Hon. Senator: Question.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

(Motion agreed to.)

2009-06-23-AgaKhan-CanadianCitizenship.doc103.5 KB

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