Second reading of Bill S-246, An Act respecting Lebanese Heritage Month

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Hon. Jane Cordy moved second reading of Bill S-246, An Act respecting Lebanese Heritage Month.

She said: Honourable senators, Canada is a country with a rich heritage of immigrants from all over the world arriving on our shores to pursue the dream of a better life for themselves and their families.

Bill S-246 aims to recognize and celebrate the experiences and contributions Lebanese Canadians have made and continue to make to Canada.

As the preamble to the bill states, Lebanese Canadians have — for generations — made significant social, economic, cultural, religious, military, philanthropic and political contributions to our social fabric and to the strength, resiliency and diversity of our communities.

Colleagues, I must begin my remarks by first acknowledging Member of Parliament for Halifax West, Lena Metlege Diab, whose leadership on this initiative has been instrumental.

Ms. Diab is a long-time community leader and active member of the Halifax Lebanese community. In 2010, she was the recipient of the Outstanding Professional of the Year award from the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in Nova Scotia.

She has served as president of the Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax at several intervals since 1993, including 2013 when the society celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.

Honourable senators, according to the 2016 Census data of those respondents who identified as Lebanese, Canada is home to 220,000 Canadian Lebanese. However, unofficial estimates by Global Affairs Canada put the number anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000. The largest Lebanese communities are in Montreal and Toronto. Recognizing and celebrating a Lebanese heritage month will encourage Lebanese Canadians across the country to share their stories, their traditions and their culture with all Canadians.

With the passage of this bill, each and every year throughout Canada the month of November would be designated as “Lebanese Heritage Month.”

Honourable senators, why designate November as Lebanese heritage month? From time immemorial, the region of modern‑day Lebanon had been under the rule of any number of empires, dynasties or colonial powers.

Beginning in 1920, the region fell under French colonial rule. In 1940, during the Second World War, the Nazi-installed Vichy France government assumed power over Lebanon. While the war continued, the Vichy government was removed in 1941 as Nazi control of Europe eroded and Allied forces made military gains in the region.

General Charles de Gaulle visited Lebanon shortly after Vichy France released control of the region. National leaders in Lebanon approached de Gaulle requesting independence. On November 26, 1941, General Georges Catroux, a delegate general under de Gaulle, proclaimed the independence of Lebanon.

However, this proclamation was essentially a hollow gesture as France maintained administrative and political control over the region. In defiance of France and following national elections in early November 1943, the first order of business for the new government was to amend the Lebanese Constitution to abolish France’s mandate over the country.

On November 11, 1943, the Lebanese flag flew for the first time over Lebanon.

The French government responded by arresting and imprisoning the newly elected president, prime minister and several other ministers.

Under immense pressure from other countries and wartime allies, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Arab states and the Soviet Union, France had little choice but to reconsider. On the morning of November 22, 1943, France released their political prisoners, and, after 23 years of French colonial rule, Lebanon was then officially an independent state.

November 22 has since been recognized and celebrated to mark Lebanon’s independence. The month of November holds significant importance for the population of Lebanon, Lebanese nationals and Lebanese descendants worldwide.

Honourable senators, in 2018, my province of Nova Scotia became the second province to officially recognize November as Lebanese heritage month. Ontario was the first to do so in 2017.

Nova Scotia has a robust Lebanese community with a rich history in our province. Many of the first Lebanese immigrants coming to Canada landed in Nova Scotia beginning in the late 1800s, and they chose to make the province their new home.

In 2018, a statue commemorating Lebanese immigrants was unveiled in Halifax. It portrays a Lebanese traveller wearing traditional clothes. The plaque accompanying the statue reads:

This monument is a universal symbol of a proud, strong, and globally united Lebanese community. The statue honors the early Lebanese settlers who, 130 years ago, established a presence in this country, sewing the bonds of loyalty, faith, and perseverance. We are thankful to our Nova Scotia community and for the enduring friendships built in our new home, Canada.

Nova Scotia is also home to the Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax, one of the oldest Lebanese societies in North America.

This past weekend, the fifteenth annual Lebanese Cedar Festival took place in Halifax. This annual festival was first conceived in 2006 under the leadership of Father Pierre Azzi and the parish council of Our Lady of Lebanon Parish. The focus of the Lebanese Cedar Festival in Halifax is to:

. . . promote and foster the Lebanese culture and traditions as integral elements of Canada’s multicultural mosaic and to provide a venue for Canadians of Lebanese heritage to reacquaint themselves with their rich roots. The Cedar Festival is an opportunity for families and groups of all ages to be together to experience the culture and heritage in a fun, free, and safe atmosphere!

Honourable senators, my husband and I spent last Saturday afternoon at the Lebanese Cedar Festival. It was a wonderful, sunny afternoon with singing, dancing and games for the children. Of course, there was also plenty of homemade traditional Lebanese food. Best of all, there were lots of smiling faces and friendly people.

It was the first festival since COVID, so there was a special feeling of coming together again. When the festival was cancelled in 2020, the community rallied to donate 2,000 meals of Lebanese food to first responders, health care workers and charities.

Honourable senators, Canada’s story is one of immigration. People from all over the world have left their homes, some by choice, but far too many have been forced to leave their homelands, to forge a new life in Canada.

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We know that immigration enriches Canadian society and grows the economies in communities large and small, urban, rural and remote, and leads to stronger Canadian trade and cultural ties with other countries.

Canada is not so much the melting pot that we are told growing up. Canada is rather like a big salad, with each culture adding a new ingredient and a new flavour. Cultures are not lost like they would be in a melting pot. But, rather, they come together to complement each other for a truly Canadian flavour.

Honourable senators, in 2015, a report entitled Economic Benefits of Immigration: The Impact of Halifax’s Lebanese Community was prepared by the Halifax Partnership and the Canadian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce. The aim of the report was to provide a case study and a summary of the impacts immigrants have on the Canadian and Halifax economies, with a focus on the Lebanese experience in Halifax.

According to the National Household Survey, the broader Lebanese community in Halifax in 2015 was 4,500 people. However, unofficial estimates put the number close to 7,000.

Officially, the Lebanese community makes up 3.75% of the Halifax population, of which nearly 20% are self-employed. The Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in Halifax counts among its members owners of many restaurants, grocery and convenience stores and construction and real estate development companies. They are innovators and they are entrepreneurs.

The report estimated that developers from the Lebanese community were responsible for nearly $4 billion in construction in Nova Scotia between 2005 and 2015, and that number has grown significantly since then. The report also estimated the direct and indirect employment related to Halifax’s Lebanese community and related business in Halifax is between 4,000 and 5,000 full-time jobs.

Honourable senators, the Canadian Lebanese community, like all immigrant communities that have chosen to make Canada home, have contributed greatly to the fabric of Canadian society and an enriched Canadian culture. I know in my province, Lebanese businesses have left an indelible mark on the city of Halifax with billions of dollars in construction projects.

And let’s not forget another significant cultural contribution to my province when, as the story goes, in 1901 Lebanese immigrant George Shebib introduced the unofficial card game of Cape Breton: tarabish. For those of you who are from Cape Breton, you have probably all played tarabish. I know that many Cape Bretonners still enjoy a good game of tarabish with friends around the kitchen table.

Honourable senators, I hope you will join me and support this bill in recognition of the rich history and contributions the Lebanese community has made to Canadian society. I look forward to hearing about the contributions Lebanese Canadians have made in your corner of Canada. Thank you.

 

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