For Ugandan Ismaili refugees, Justin Trudeau, the new PM of Canada reminds them of the glory days when his father and the Aga Khan facilitated their settlement in Canada

Justin Trudeau greets His Highness the Aga Khan as he arrives in Ottawa, Canada, to celebrate his Golden Jubilee in 2008. Looking on are Senator Mubina Jaffer, left, and MP Yasmin Ratansi. Mr. Trudeau was then an MP for his Papineau riding in the Quebec. (Image credit: The Ismaili)
Justin Trudeau greets His Highness the Aga Khan as he arrives in Ottawa, Canada, to celebrate his Golden Jubilee in 2008. Looking on are Senator Mubina Jaffer, left, and MP Yasmin Ratansi. Mr. Trudeau was then an MP for his Papineau riding in the Quebec. (Image credit: The Ismaili)

This is the first time in Canadian history that a child of a former Prime Minister has followed in the footsteps of his father, and taken the top job in the country. The Liberals got a majority of 180 seats, but more, their victory signals a 180 degree turn from the divisive politics of the Conservative government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the presence of his Cabinet delivers a statement in front of the Rideau Hall facade. (Image credit: MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall via Simerg)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the presence of his Cabinet delivers a statement in front of the Rideau Hall facade. (Image credit: MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall via Simerg)

To me, today’s grand event of Justin Trudeau taking the oath as Prime Minister was also “back to the past”, 1972, when Canada admitted so many of us Uganda Asians under the leadership of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. For me, too, as an Ismaili, the 1972 expulsion is special because of the role my spiritual leader, His Highness the Aga Khan, played in the resettlement of the expellees in Canada, with Pierre Elliot Trudeau, no less, and because of the role played by his uncle Prince Sadruddin as head of UNHCR in taking the last of the Uganda expellees to refugee centres in Europe.

Prince Sadrudin Aga Khan pictured with Ugandan Asian refugees at the Naples refugee centre. (Image credit: Vali Jamal Collection. Copyright via Simerg)
Prince Sadrudin Aga Khan pictured with Ugandan Asian refugees at the Naples refugee centre. (Image credit: Vali Jamal Collection. Copyright via Simerg)

In his address the newly sworn Prime Minister stated: “Canada is strong not in spite of its diversity, but because of it, and we are committed to bringing new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa. We also made a commitment to pursue our goals with a renewed sense of collaboration. Most importantly, we will be a government that governs for all Canadians and brings Canadians together.” These are significant words.

The swearing-in ceremony of the new Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, seated 5th from left, and his cabinet took place at Rideau Hall on Wednesday November 4, 2015. The ceremony was presided by the Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable David Johnston, who is is shown in the photo on the right of the Prime Minister. (Image credit: Sgt. Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall via Simerg)
The swearing-in ceremony of the new Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, seated 5th from left, and his cabinet took place at Rideau Hall on Wednesday November 4, 2015.
The ceremony was presided by the Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable David Johnston, who is is shown in the photo on the right of the Prime Minister.
“A Cabinet that looks like Canada. Because it’s 2015.”
The 31-member cabinet includes 15 women.
(Image credit: Sgt. Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall via Simerg)

Discover, Explore & learn more via Simerg | Congratulations to the Rt. Honourable Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister of Canada: For Ugandan Ismaili refugees, he reminds them of the glory days when his father and the Aga Khan facilitated their settlement in Canada

3 thoughts

  1. Yes, indeed, Justin Trudeau’s ascension to the premiership did/does remind me (the I in the article!) of the days of yore when Canada was the champion of multiculturism/pluralism, the first country in the world – and quite likely the only country so far – to enshrine multiculturism in their constitution. That happened in 1988. The Ismaili expellees from Uganda were admitted at the end of 1972. It was the first time Canada was admitting such a large number of non-White refugees. The points-system applied but at least since five years before that it was race-blind. Some 12 Ismaili families had come and settled in Canada (mostly Vancouver) since the mid-1960s under the point-system – and they had points by the bucketful – lawyers, doctors, accountants, new-generation businessmen, trailblazed by Advocate (late) Zeenat Virani. So Ismailis were East African pioneers to Canada, just as they were to East Africa (read Zanzibar) at mid 19th century encouraged on by HH Aga Khan I, 46th Imam Hassanali Shah. The dozen or so Ismaili families settled in Canada by 1972 did step forward and started “sponsoring” the refugees back in Uganda, something that was not known in a refugee situation. We learn from the diary of the chief of the Canadian mission Roger St Vincent that they were influenced in their selection process by these sponsorships. HH Aga Khan played his role in negotiating Uganda Asian entry into Canada with his friend Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The refugee mission was sect-blind and one-third of the Canadian intake were nonIsmailis, as grateful as Ismailis to HHAK at their silver-cloud good luck at being expelled from Uganda and admitted to the great country. The “Ugandans” (as they are known in British Columbia) thrived and I have argued that their successful resettlement contributed to Canada adopting the Multiculturism Law in 1988. And that contributed to HH Aga Khan establishing his Global Centre for Pluralism in Canada – and 2-3 other landmark institutions, not the least the “embassy” of the Imamat.
    Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan played his role as head of the UNHCR in our resettlement. That is another story of heroism in the Uganda saga. The 6 thousand or so Uganda Asians who were literally rescued from Uganda in the last week of the expulsion deadline are in life-long gratitude to UNHCR, who they look at as Prince Sadruddin.
    All of the above is in my book Uganda Asians, Then and Now. It’s a saga by itself – 8.6 years in the writing, 1940 pages (1.2 m words), >500 stories of the expulsion, pioneering Uganda, pioneering UK, pioneering Canada, settling down in 20 diaspora countries, and trickling back to Uganda at the fall of Amin. >10,000 images. The economic basis of the expulsion is elaborated from my doctoral research at Stanford on poverty and income distribution in Uganda. At 1972 we were but 1% of the Uganda population and/but earned/generated 67% of the non-food GDP. We had exclusionary ways to go with that. President Museveni took the bold step to bring us back and restore all our properties. The 2 thousand or so returnees have prospered beyond anything dreamable in 1972. The 1% today earn 75% of the non-food GDP, which is 7 times bigger than in 1972, but the 1% class now includes Africans as well as Asians.
    Clearly without meaning to bias my book there is a definite Ismaili angle there: *early pioneers to East Africa, Canada, UK; *HH Aga Khan 1972 role; *Prince Sadruddin role; *establishment of several landmark Ismaili centres in Canada; *HH Aga Khan as the largest single investor in Uganda, headed by the (em)powering Bujagali hydroelectric scheme.
    From these upfront, in-your-face facts, will I be accused of an I-bias – for my community? Well, the book had to give recognition to the above. Beyond that I would be foolish not to acknowledge the contributions made by all Uganda Asian communities. The book records that soon after the pioneering days it was the bhai-bandh communities that contributed disproportionately to Uganda’s development. Community leaders availed me their souvenirs and files and now my book is resplendent with extracts from those – Hindus, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, Ithnasheris, Bohras, Goans – even Baluchis are represented in my book. Ironically the Ismaili community lost all their documents in 1972. The Sikhs and other Punjabis are accorded a place of honour for building the Uganda Railway, just as they built the rail lines in Canada! Arey wot are you talking? Even Uganda Africans are represented in my book for their suffering during the dark decades. Today my book is being acknowledged as a Uganda history book – not just Uganda Asian history book, let alone Uganda Ismaili history book.
    Coming back to Trudeau Sr and Jr, of course I was elated at the election of the Liberal party as the majority in Canada – 180+ seats and already Justin Trudeau has made a 180+ degree turn to the heady days of his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the third “hero” of my book after HHAK and UNHCR. I am just pleased my book will come out (March, Inshallah) under the Liberal administration and not be sneaked in under the divisive people of the 22nd prime minister. I think my book will make an impact in Geneva and France too. Just last week His Highness the Aga Khan Prince Karim paid a sentiment-filled visit to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, hosted by the current High Commissioner. I know from my son Arafat Jamal who holds a high position at UNHCR that High Commissioner and uncle Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan was fondly remembered.
    Just one point: This article is based on my articles here and on Simerg. It’d’ve been nice to have been acknowledged, but the message is more important than the messenger.

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