Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra

Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra


Howard Adelman

One of the other pieces of correspondence I received last week when I took a week off from my blog when I was travelling in the West was a reference to a recent article by Ezra Levant and published in The Sun entitled, “Bad advice: Think Justin Trudeau’s instincts are scary? Take a look at what two of his advisers have to say,”


I received a third piece from two other readers as follows:


We knew it was coming.

So who is Omar Alghabra?

  1. Alghabra is the Saudi-born former president of the Canadian Arab Federation
  2. Alghabra holds extremist views. When he was president of the Arab Federation in 2004, he denounced Canada’s largest newspaper chain for using the term “terrorist” to describe Muslim terrorist groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. He said that was a mere opinion, not a fact.
  3. In 2005, Alghabra wrote a letter to Toronto’s police chief condemning the chief for participating in a charity walk for Israel, saying Israel was “conducting a brutal and the longest contemporary military occupation in the world.”
  4. In a letter to a journalist, he wrote the chief’s visit to Israel was comparable to visiting Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
  5. When arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat died, Alghabra put out a press release announcing he was mourning for him.
  6. When Canada was setting up a no-fly list for passengers considered security threats, Alghabra opposed it.
  7. When Ontario narrowly rejected adopting shariah law for Muslim divorces, Alghabra was disappointed, calling it ‘unfortunate’.”


I write this blog in full recognition that it comes just at a time when Donald Trump is calling for a temporary but blanket banning of all Muslims from entering the United States. In this context, let me begin by introducing readers to Omar Alghabra for those unfamiliar with him.

In the recent Canadian election, on 19 October just five days before his 46th birthday, Omar was elected as the Liberal MP from Mississauga Centre, a new riding, but from 2006-2008 he used to represent Mississauga Erindale, part of which is now included in Mississauga Centre. He was greeted by much of the Canadian Muslim community, and especially the Arab Canadian community, as Canada’s first Arab and Muslim MP, even though Rahim Jaffer preceded Alghabra as a Conservative MP (1997-2008) as did Yasmin Ratansi, a Liberal MP (2004-2011) who had been the first female Muslim MP elected to Parliament. But both Rahim and Yasmin are Ismailis, so many Muslims do not regard them as expressions of mainstream Islam. Further, neither saw themselves in that light either.

Alghabra lost in the 2008 election by the narrowest margin of .71% of the vote. In the last election, he was strongly supported by Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s very long serving and very much loved previous mayor, and by the current mayor, Bonnie Crombie. Mississauga is Canada’s sixth largest city in which 60% of the population consists of immigrants. Omar Alghabra was elected with a clear majority of 54.72% over strong Conservative and NDP candidates, amassing 28,372 votes in a riding which is estimated to be 16-17% Muslim.

Though I attended a meeting in Mississauga recently when Bonnie Crombie, Mississauga’s mayor, promised to raise $5 million to resettle Syrian refugees, and Omar Alghabra was evidently also there, I never met him. However, I did read with favour his answer to a question when asked, as a Syrian with a mother and three sisters in Syria, whether he thought Canada had previously let down the cause of Syrian refugees, he replied, “This isn’t about how Syrians or anyone else sees Canada; it is about us, it is about how Canadians see ourselves — who are we?”

Alghabra was one of eleven Muslim candidates, all but one Liberal, to win in the 2015 election, and only one of two to have been an MP previously. Eight of the eleven Muslims are Arab. Thus, Arab and Muslim representation in our current parliament has a higher percentage of seats than the percentage of Muslims and certainly of Arabs in Canada. Muslims who complained that there should be at least four Muslim representatives in Parliament, certainly have no case for arguing their voice in not being heard, even if this arithmetical view of multiculturalist representation is fundamentally bogus in any case. Jewish MPs should represent all their constituents. So should Muslim MPs.

In the 2006-08 parliament, Alghabra served on the Liberal side as the immigration critic as well as natural resources critic, but in this past campaign, he largely focused on the Liberal promise to invest $125 billion over 10 years in transit, housing and daycare that targeted aid for middle class families. As a Liberal, he also argued that these initiatives would stimulate the Canadian economy

Given his strong support for Justin Trudeau in his leadership bid, given his role as one of many of Justin Trudeau’s policy advisers (not a Senior Policy adviser as often reported), given that he is only one of two Muslim MPs out of eleven with previous parliamentary experience, given the size of his victory, it was no surprise that he was named a Parliamentary Secretary on 2 December or why he might have hoped and even expected to be named to Cabinet. I dare say that if he had been a woman, he would have been given a ministerial appointment. As Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Consular Affairs, he is only responsible for consular affairs, not foreign policy; the final section of his title is often omitted by critics. The mandate of consular affairs is the service offered by our embassies and consulates to Canadians travelling abroad. Finally, Justin Trudeau has three senior policy advisers, Gerry Butts, Katie Telford and Dan Gagnier. None are sitting MPs, but every single MP can be characterized as an adviser to the leader of the Liberal Party and now the Prime Minister.

Though he campaigned overwhelmingly on domestic issues, Alghabra is of Syrian origin. Alghabra’s family lived in Saudi Arabia when he was born in Al Khobar. He came to Canada alone from Syria at 19. He has a mechanical engineering degree from Ryerson, an MBA from York University, and, though he worked for many years as an engineer for General Electric, prior to the recent election, he was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow with the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science at Ryerson. In addition to his focus largely on infrastructure improvement and transportation, especially dear to Mississauga, he also touted his strong support for democracy.

I was raised in areas where they don’t believe in democracy and civil rights, cultures of equality and justice, and there is no belief that a citizen has the power over their own destiny…now I have a unique appreciation for Canada and what Canada has to offer, so it is that passion about striving to protect the idea and the noble concept of democracy.

He has a long record of citizen activism. The criticisms aimed at him largely focus on that activism rather than his previous record in parliament. Those critiques deal largely with five issues: a) his alleged support for sharia law; b) his role in and support of the Canadian Arab Federation; c) his indirect support for terrorist organizations; d) his defence of the Palestinian cause; 5) his criticisms of Israel. I will discuss each in turn.

The critics of Omar Alghabra often cite his support for sharia law and his response to the Ontario government decision to reject allowing sharia law to operate in Ontario, allegedly calling the defeat “disappointing.” When I undertook a search for his position of sharia law, the only references I could find was a group of critics each citing the other to support the claim that he supported sharia law. If a reader can find a source, I would really welcome being shown it. Though even if he did say something along these lines, I am not sure what the problem is.

Sharia or Divine Law for Muslims is the Law of God, which, however, requires interpretation and case law to discern its application. Hence the many schools of fiqh schools dealing with sharia law. Suppose Algahabra did support sharia law. There is a radical difference between supporting sharia law and imposing sharia law by dictate as in Iran and in jurisdictions under the control of fundamentalist Islamicists. Sharia law requires Muslims to uphold the laws of a local jurisdiction, except, and only except, if those laws force a citizen to be a sinner. That, of course, is where the danger lies. For, as we see in Iran and Saudi Arabia, sin can be applied very broadly.

Ezra Levant has placed the conflict over the role of sharia law within a larger framework  of a program of lawfare, an attempt to gradually and incrementally make sharia law respectable.  Barbara Kay referred to those efforts as “soft” jihadism; “soft jihad strategy exploits liberal discourse and weakens our legal system to induce guilt about a largely mythical ‘Islamophobia’.” (Barbara Kay, “Paving the way for ‘soft jihad,’ 2 July 2008, The National Post. http:/www.barbarakay.ca/articles/views/54 Barbara Kay was objecting to the use of human rights commissions to adjudicate whether Ezra Levant or Mark Steyn were engaged in hate speech.

When Muslims utilize Canadian legal processes and institutions, such as Human Rights Commissions and appeals to anti-discrimination Canadian law and human rights codes, not “Islamic law,” they have every right to do so. Whether they win or lose in such a claim, in articulating arguments based in Canadian law, not sharia law, they reinforce and uphold that law; they do not undermine it. That is precisely why Barbara Kay, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant have all campaigned against the authority of human rights commissions. The reality is that violations of the applicable human rights code are relevant, not violations of Islamic law. There is the added reality that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims do not want sharia law o be enforced by the state, just as the vast majority of Jews do not want Jewish law to be enforced by the state.

However, when the proposal was made to permit the use of sharia law within the boundaries of Canadian law to operate in areas like divorce, inter-personal financial disputes, etc., not only was this denied, but previous permission for Jewish law to be used in such areas was withdrawn. Further, when the human rights commission ruled against the request of the Muslim organization to declare Mark Steyn’s book as an example of discrimination, in the name of freedom of speech, the Commission denied the request. However, in her comments afterwards, Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, indicated that there are many competing freedoms in Canadian law and the freedom to express oneself is not absolute and does not trump other decisions, such as religious freedom and protection from hate crimes. Even though the commission ruled in favour of the publication, in her comments Barbara Hall indicated that the writer could have been more alert to religious sensibilities and more objective in his commentary. However, one can well understand the concerns of such writers given the issuance of fatwas against Salman Rushdie and the more systematic efforts of some Muslim organizations to take legal actions against those who slight or mock Islam or its sacred symbols.

Tomorrow: Omar Alghabra: A Muslim Mole?