BY VALI JAMAL
(Special to Simerg)
The remarkable victory by Justin Trudeau in the Canadian Federal Election held last month, and his momentous swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall on November 4, 2015, as Prime Minister of Canada, has resonated with Uganda-origin Ismailis everywhere for the role played by his father, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919 – 2000), in the settlement of 7,000 of them after the expulsion of 1972.
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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.
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.
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.
Our success in settling down in Canada led to Canada enshrining Multiculturalism in Canada’s laws in 1987, and to His Highness the Aga Khan siting the Global Centre for Pluralism in Canada.
There were around 65,000 Asians in Uganda at the time of the 1972 expulsion. The British papers racheted it up to 80,000 based on the census of 1969, not realizing that over ten thousand had crept away to UK to beat immigration quotas, and thirty thousand or so had non-British nationalities, including 15-20,000 Ugandans.
The UK Prime Minister, Edward Heath, started calling up all Commonwealth Premiers to help with the crisis. Australia said they would not budge from their “White Australia” policy. India and Pakistan said, sure, they’d take their 10,000 nationals but not UK passport-holders. USA said they would accept 1,500 Asians “on parole” – i.e. without going through their immigration processes. The British passport-holders in fact didn’t want to go anywhere except Britain, viewing the expulsion as a blessing in disguise for short-circuiting the never-ending voucher system of the British. Britain eventually accepted responsibility for their 30,000 subjects.
Edward Heath’s pleas fell on receptive ears in Canada. Within a week of the expulsion notice, departmental meetings were held in Ottawa to respond to the Uganda Asian crisis and within a fortnight the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, announced at the parliament that Canada was ready to accept “without numerical limitation those Asians who meet the immigration selection criteria.” His Highness the Aga Khan contacted Mr. Trudeau to negotiate with him how many refugees Canada would accept. In the end Canada admitted around 7,000, one-third non-Ismailis.
The Aga Khan family played another significant role in the expulsion story in the form of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (uncle of His Highness) as head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. At the last week of the expulsion deadline there were still around 6,000 Asians in Uganda who wanted to make a go of their verified citizenship or who were handicapped and had failed getting into any country. UNHCR quietly let it be known that they’d take away any Asian wanting to leave. Prince Sadruddin personally visited several UNHCR centres and managed to resettle all the 6,000 or so Uganda Asian refugees in a score of countries within a year.
I have recorded the expulsion drama of the Ugandan Asians in a major well-researched and exhaustive work of around 1700 pages which is expected to be published next spring. I am just so pleased my book will come out under a compassionate administration in Canada, one that holds fast to the tenets of multiculturalism.
FLASHBACKS 25 YEARS APART
[I] THE SILVER JUBILEE OF HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN (1982-1983)
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[II] AND TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER…THE GOLDEN JUBILEE (2007-2008)
Date posted: November 4/5, 2015.
Date last updated: November 8, 2015 (new photo at top)
About the writer: Vali Jamal has a BA from Cambridge (Trinity College) and a PhD from Stanford. He was a Senior Economist with UN-International Labour Organization from 1976 to 2001. He lives in Kampala, Uganda. As noted above in his piece, his mammoth illustrated work on the Ugandan Asians will be released next spring.
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