Western president, alumni among RBC Canadian Immigrant Award winners

By Communications Staff
June 24, 2014

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Western President Amit Chakma, along with Western alumni Alan Diner, BA ’90, Dr. Surinder Singh Khurana, DDS’06, and Farah Mohamed, MA’96, have been named recipients of the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award for 2014.

Given out annually since 2009 by Canadian Immigrant Magazine, in partnership with RBC Royal Bank, the awards recognize people who have come to Canada and made a positive difference living here. It is the first Canadian national award program that recognizes immigrants’ achievements from all walks of life.

“The inspired stories of my fellow finalists are what make up the fabric of this great country and I am truly humbled to be honoured alongside them,” Chakma said. “We are all proud Canadians who are grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to make our lives in a society that celebrates diversity.”

Chakma (London/Bangladesh) is Western’s 10th president and vice-chancellor, and a passionate advocate of postsecondary education, especially for the important role international students play in Canada.

Diner (Toronto/South Africa) is a lawyer who dedicates much of his time to mentoring immigrants, young lawyers and doing pro-bono work for refugees. He was recently appointed a federal court judge.

Khurana (Missisauga/India) is a successful, internationally trained dentist who today helps others through their licensing process as the director of the Ontario Simulation Training Centre (OSTC) for Foreign-Trained Dentists.

Mohamed (Toronto/Uganda) is president and CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit, an annual international event that brings together young women ahead of the G20 Summit to find ways to bring economic empowerment to women around the world.

“Every year, we have yet another amazing group of 25 winners. This year’s 25 are as diverse as they are interesting,” said Margaret Jetelina, editor of Canadian Immigrant Magazine. “Thanks to the people who nominated and voted for them, we have uncovered the inspiring stories of artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, volunteers and activists from across the country who are truly making Canada a better place.”

More than 630 nominations were received in just two months, from which 75 finalists were shortlisted by a diverse judging panel, including several past winners. More than 40,000 votes were cast online, making it the most popular year in the award’s history. The final 25 were chosen based on a combination of votes and a second round of judging.

Past RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant award winners include former Governor Generals Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean; filmmaker Deepa Mehta; CBC’s Ian Hanomansing; and NBA All-Star and philanthropist Steve Nash.

The remaining winners from 2014 included:

  • Vivian Abboud (Edmonton/Lebanon) is a senior manager with Alberta Education, a business owner (Viva Café), an EdD candidate, and a community advocate who played a key role in the development of the Women of Advocacy Voice of Edmonton WAVE;
  • Akram Al-otumi (Halifax/Yemen) was an international student who turned his experiences into an innovative business, the Azal Student Agency to support immigrants and students in their transition;
  • Dalal Al-Waheidi (Toronto/Palestine) is executive director of global We Day, where she is spearheading the We Day-Free The Children’s signature domestic program;
  • Naval Bajaj (Brampton/India) is an entrepreneur, the youngest elected president of the Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC), and has led two trade missions to India;
  • Shala Chandani (Vancouver/Tanzania) has been serving the Canadian Ismaili Muslim community as a volunteer for more than 20 years, dedicating many hours per week, and working full time as an HR professional;
  • Senthi Chelliah (Markham/ Sri Lanka) is a fixture in Toronto’s Tamil community, having started a telephone hotline service and later a business directory, Tamils’ Guide;
  • Arlene Dickinson (Vancouver/South Africa) is a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, a regular on TV’s Dragons’ Den and a philanthropist who helps causes such as Breakfast Clubs of Canada;
  • Nassreen Filsoof (Vancouver/Iran) is a nurse by profession and owner of a long-term health care facility, as well as president and CEO of the Canadian Iranian Foundation, with a mission to facilitate the integration of new immigrants;
  • Roberto Hausman (Toronto/Uruguay) was nominated as one of the 10 most influential Hispanics in Canada, is the founder and director of the Canadian Law Enforcement Training College, and the founder of the charity Needy Children Assistance;
  • Mobina Jaffer (Vancouver/Uganda) was the first woman of South Asian heritage to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. She represents the province of British Columbia in the Senate, where she chairs the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights;
  • Manwar Khan (Edmonton/Bangladesh) is an Alberta public service employee who tried to intervene in a violent attack at a train station that ended in a tragic death. He is now using his experience to create awareness against violence;
  • Peter Mielzynski (Burlington, ON /Poland) is one of the pioneers of the Ontario wine industry whose hard work and vision have changed the business of winemaking in Canada;
  • Gentil Misigaro (Winnipeg/Congo) is a talented musician, producer, and performer who has contributed his time and talents toward teaching at-risk children free music programs via the charitable organization Status4 Inc.;
  • Gradimir Pankov (Montreal/Macedonia) is artistic director of Les Grands Ballets de Montréal, a Canadian dance company he has taken to new global heights under his leadership;
  • Alberto Rodil (Toronto/Philippines) is an immigrant settlement worker at Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office who brings hope to thousands of his newcomer clients in Canada, particularly seniors, through his work;
  • Sarthak Sinha (Calgary/India) is a high school student doing research at a graduate level in the sciences, and has been recognized for his “genius” with several awards;
  • Julie Suen (Richmond Hill/Hong Kong) is president and CEO of Canadian Chinese Radio, using her role in the media to promote equality and racial harmony. She is also an active community volunteer and fundraiser for various causes;
  • Ilse Treurnicht (Toronto/South Africa) is CEO of the MaRS Discovery District, a leading innovation centre that strives to position Canada as a leader in the innovation economy;
  • John Volken (Surrey, BC/Germany) is the successful entrepreneur behind the United Furniture Warehouse, who now focuses on his philanthropic foundation, helping recovering addicts and children in poverty;
  • James Wang (Burnaby/China) is vice-president of Canadian Overseas Holdings, a senior advisor with Canada Export Centre, and a school trustee in Burnaby, working to benefit children in the public school system; and
  • Dr. Anna Wolak (Vancouver/Philippines) is a family physician who has demonstrated strong leadership within the medical community, including involvement in UBC Medical School educational planning committees.


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