OTTAWA– Parliamentarians have voted to grant the Aga Khan honorary Canadian citizenship in what the prime minister describes as a recognition of his leadership in promoting “development, pluralism and tolerance around the world.” Honorary Canadian citizenship is bestowed by the Governor General and requires the unanimous approval of all voting MPs. Born in Geneva, Shah Karim al-Hussayni is the fifth person to be named an honorary Canadian citizen. The Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and is widely recognized for his work against poverty and his promotion of tolerance.
Now 72, he is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, which works in Asia and Africa and is one of the world’s largest private development networks. The federal government is teaming with the Aga Khan to build the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, which will promote ethnic, cultural and religious exchange and education.
“Our government appreciates the work of the Aga Khan Development Network to improve the quality of life of people in many of the world’s most impoverished nations,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a release Friday. “In particular, we are grateful for the immense contribution the Aga Khan Development Network is making in Afghanistan, as we work together to help the people of that country build a better future. “I look forward to welcoming the Aga Khan back to Canada as an honorary citizen, and continuing to work closely with him to improve tolerance, pluralism and development around the world.” The Aga Khan was in Edmonton recently to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta, where he spoke at length about ethics and “the arrogance of colonialism, the rigidities of communism, the romantic dreams of nationalism (and) the naive promises of untrammelled capitalism.” Honorary Canadian citizenship has been given to four others: Swedish diplomat and Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg (posthumously in 1985); former South Africa president and Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela (2001); the Dalai Lama (2006); and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi (2007), a Nobel laureate who has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest in her native Myanmar.