MAWANI, Nurjehan

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Chancellor:

We Canadians have often heard that “diversity is our greatest strength.” This statement takes on its full meaning with people like Nurjehan Mawani, whom we honour today.

I think most would agree that Ms. Mawani’s public career has been guided by that principle, and that, through her numerous achievements, she has done more than most to give it substance. Indeed, Nurjehan Mawani can be described as the very embodiment of its spirit.

That she became a champion for equality and diversity should surprise no one. Very early in her life, Nurjehan Mawani came face to face with the obstacles of intolerance and prejudice.

As she herself has said, while growing up in Kenya, she had dreamed of becoming a lawyer, as she saw the law as an instrument of social change. In particular, the younger Ms. Mawani had wanted to become a barrister, so she could defend her clients in court.

C’est ainsi que Mme Mawani a étudié le droit, à Londres en Angleterre, et s’est qualifiée comme avocate plaidante à la fin des années 60. Malheureusement, elle s’est vite rendu compte que l’ordre établi au sein du système judiciaire britannique lui interdisait à toutes fins pratiques de plaider : parce qu’elle était une femme, immigrante, d’origine ethnique.

Elle s’est alors résignée à devenir procureure, sans pouvoir plaider en cours. Venue au Canada pour entreprendre une nouvelle vie, elle a continué à pratiquer le droit, et elle a été admise au Barreau de la Colombie-Britannique en 1985.

Un an plus tard, Nurjehan Mawani est nommée vice-présidente de la Commission de l’immigration, pour ainsi amorcer une carrière dans la fonction publique. Après avoir occupé les fonctions de vice-présidente de l’ancienne Commission d’appel de l’immigration, elle est nommée présidente de la Commission de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié en octobre 1992.

Sous sa direction éclairée et efficace, Mme Mawani a contribué à renforcer ce tribunal. Elle a également mis en place des liens solides avec divers partenaires, non seulement à l’intérieur du gouvernement, mais aussi à l’externe.

Ms. Mawani also strengthened the governance of the Immigration and Refugee Board, putting in place an accountability framework for the operations of the Board, while ensuring the independence of its decision-makers. As a result, she was able to ensure that this institution would continue to play a leading role within the administrative justice system in Canada.

Nurjehan Mawani’s landmark achievement as the Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board is certainly her pioneering work on women refugees and gender-related persecution.

In March 1993, when Nurjehan Mawani issued the “Guidelines on Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution,” Canada became the first country in the world to recognize gender-based persecution. To quote Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Canada was the trail-blazer in developing an asylum process that takes proper account of gender-related persecution.

“The IRB’s Guidelines were the first of their kind and led other countries to recognize the importance of devoting special attention in their asylum systems to the plight of refugee women,” end of quote.

Certaines personnes se seraient sûrement reposées sur leurs lauriers après un tel exploit. Mais l’énergie et le dévouement de Mme Mawani l’ont plutôt incitée à relever de nouveaux défis.

Ayant créé un précédent par son travail à la Commission de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié, Nurjehan Mawani est nommée commissaire à la Commission de la fonction publique. Pendant son mandat, elle continue de se vouer à la tâche de faire rayonner à la fonction publique les qualités d’ouverture et de représentativité.

Il y a à peine quelques mois, Mme Mawani a été nommée conseillère supérieure sur la diversité auprès de la présidente de l’École de la fonction publique du Canada.

In this new role, there can be little doubt that Nurjehan Mawani will apply all her customary fervour and continue to live by her commitment to equality. She will certainly have ample scope to do so; among her other duties, Ms. Mawani will be advising the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Secretary of the Treasury Board on issues related to creating an inclusive Public Service.

Throughout her busy career, Ms. Mawani has also embodied the spirit of public service through her involvement in a variety of professional and voluntary organizations.

Elle a été membre de l’Association internationale des juges aux affaires des réfugiés, de la Laurier Institution et de la Fondation Aga Khan du Canada. À titre bénévole, elle a été présidente de la Commission de conciliation et d’arbitrage.

Nurjehan Mawani continue de participer à plusieurs conseils consultatifs. Elle est coprésidente de la section d’Ottawa de l’International Women’s Forum, membre du Conseil des gouverneurs du Collège Algonquin et membre du Conseil de la nouvelle université Sea-to-Sky à Squamish en Colombie-Britannique.

It should surprise no one that, given her long and distinguished record of service, Ms. Mawani is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Order of Canada and the Outstanding Achievement Award of the Public Service of Canada.

She has also received the YWCA Women of Distinction Award, the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Human Rights Award and the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce.

We might rightly ask how a person can achieve so much. Well, in one of her speeches, I believe Nurjehan Mawani gave us a glimpse of what it is that propels her. She said, quote: “…a key part of the Canadian character is that we aspire to be better than we are…”

Chancellor, in the name of the Senate of the University of Ottawa, I present to you, for the degree of Doctor of the University, Nurjehan Mawani, whose work has certainly made Canada a better place for all its citizens.

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