Salma Lakhani was installed as the 19th lieutenant-governor of Alberta on Wednesday, becoming the first Muslim woman in Canada to ever have that role.
Born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, Lakhani came to Canada in 1977 after her family was expelled from that country in 1971 by the racist
— along with all Ugandans of Asian origin. She was stateless then, and now she has risen to become the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Alberta. It’s an amazing story, and she credits the warmth and acceptance of Albertans for much of what she has been able to accomplish in her life of service in Alberta.
and solicitor general, becoming the first Black justice minister in Canada.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney
: “I’m also pleased to say that, as I mentioned, Kaycee will be overseeing the implementation of the Police Act at a time when we are all rightfully more sensitive to the reality of racial prejudice. I think it’s a powerful statement that Alberta will have the first ever Canadian justice minister of African origin.
“The first Black Canadian justice minister, attorney general or solicitor general, who is a man who
first hand and can bring that sensitivity to this important role. I’m excited to have him in that position,” Kenney said in answer to a reporter’s question.
Kenney also pointed out that
, who came in third on Sunday in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, placed
in Alberta — the very heart of the Conservative Party.
Lewis, a Toronto lawyer, was virtually unknown to Canadians before this leadership race. Her family immigrated to Canada from Jamaica when she was five and she obtained multiple degrees, including a master’s degree in environmental studies and a PhD from Osgoode Hall law school. She practiced law for more than 20 years and, had she won, she would have become the first Black woman to lead a major Canadian national political party.
As Kenney pointed out Tuesday, “Dr. Lewis nearly won” the leadership race. “She won, overwhelmingly, the support of rural Albertans and people across the rural Prairies. I think that sends a very important message about how this truly is a country characterized by equality of opportunity and about how the conservative movement embraces people of diverse backgrounds. I’m so proud to have seen that,” added Kenney.
Indeed, Lewis was the first choice on the second ballot of Conservative voters in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where she also placed first on the first ballot.
To those who know anything about where most of the advances in minority rights began in Canada, none of this is surprising.
The Laurentian elite were left scratching their heads in true puzzlement when
was elected the first Muslim mayor of a large Canadian city in Calgary. During the frenzy of interviews from around the world following his election in October 2010, Nenshi rightly called Alberta a true meritocracy. Unlike many other parts of Canada, nobody in Calgary or Alberta asks “who’s your daddy?” said Nenshi.
In 1911, Alex Decoteau became Canada’s first Indigenous police officer when he was hired by the Edmonton police. One year later, Annie May Jackson from Edmonton became Canada’s first female police officer.
In 1916, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to give women the vote, followed quickly by Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Quebec didn’t grant women the vote until 1940.
Emily Murphy of Edmonton became not only the first woman magistrate in Canada in 1916, but in the entire British Empire. In 1917, Louise McKinney and Roberta MacAdams were the first Canadian women to be elected to legislature seats in Alberta.
So, while so-called “redneck” Alberta men were electing women to write their laws and were appointing them to the bench, men in central Canada were doing everything they could to stop the same from happening there.
Murphy’s appointment was quickly challenged because women were not considered persons under the BNA Act. Eventually, Murphy, along with four other women — Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, McKinney and Irene Parlby, now known as the
— organized petitions to have women declared persons. After the Supreme Court of Canada said “no” to that, the five women appealed to the Privy Council in England and on Oct. 18, 1929, it was ruled that “yes, women are persons.”
The first mosque allowed to be built in Canada — the Al Rashid Mosque — was built in Edmonton under Social Credit Alberta premier “Bible” Bill Aberhart in 1938.
The first Muslim named to a cabinet post in Canada was Larry Shaben, by Alberta premier Peter Lougheed in 1979. Alberta elected Canada’s first Muslim MP, Rahim Jaffer of Edmonton, and Canada’s first Hindu MP, Deepak Obhrai, from Calgary-East.
Calgary was the first major Canadian city to appoint a woman as police chief, when it hired Christine Silverberg in 1995.
Beverley McLachlin, who was born in Pincher Creek, is the first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the longest-serving chief justice in Canadian history.
Maybe it’s the water? Maybe it’s the big sky? But barriers get broken here.
Lakhani, an Ismaili Muslim, says when she and her husband, Edmonton cardiologist Dr. Zaheer Lakhani, first moved to Alberta in 1977 so he could continue his medical education, they intended to stay only two years. They ended up staying for 43 years, “in a province we have grown to love deeply and are so grateful to call home. Every long and cold winter, we remind ourselves that we’re not here for the weather, but we are here for everything else,” she said to laughter.
Lakhani described Canada “as the only place in the world where I’m not required to be a person with only a single identity, or a single story . . . . While my story may sound unique, it is also the story of Alberta, a place where individual stories are woven into our collective tapestry,” she said.
“Nellie McClung, who championed women’s suffrage, and
, the first Indigenous woman to be appointed to the Canadian Senate, are but two amongst so many amazing people who have contributed to making us the province and the country that we are today,” she said.
Lakhani and Madu have been added to this list of amazing people, who are breaking down barriers in the Prairies and setting an example for the rest of the country to follow.
Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist in Calgary.
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